Category Archives: Baseball

A conversation with new Penn baseball coach John Yurkow

Yurkow headshotIt’s been no secret that Penn hasn’t had a great baseball team for while. The Quakers haven’t won the Ivy League since 1995 and have played .500 baseball or worse for most of the last two decades. That’s why, after eight years at the helm, John Cole was let go as the program’s head coach and his longtime assistant John Yurkow was hired to replace him last month. Recently, I sat down with Yurkow in his office to discuss what needs to happen for the Quakers to start winning championships again, his style as a coach, and what it means for him to have his first head coaching job.

What was your first order of business after taking over as head coach?

The first thing I did is I reached out to everybody on our team. The second thing was to get in touch immediately with the incoming class. I talked to some of the key alumni and have been trying to get the staff finalized. Then, I’m really just trying to keep all of the recruiting going. Coach [Mike] Santello and I, for two months, were in a holding pattern. We were out watching players and evaluating but there was only so much we could do. And then finally when we got the word, it was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’

What was the reaction from the players on the team?

They were generally excited. Unless they were just lying to my face, they seemed pretty excited about it. I’m pretty close with all of those guys. I recruited them all. So I think maybe they’re a little relieved to know they know who’s going to be taking the program over.

It was a national coaching search, so what was your mentality throughout the whole process? Did you think you had a pretty good chance throughout?

Early on, I was unsure. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I stayed on, I kept recruiting and I kept trying to run the normal day-to-day operations that a head coach would run. It was definitely something that was hanging over your head because you’re just not sure. The longer it went, the better I felt about it. I went through the interview process just like everyone else did, even though I was internal. And things just worked out. It’s kind of interesting how it all fell into place.

John Yurkow was an assistant at Penn for seven years before being promoted to head coach. Previously, he was an assistant at Duke and Rowan, his alma mater.

John Yurkow was an assistant at Penn for seven years before being promoted to head coach. Previously, he was an assistant at Duke and Rowan, his alma mater.

Is it an easier transition because you know the team so well?

Absolutely. I’m internal and I know everything about this place, so I know how to navigate through everything, which is a huge advantage. I know the players. I know what we have coming back. I can’t even imagine when you go and get a job at another school, you’ve got to move your family and your life gets turned upside down. It’s interesting here because last year we finished a game above .500 and we had three seniors. And we have an excellent freshman class coming in. Usually when you take over a program, it could be a mess. That’s not the case here. Things are set up, so I’m fortunate. It’s a unique situation.

What was your reaction when John Cole was let go?

I was surprised. I didn’t really see it coming. I was actually on the road in Chicago when it happened, so it was tough to deal with.

How do you think you’ll be different than him as a head coach?

I don’t know if I’ll be different than him but I think I have my own style. My personality is not going to be the same. I’ve got some ideas. As an assistant coach for 13, 14 years, you start making all these little lists of things you’d like to do when you have the chance to become a head coach. So I’ve got some things I want to implement. There definitely will be a lot of changes, without a doubt.

What kind of changes? What kind of style will you preach?

We’re going to be very aggressive in all phases of the game. That’s what I believe in. That’s how I was coached when I was younger. I don’t want to complicate the game for our guys. I want to keep it simple, so they can play free and easy and aggressive. You can’t overthink baseball. We have to create a mindset where if you do have a bad at bat or you do have a bad inning, you move past it and you’re on to the next thing. That’s what successful baseball players do.

Among the big recruits Yurkow reeled in was Mike Vilardo, who was named Big 5 Rookie of the Year in 2013.

Among the big recruits Yurkow reeled in was Mike Vilardo, the Big 5 Rookie of the Year in 2013.

What kind of head coach do you think you’ll be in terms of your personality in the dugout?

I don’t think I’ll be ultra laid back and at the same time I don’t think I’ll be screaming at the top of my lungs. I’m definitely intense. Winning’s important and that’s why I thought this was a great situation. I want to win Ivy League championships. That’s what I’m here to do.

