Bound By Baseball: Tempesta In Long Line Of Baseball Lifers
May 11, 2006
AMHERST, Mass. - Here's a hypothetical: if you had a random encounter with Adam Tempesta on the street, would you think he was a No. 3 hitter on a Division I baseball team?
"Probably not," says UMass coach Mike Stone.
Adam is 5-foot-6 and hitting third for the Minutemen. He is batting .327 (second on the team), has 67 total bases (first on the team) and has whiffed only 10 times in 155 at-bats. And he's just a freshman.
The Brockton native made the switch to second base this year after playing shortstop since little league. He talked with his high school coach about moving to second base because of - of course - his size.
"Usually the shortstops are the bigger guys," Adam says, donning a frown after an 0-for-3 performance against Siena. "I have no problem with [moving to second.] Since my freshman year in high school I've played shortstop and second base. There are still things to learn but as long as I'm playing that's fine with me."
The middle infield is the middle infield, right?
You can't tell that he's inexperienced. Just watch him play the position. He is agile, has a cannon for an arm and attacks the baseball.
Against Connecticut on Tuesday, a Huskies hitter chopped a ground ball up the middle. It was hit straight down and took a big hop over the pitcher's head. Adam moved to his right, near the second base bag, and tried to trap the ball before it caught him with an in-between hop.
He scurried in and caught the ball off of a quick bounce. His momentum carried him forward and he used his body as a backboard to make sure that the ball didn't scoot into the outfield.
The ball popped into his glove and he fell forward, but scrambled to his feet and threw the runner out. It was a play that infielders dread: a bounding ball with a lot spin that tends not to agree with leather. But Adam smothered it and threw out the UConn runner with time to spare.
So is there anything that he's had trouble with?
"I was just getting used to playing shortstop for three years," Adam says. "There are a lot of different things about second base, like turning double plays. You turn double plays differently and you react to the ball differently."
According to junior shortstop Lou Proietti, Adam's closest associate in the field, the rook is doing just fine.
"I think he's doing an incredible job this year," Proietti says. "He's not playing like a freshman, but like an upperclassman with several years of experience. The best part is he just keeps getting better and better with each game.
"I feel very comfortable playing with him out there. It's like we've been playing together for a couple of years now. We've got a great line of communication on the field."
Adam's father, Fred, watched his son from the little league fields to Division I baseball, and the proud dad knows that his son is something special in the field.
"It was unbelievable the plays he could make at shortstop," Fred says. "He's handled the switch pretty well. If you ever watch him try to turn a double play, he's really great. He has a shortstop's arm, so that really helps."
Adam's versatility surely made things easier for Stone, who had him and Proietti overbooked at shortstop. Stone found a place for Adam in the field, and the coach got a bonus deal out of the initial package: his hitting.
Adam began the year batting six-through-nine in the lineup, but it quickly became a no-brainer to move him up. He jumped to second, then to third in the order, making him - as his teammates joke - one of the shortest No. 3 hitters in Division I baseball.
"People make jokes about it," Adam says. "Even my friends from home. Everybody's like, 'He must be the smallest kid in the country batting third.' There are little jokes here and there."
"Adam is solid as a rock," Fred says. "And I had the feeling he was going to be short. But you know what? He can play with anybody, including his older brothers."
Adam is about nine inches closer to the earth than UMass' No. 4 hitter, Bryan Adamski, who stands at 6-foot-4. Fred got a chuckle out of seeing them back-to-back in the order.
"It's kind of funny, isn't it?" Fred says. "It's hysterical watching those two. Nowadays, baseball players come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn't matter anymore."
Not many underclassmen could handle being tossed into the No. 3 spot so abruptly. Things are different for the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters: fewer fastballs, more offspeed stuff, nothing over the heart of the plate. But Stone had a read on Adam, and knew that he had the right mentality for the job.
"He's a mature hitter," Stone says. "He sees the ball well, he stays back and he's a confident enough kid in his own ability to be able to bat in the No. 3 spot, no matter how old he is. And that's why he is there.
"We had to put somebody there who was tough enough and had an efficient swing, a balanced swing, somebody who stays back on the ball."
"[Stone] said that I was a mature hitter and that I could do it," Adam says. "I don't doubt myself at all. I knew I could do it because I've basically hit third my whole life. It's just a little different here."
"Pitchers have different ways of throwing to you," he says. "You don't see first-pitch fastballs much. Usually the first pitch will be a curveball and I like to swing early in the count and it's a little difficult when you're getting a curveball instead of a fastball."
Adam has a compact swing. His stance is slightly open. His knees are bent comfortably. The bat rests lightly in his hands as he twirls it during the pitchers' windup. His step is short and purposeful, and he extends his arms through the zone with ease, finishing his swing with one arm, a la Mark McGwire.
