Baseball

 
On Campus: Cassidy Finishing On His Terms




April 23, 2009

No one wants to go out like that.

No one who's ever put a glove on their hand and picked up a bat and played through Little League and high school and into college wants to spend the final days of their competitive baseball lives on the side, their arm a useless appendage that can barely be lifted.

That could have been the final scene for Jim Cassidy. The Medway native was a senior at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst last year, but the year before had pitched in pain, and after multiple surgeries to repair a torn labrum and frayed rotator cuff he missed the entire 2008 season.

So he came back for one more, came back so that the end would come on the field and not some seat in the stands.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the last year," said Cassidy, who has already completed work toward a bachelor's degree in sociology and is working on a degree in communications. "I didn't want to go out not playing. I would have regretted it."

Cassidy, who plays both outfield and pitches for the Minutemen, is only now actually getting back to form. His first surgery came right after the 2007 season, but when he started throwing after a few months of rehab things just didn't feel right, and so more surgeries followed. The last one came in May of 2008, which is why only now is he able to finally feel somewhat normal again.

Playing the outfield came first, but being away from the game for so long - not so much as stepping in a batting cage or having a catch - eroded some skills, so hitting a baseball has come slowly. Heading into yesterday's matchup with Fordham he'd played in 14 of UMass' 21 games, starting nine. His batting average was just .146, but there were two hits, a run scored and an RBI in the series-opener against the Rams on Saturday.

"They're going to let me play outfield (while I get ready to pitch), but at the beginning of the year I didn't feel ready yet," said Cassidy. "My hitting has been struggling."

 

 

Pitching has come even more slowly.

Cassidy was brilliant in the spring of 2007. He went 5-1 for the Minutemen with a 3.35 earned run average (remember, these are metal bats). But that was the year he pitched in pain. It was so uncomfortable, in fact, that instead of pitching every five or six days like a normal collegian, he was relegated to every 10 days, even two weeks at times.

"My arm wasn't recovering," he said.

So surgery came in June of that year, with hopes of returning for the 2008 season. And then came the complications, sutures to hold the shoulder in place that slipped, then felt too tight and were ultimately removed altogether.

He's pitched in just one game to date, but pitched well. It was on March 25 against Hartford, and Cassidy was brought in with two outs and the bases loaded. He escaped the jam, then retired one batter at the start of the next inning and was removed. It was a short stint, but a successful one. He got the win.

"It felt great being out there," said Cassidy. "I feel comfortable. ... They're going to give me innings, but ease me in an inning at a time. If they need me at the end of the year in a big spot, I'll be ready."

Cassidy used to be able to get his fastball into the low 90s with some consistency. Right now, however, he's mostly throwing in the mid 80s. He first was able to have a catch in September, which was four months after the final surgery. The first time he threw off a mound - really cut loose - he was allowed only 15 pitches, then came two icing sessions, and some lengthy stretching work. It was a frustrating amount of preventative medicine for five minutes of fun.

Now, however, the bullpen sessions are up to 75 pitches, and soon will come more of the real thing, pitching in games.

"Right now I'm starting to feel really strong. I'm really pleased," said Cassidy. "I'd like to start, but it's tough because of the schedule and we have a set rotation already. If I'm completely healthy, maybe. But I don't know how I'll hold up over a whole start."

In fact, Cassidy is feeling so good that if an offer came to continue playing past the end of the collegiate season he'd take it. He expected this to be the end, but as he begins to feel more comfortable at the plate, and as the strength in his shoulder builds and he's able to throw harder and with no limits he'd likely jump at an offer to play some summer baseball.

It's not like Cassidy hasn't done it before.

Cassidy didn't start off at UMass. He was recruited by northern Division I schools like Maine and Connecticut, but Clemson was also calling, and when it came time to choose a college Cassidy settled on South Florida. Clemson, an ACC power, had told him he'd redshirt as a freshman, but USF promised him the chance to pitch and play outfield right from the start.

After his freshman season, Cassidy even got to play a few games for the Hyannis Mets in the Cape Cod League, where so many current pros spent their collegiate summers.

But the head coach at USF left after Cassidy's sophomore year, so rather than start over with a new coach he decided to come home.

"The coach here (at UMass) guaranteed both outfield and pitching, and I was looking to still do that," Cassidy said. "And I had a lot of friends here."

Now, however, it's not about the Cape Cod League or playing ball at southern schools where the scouts come calling all the time. Now it's about simply playing again, finishing a career as well as possible after a trying time.

"My parents are a huge part of me playing this year," he said of his father Jim, a baseball player at Maine, and his mother Donna, a high school gymnast. "After the last surgery I was contemplating not playing again. Having them behind me really helped out a lot."

So now Jim Cassidy struggles to regain the form he had. But he doesn't go out like that, on the side, watching. He goes out on his terms, playing.

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