You mentioned winning championships. What are your big goals, both for this season and long term?

I expect us to compete for the Ivy championship this year. I want to make this a place that great student-athletes see and they want to come and matriculate here – because they know when they come here they’re going to great a baseball experience and obviously they’re going to receive a great education. Success, as that happens, I’m hoping will enable us to bring in higher-caliber players that maybe three, four years ago we would have had trouble bringing in. And I think the facilities are starting to help with that. Our field is a solid facility but in the past three years they put in a $27 million weight room, they put in Penn Park – which is our indoor facility when they put in the bubble – and we spent $80,000 just to renovate our locker room five months ago. So for an 18-year told to come in and see all of that, it shows the administration is really making an attempt to bring our facilities to a national level. It’s great.

From what you’ve seen, what’s prevented Penn from being a dominant program in the Ivy League?

That’s a good question because if you look at the breakdown of our schedule from last year we played better against scholarship programs than we did against teams in our league. That’s kind of a head-scratcher. I have some theories as to why and I’m already starting to think how I’m going to change those things, without getting too far into it. But yeah, that’s interesting. And our road record was better than our home record. We need to go in and switch some things and change that mindset a little bit. But that’s why I think we’re not very far away. That’s one of the nice things about this. You can get excited when you think you’ve got all these guys got back, you’ve got a real good incoming class, and the facilities are great. And I just put together a really good coaching staff.

The 1995 Penn baseball team was the last one to  win Ivy League championship. Yurkow hopes that will change.

The 1995 Penn baseball team was the last to win a league title. Yurkow hopes that will soon change.

Can Penn become a national power?

I don’t see why not. If you’re going to shoot for the stars, let’s go for it. I think things are really moving in the right direction. I think timing is everything and the timing is right here. I’m very, very fortunate to come into this situation with the players that we have here and where everything is starting to fall with the University.

So this is a pretty good job for you right now?

It’s awesome. I’m still floating right now. This is a great place to work. It’s a great University, a great administration and great kids. You always think about where is your first head coaching job going to be – and I don’t think I could have picked a better spot.

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Penn’s trip to Citizens Bank Park

Penn and St. Joe's played under the lights at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday (Drew Hallowell)

Penn freshman Austin Bossart has only been to Citizens Bank Park twice in his life.

The first time he sat about as high as you can sit, in the upper deck by the left field foul pole.

The second time he alternated between the dugout and home plate.

“This opportunity was great,” a beaming Bossart said shortly after the Penn baseball team played Saint Joseph’s in the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic, an eight-team tournament for local Division I colleges. “I wouldn’t have passed this up for anything.”

After beating Villanova and La Salle to get to the Liberty Bell finals for the first time in the tournament’s 21-year history, the Quakers lost to St. Joe’s, 6-3, in Tuesday night’s finals at the Bank. (For more game details, check out the Pennathletics.com recap, a short article I wrote for CSNPhilly.com and a few well-done Daily Pennsylvanian pieces.)

But for most of the Quakers, it seemed, the final score meant less than getting the chance to play on the same field as pro ballplayers, if only for a couple of hours.

Bossart follows through on a swing during Penn's first trip to Citizens Bank Park (Drew Hallowell)

“It’s disappointing but I think the opportunity for all of us to come here was better than actually winning the trophy,” said Bossart, the only Penn player who had a multi-hit game. “I would have loved to win the trophy. But it was just a good opportunity for all of us. You’ve gotta enjoy it for what it was.”

Interestingly enough, Bossart, a St. Louis native, said he played at two other major league ballparks – Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field – before coming to Penn. But, of course, that didn’t make the freshman catcher any less giddy when he stepped foot on the pristine grass and dreamt of watching baseballs fly into the outfield seats.

“I was joking around like I would hit a grand slam at bat,” Bossart said. “It was a lot of fun, joking around with the guys in the dugout.”

