“Walk-on” Brendan Tracy ’16 hit the home run that powered the Stags to the NCAAs

“Walk-on” Brendan Tracy ’16 hit the home run that powered the Stags to the NCAAs

by John Torsiello

When he was a youngster, Brendan Tracy ’16 dreamt what all baseball-loving kids in America dream about; coming to the plate with the bases loaded and the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Not highly recruited out of high school and making the Fairfield baseball team as a walk-on (somewhat uncommon in Division I athletics) Tracy, a senior from Rumford, R.I., settled into the batter’s box on May 20 and waited for the pitch from Quinnipiac pitcher Brandon Shileikis.

The left-hander Tracy saw an offering he liked, swung, made solid contact and sent the ball sailing over the outfield wall. It was a grand slam homer that beat Quinnipiac, 8-4, in the regular season finale before 220 screaming fans at Alumni Diamond, vaulting Fairfield into the MAAC tournament as the top seed and regular season champs. Cue the celebration.

“I was honestly in a state of shock that I was able to do that for my team,” said Tracy of his emotions as his home run flew over the fence. “I couldn’t believe what had happened and the adrenaline going through my body was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was a first pitch fastball, low and inside. With certain balls you hit you can just tell if you get into it or not; and I could definitely tell.”

“Being a walk-on to the team I felt as if everything had come full circle,” he continued. “I went from being unsure of whether or not I would play baseball in college to winning a regular season championship for my team.”

The Stags capitalized on the electricity of Tracy’s big blast to go on to win their first MAAC Tournament championship. Fairfield beat Siena, 18-2, in the championship game in Wappinger Falls, N.Y., on May 28. The team then earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament Regionals in Lubbock, Texas, where their progress was halted by seventh-ranked Texas Tech and 17th-ranked Dallas Baptist, to end the dream season.

When Bill Currier took over the helm of the Fairfield University baseball program five years ago, could he have imagined the Stags in the NCAAs? Why not? Currier had serious goals when he drove down from the University of Vermont to take over.

Not only is his team moving into a newly renovated stadium in the spring of 2017, the players will raise a conference championship banner when they do. To go to the NCAA tournament was a fitting conclusion to the best baseball season the Stags have enjoyed, at least since their first conference championship in 1993.

“Fairfield is a great school and we have it going baseball wise,” said Currier, who was named this year’s MAAC Coach of the Year. “When kids come here they are going to the top academic school in the conference and that is a big draw.”

As for on the field, Currier came to Fairfield with a purpose. “At this stage of my career I didn’t come to Fairfield to finish in the middle of the pack in the conference.”

Currier has been a head coach for 29 seasons and has accumulated over 600 victories. Before coming to Fairfield, he earned the most coaching victories in the history of his alma mater, University of Vermont.

This past season, the Stags got a taste of just how good they could be during an early-season trip south to play the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State, where Fairfield almost beat both Atlantic Coast Conference teams.

“We had North Carolina beat before they took us in extra innings,” said Currier. “We saw that we could play with really good teams and we came back home with a lot of confidence.”

This season, with 32 wins, Fairfield got contributions up and down the lineup and from a sound pitching staff.

Jake Salpietro ’16 led the team in batting with a .344 average, followed closely by Mike Conti ’17at .335 and Kevin Radziewicz ’18 at .320.

Pitchers John Signore ’19 was 3-2 with a 2.90 earned run average, Kyle Dube ’17 won six games, Aaron Howell ’16 won six games and saved five others, Gavin Wallace ’18 won eight games and Mike Bonaiuto ’17 was 3-2 with a stealing 2.54 ERA in 46 innings of work.

Salpietro was named All-MAAC First Team, while Radziewicz, Dube, Mac Crispino ’17 and Troy Scocca ’17 were named to the conference Second Team.

But perhaps no other player epitomized Fairfield’s heady campaign more than senior first baseman Tracy. He played in all 58 games and hit .250 with three homers and 31 RBIs this year.

Tracy said the Stags were successful this year “because we were all on the same page and we had trust in each other.” He added, “This was the most tight-knit team I had ever been a part of.”

Next year, the team will play its home games on a renewed Alumni Diamond, a $750,000 upgrade spearheaded by the Friends of Baseball group made up of Fairfield alumni, parents and supporters of the program.

Tracy said Fairfield baseball has a very bright future. “With the new field and locker room being built this summer, I think Fairfield has the potential to be one of the top teams in New England on a consistent basis. The school, location, facilities and, most importantly, the coaching staff, will all lead to very big things for the program in the future.”

Currier, who was assisted this year by coaches Mike Cole, Ted Hurvul and Dan Gasparino, knows winning the MAAC and moving into new digs will pay dividends off the field as well. “It will certainly help with recruiting and we are looking at a big class coming in the fall. We will fill a few holes with depth and we have our top pitchers back, so we feel we will be on the hunt for a MAAC title again next year.”

Fairfield fans are hoping that will be the case every spring moving forward.