And the McGwire comparison isn't a bad one: the Cardinals star didn't have a lot of movement in his swing - no rapid, jerky movements to throw off his timing or cloud his vision. The difference? Adam doesn't strike out. He has only 10 strikeouts on the season in 155 at-bats. Of the players who take the field every day, that total is by far the lowest.
The Tempesta's are bound together by the seams.
Fred Tempesta - father of Bryon, Nick and Adam - grew up in Brockton and rooted for Sox legends Yastremski and Conigliaro. It was a unique time in Boston baseball history. The Impossible Dream season of 1968 had reinvigorated Red Sox fans, rescuing them from the mediocrity of the 1950s and early 60s teams. Fred was a junior in high school in 1968 and grew up in with a generation of ebullient Red Sox lovers.
Bryon was born in 1977 - a year before Bucky Dent tore the heart out of Boston with one swing. Nick came along two years later. Fred made sure that both of them were playing ball.
"When [Bryon and Nick] were little kids we'd play ball," Fred says. "We had them out front hitting the ball. And they could hit the ball when they were two or three years old. You should have seen them. It was an amazing thing. The neighborhood kids were much older and these kids could hang right with them."
Bryon and Nick are baseball guys. Bryon pitched for a private high school and is now an assistant coach for the Curry College baseball team. Nick started for the Brockton High School Nine as a freshman. (He was the only one to do so in the school's history until his younger brother Adam came along.)
Nick played shortstop on Brockton's first state championship baseball team in his senior year. After high school he played for Eastern Connecticut College (his team won the Division III World Series in his first year) and went on to play four years as a professional in the minor league system.
That was Adam's family - born-and-bred baseball lifers. He was influenced heavily by his older brothers, who kept track of Adam throughout his little league days (Bryon was in college then) and helped him with his game as much as they could.
"I saw what my brothers did and I wanted to do that," Adam says. "I was a bat boy for the Brockton High School when they won the state championship on Nick's team. I was a bat boy when Nick went to college. I just saw everything that they did and I wanted to do it."
"My senior year in high school, in 1997, [Adam] was the bat boy on our Massachusetts state tournament team," Nick recalls. "We won the title. And it's fun because I look back at the pictures and he was so small. Then I went off to college and in my freshman year we won the [Division III] World Series and he was there for that. So I thought that was pretty cool.
"I think he learned a lot from that experience," Nick continues. "He was young, but I still think he learned a lot about teamwork and what you have to do to win and work hard. We're not blessed with the biggest size in the family so we have to work a little harder."
"Adam's been playing ever since he watched his older brothers play," Fred says. "He started in little league and you could tell that he was pretty good. As he got older he started getting better and better.
"I think Adam looked up to Nick a lot. When Nick was at Eastern Connecticut, Adam was the bat boy and it kind of started from that point on. He got to know how they played and how his brothers grew up, and he got to be a real good ballplayer himself."
"We used to get him on the street and throw ground balls at him," Bryon remembers fondly. "Baseball was huge. It kept the family together. We went to the park to play all of the time."
Everyone keeps in touch. Bryon can't make it to many games because of the demands of coaching, and Nick has ventured to Lorden Field a couple of times this season - both still feed their younger brother some tips.
"Nick taught me to back-leg it," Adam says. "It's a little model when you're hitting to make sure you keep your weight back. Bryon helps me out a lot actually. He'll call me and ask me how I'm doing. He'll call me and help me."
"Back-legging is just getting through the baseball," Nick says. "Before, I didn't get to see [Adam]. Now I can show him and I think it is helping. He's tearing the cover off of the ball and he's doing really well."
Stone moved Adam to No. 3 in the order after he began the year on a .313 clip. But Adam began to see first-pitch curveballs and heaters painting both corners of the plate. Inexperience could have gotten the better of him, but he, despite some recent struggles at the plate, handled the move to the meat of the order with relative ease.
"He's totally different from [Bryon and Nick]," Fred says. "It's the most amazing thing. Nick was hyper. Bryon was laid back and Adam has both of those characteristics. He's very calm at the plate."
You have to be if you want to have any chance of hitting Division I pitching. Thinking is the enemy. Thinking hurts the ball club. But Stone doesn't want his players daydreaming through nine innings of baseball, either. It takes selective intensity to play baseball at the highest level, with a touch of happy-go-lucky to shake off those 0-fers.
"I've been struggling lately," Adam concedes. "I try to play defense when I'm not hitting and it just works out that way. When I go up there I'm trying not to think. I think that's been my problem lately. I'm just thinking a little bit too much. When I get up there I say to myself, 'See the ball. Hit the ball.' That's all I'm thinking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Not too high. Not too low. Now that's a baseball player.
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