Romanticism aside, the experience gained by playing a championship game against a city rival could also help get the Quakers in gear as they prepare for four big games against Cornell this weekend at Meiklejohn Stadium. Cornell is currently in first place in the Lou Gehrig Division of the Ivy League, four games up on Penn (15-17, 6-6).

“I hope this will kick us in the butt a little bit and give us momentum going into next weekend,” Bossart said. “Hopefully we can pick it up in Ivy League play.”

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A Penn grad tries to rebuild Major League Baseball’s worst team

Jeff Luhnow after getting hired by the Houston Astros in December

The 2012 Major League Baseball season opened last week, and with it came the perpetual belief that every team has a chance.

Well, every team except maybe the Houston Astros.

Fresh off a dismal 56-106 record last season, the Astros have been picked last in most MLB preseason power rankings and are deep in rebuilding mode.

All of which is to say that new general manager Jeff Luhnow, who graduated with a dual degree from Wharton and the School of Engineering in 1989, has his work cut out for him.

Luckily, the Penn grad and former St. Louis Cardinals executive seems up to the task, despite this being his first GM position. One article, written shortly after his hire, describes Luhnow as brainy and bilingual, part of the new breed of cerebral, stats-first baseball execs:

Some old-school baseball team initially derided Luhnow with nicknames such as “Harry Potter” and “the accountant.” Here’s a guy whose playing career peaked out in high school, whose pre-Cardinals resume featured stints as the president of a dot.com venture, Archetype Solutions, Inc., and vice-president of marketing for Petstore.com.

That said, his Penn degree will certainly serve him well in his new role, wrote another Houston sportswriter – Zachary Levine – who also went to Penn.

Educated in a dual degree program that blended business and engineering, Luhnow joins a front office that is increasingly data-oriented. To listen to him and to CEO George Postolos talk is a different experience than to listen to the old regime when it comes to what Luhnow called “the zero-sum game” of baseball.

Still, while Luhnow’s “new-age” thinking may have upset some “old-school” baseball men in the past, Luhnow was quoted in the same story as trying to steer clear of the scouts vs. stats war that has seemed to be building steam ever since the writing of “Moneyball” nine years ago. Here’s his quote:

“There’s a misperception about what the winning formula is. You can’t be the elite scouting and player development organization without the best scouts and coaches in the industry. Those are baseball people who have been in this their entire life and use their good judgment and experience to make decisions.

“The complementary part is adding a whole new area, which is really utilizing whatever technology and whatever capabilities are available, whether it’s understanding medical assessments, understanding performance histories, different ways to evaluate character. There’s a lot of science that can be added to the equation.

“But it’s really all about gathering up as much valuable information as you can, organizing in a way that makes sense and making the best possible decisions.”

Luhnow would certainly be wise to use all of the tools at his disposal to rebuild the Astros, which opened the 2012 season with 10 players on a major league roster for the first time. That number shows just how inexperienced the ’Stros are and how deep Luhnow’s rebuilding efforts must go. But for the general manager, that part is also, well, kind of cool:

“One of the most fun things I’ve gotten to do in my nine years as a baseball executive is tell five position players and five pitchers that they were making their first opening-day roster in their career. That was really a fun experience after a lot of the other conversations that you have to have during the spring: letting a guy go or telling a guy that he’s going to be reassigned or optioned out. It was really fun to get a chance to do that.”

Of course, there will also be some hard parts, mixed in with the fun. But for now, the Penn grad is saying all the right things as he tries to build the worst team in baseball into the best.

“I want to see Minute Maid Park filled to the rafters in an American League championship series. I want to see this city get excited about the possibility of going to a World Series. And I would love to see Houston to win the World Series, and the team in Texas that gets talked about be the Houston Astros. I’m all in.”

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Penn baseball breeds professionals

By most accounts, the Penn baseball team’s 2011 season was an average one as the Quakers finished with a 19-10 overall record and a 10-10 mark in the Ivy League.

For the program as a whole, however, the last couple weeks have been anything but average.

In a rare and exciting development, two Penn baseball players – pitchers Paul Cusick  and Vince Voiro – were selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft and a third – catcher Will Davis – was very nearly signed by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Paul Cusick

“That’s hard to do in the Ivy League – to get three guys to get the chance to play pro ball,” Penn baseball coach John Cole said by phone Thursday as he was driving through Connecticut on a recruiting trip. “It’s a nice compliment to the program.”

Cusick spoke with the Gazette the same day he signed his first professional contract, and the right-hander has since won his first game with the Gulf Coast League Phillies.

Meanwhile, Voiro, who was drafted in the 47th round by the San Diego Padres, has yet to sign his deal, and, according to Cole, may opt to return to Penn for his senior season and re-enter the draft next year when he can be a higher pick.

“If the money is right, and it’s life-changing money, I’d probably advise him to sign,” Cole said. “If the money is not right, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in minor league baseball. Sometimes, it’s in your best interest to come back and see if you can do better. It might be in his best interest to come back.”

Vince Voiro

And then there’s Davis, Penn’s star left-handed hitting catcher who was flown to the Florida to join the Gulf Coast League Phillies with his buddy Cusick, only to be told that same night that the organization had health concerns about his knee and would be flying him back home.

Davis had surgery four years ago but was healthy throughout his career at Penn, where he belted 25 homers, the second highest total in the program’s history.

“I think he was shocked,” Cole said. “That’s tough for a young guy to handle. He had his dream snatched away. I was just as devastated as he was.”

Days before his tumultuous journey from Florida and back again, Davis spoke with  me about what the Phillies’ interest in him, on top of two other Quakers being drafted, meant for the program.

“I feel like we changed the culture of Penn baseball,” he said. “We got the program moving in the right direction. You have to look at our coaches. They’ve done a good job recruiting.”

And now, Cole believes the 2011 draft will certainly help to recruit even better talent to Penn. Too many injuries and not enough depth has hurt the team in recent years, but if Cole can show high school stars how well he developed guys like Voiro – who raised his velocity from 84 mph to 94 mph during his time at Penn – then the program can take the next step.

“This is certainly something that helps with recruiting,” the Penn baseball coach said. “We always talk about developing guys and now the proof is in the pudding.”

Moments later, Cole hung up and continued on the recruiting trail, looking for more players like Cusick, Voiro and Davis.

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Pitcher Paul Cusick C’11 talks about being drafted by Phillies

Cusick signs his first professional contract (Chas Dorman/Penn Athletics)

Fresh off a brilliant 2011 campaign that landed him the coveted Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award, Penn baseball’s Paul Cusick C’11 was riding high. And then he was riding even higher. On June 7, not long after graduating from Penn, Cusick was drafted by his favorite team – the Philadelphia Phillies – in the 29th round of the Major League Baseball Draft. The ace right-hander was the first Penn baseball player to be drafted since Brian Winnings in 2004, but, remarkably, the Quakers kept the momentum rolling when fellow Penn righty Vince Voiro was picked by the San Diego Padres in the 47th round and then catcher Will Davis C’11 was signed by the Phillies, joining Cusick in Clearwater with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. The Gazette caught up with Cusick just hours before he signed the contract with the Phils from his Wilmington, Del. home and a few days before he reported for duty in Florida.

So where were you when you heard the news?

I was actually watching the Phillies game with my family in our living room. And [Phillies scout Eric Valent] gave me a call. My dad saw it on the computer, and right when he saw it I got the call.

What was your family’s reaction?

We were all pretty excited. I got hugs from my parents. And my two little brothers were there and they were excited about it. One of my brothers, he’s a year younger than me, he was giving me a hard time. He said, ‘You know this is all fun and games until I get taken in the 27th round next year.’ He doesn’t even play baseball. It was pretty funny.

What was the reaction from your Penn coaches and teammates?

They were all super excited. Growing up playing baseball, it’s something you always dream about. Me and [Penn baseball coach John Cole] were talking about it at the beginning of year. It was definitely a goal – after, of course, winning an Ivy championship and other season goals. It’s been a goal for me since I started playing baseball, and it’s pretty awesome to achieve that. The coaching staff was ecstatic.

When did you first think playing pro ball was a realistic goal?

I started talking to scouts this summer while playing out in California [with the Atwater Aviators of the Pacific West Baseball League]. I had a pretty good summer, and then carried that into a strong short fall season. I started receiving things from scouts and that’s when I started to think this is a real possibility. It was a really cool feeling.

How much sweeter is to get picked by your favorite team?

I would have been ecstatic for any team to take me. But growing up a Phillies fan, living 30 minutes away, it was just a dream come true.

How big of a Phillies fan are you?

Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I went to ballgames all the time as a kid. Going to school, any time I had an off day, I would try to go down to the ballpark. I’ve been to some playoff games, some World Series games. I went to games at the Vet growing up, and I’ve been to the new ballpark a ton of times since it opened. Being able to join that organization is surreal.

What’s been the best moment for you as a Phillies fan?

I had an opportunity to go to game when they clinched the 2008 World Series against the Rays. That’s got to be the pinnacle for most Phillies fans. It was pretty awesome.

Cusick was at Citizens Bank Park when this happened

Who’s your favorite Phillies player, both now and ever?

I was a big fan of Brett Myers when he was on the Phillies. He’s a hard-throwing righty with a good curveball. Growing up, that’s how I was in high school. I really liked him. The pitching staff now is unreal, but Chase Utley is a real good player. I like him a lot.

The minor leagues can be a grind and unglamorous – are you prepared for long bus rides and everything else that comes with minor league ball?

I played in summer ball leagues the past three summers and it’s basically the same thing. We were packed into these vans, 16 of us, and we’d go on eight-hour bus rides. That was a glimpse, a taste, of what minor league baseball would be like. I love baseball, I’m sure like everyone else in the minor league system does, so I have no problems sitting in the back of the bus for a couple of hours to go play some games.

Do you feel like you really put it all together this past season at Penn [he went 5-3 with a 2.70 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings]?

I think a lot of things went right for us this year. It would have been nice to win an Ivy championship before heading out there. But we had a lot of individual success on our team this year. It’s a shame it didn’t translate to more wins.

Cusick had a big senior season but the Quakers went just 19-21

What do you think you need to improve on to make it to make your way through the minor league system?

Every pitcher, their main goal is consistency and being able to show up every single start and consistently make good pitches. That’s something every pitcher struggles with and every pitcher works on.

What do you think you do best?

This season I had a lot of success striking people out and I was able to get ahead in the count. I have the ability to throw not just fastballs but off-speed pitches for strikes, which really helps with putting hitters back on their heels.

Is there a certain pitch that can carry you through and also a certain pitch you’re trying to improve on?

I mean, I’m gonna need all of my pitches. I had good success this year with my fastball, curveball and slider. I feel like my changeup is definitely something I’ll need to develop more and work on going forward as a good fourth pitch.

You graduated with a degree in economics so you have a pretty good backup plan if you can’t make it to the Big Leagues, right?

Yeah, but I mean I’m gonna try to play baseball for as long as I can. If someone is going to offer me to play something I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old, why not milk that until it runs dry? One of the reasons I wanted to go to an Ivy League school is to obtain that degree, but I want to play baseball for as long as I can.

Is it also nice a fellow Penn teammate got drafted too?

Oh yeah, it’s awesome. Vince is one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met in my entire life. To see him have the chance to further his career, it’s an awesome feeling. I’m so happy for Vince.

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Week in perspective: A new Voice, a new robot and the end of an old streak

There’s been some interesting sports news coming out of Penn this week. Let’s start with something I’ve been following for a while:

After a long wait, John Alexander learned he would replace his father, C.T. Alexander, as the public announcer for Penn football games at Franklin Field. C.T. retired last year after 50 seasons on the microphone, and was the subject of a ton of media attention, including this Gazette article I wrote last September.

John had worked in the booth for 30 of those years as hid dad’s “spotter.” Both John and C.T. had asked Penn more than a year ago if John could take over for his dad stating this season, but at the time the younger Alexander was only told he could audition for the job.

I was told John auditioned against Palestra P.A. man Rich Kahn, who will continue with the promotional announcements at Franklin Field while John calls all the football action. John’s sister, Linda, who’s been helping out for nearly a decade, will continue to work alongside her brother, as well.

Linda, left, and John, center, will continue the tradition started by their father, C.T.

Personally, I applaud the athletic department for keeping it in the family. John is one of the nicest people I’ve met at Penn and his love for Quaker football runs deep. And after 50 flawless years on the job, C.T. deserved to pick his replacement.

Here’s an email John sent out this morning to announce the news:

Dear fellow alumni and friends,

It has been a long six months since I e-mailed last while awaiting word of the Penn Athletic department’s final decision regarding my father’s replacement as the “Voice of Franklin Field.”  Yesterday, I got the call and was offered the position to replace my father and quickly accepted it!  I want to thank all of you again for your support of my efforts to continue this family tradition, as I am certain all of your e-mails and letters positively influenced the decision.  You have helped me achieve my childhood dream of succeeding my father at the microphone of one of the most historic football stadiums in the country and I sincerely appreciate it.

So next season, please come support a great football program and stop by the makeshift Press Box in the North Stands to say hello, while my sister, Linda, and I continue our family’s tradition of describing the football action in historic Franklin Field.

Now on to this goofy story that’s picked up national attention:

Not since Doug Glanville has someone from the Penn engineering school gotten this much baseball-related fame.

Or should I say “something.”

If you haven’t heard of “PhillieBot” by now, you just haven’t been paying attention. Designed by Penn engineering students for Science Day at Citizens Bank Park, “PhillieBot” – a one-armed, three-wheeled robot – threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Wednesday’s Phillies game.

Although the pitch didn’t reach the catcher (who, in this case, was the Philly Phanatic) and prompted some booing from the merciless Philadelphia fans, the robot/pitcher story still made national headlines. Here’s one story from ESPN.com and another from the engineering school on how “PhillieBot” came to be. The robot even now has his own Twitter account.

Only time will tell if “PhillieBot” replaces Glanville and Mark DeRosa as the most famous baseball “player” to come from Penn.

And finally a quick shoutout to an incredible streak:

The women’s lacrosse team has been arguably the most dominant team at Penn over the past few years.

But on Wednesday, the Quakers’ remarkable 34-game Ivy League winning streak came to an end with a home loss to Princeton.

Chas Dorman, Penn’s associate director of athletic communications, does a nice job putting the streak into historical context here and DP alum Zach Klitzman returned to offer his own take on the team here.

I’ll be reporting more on the team myself leading into next month’s Ivy League Tournament and NCAA Championships, so for now I’ll just offer my kudos on one of the most impressive winning streaks, across all sports, in the history of the Ivy League.

——–

So yes, it was a pretty eventful week for Penn sports. I wonder if anything is going on next week?

Thinking…

Thinking…

Oh right, there’s this.

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Former baseball captain honored by national healtchare magazine

When Ben Breier C’93, W’93 was asked by Modern Healthcare magazine about his professional accomplishments, he related them to his four years as a catcher on the Penn baseball team.

“One thing I take pride in is my ability to relate to people,” said Breier, who earlier this month was named by the magazine to their 2010 “Up & Comers” list, which honors young leaders aged 40 and under who are making a difference in the healthcare industry. “A lot of that stems from athletics and baseball in particular.”

In March, Breier, a member of the Penn Baseball Hall of Fame, was named the chief operating office at Kindred Healthcare in Louisville, Ky. Before that, he served as president of the company’s hospital division, helping revenues grow approximately $2 billion. From 2005-2008, he served as president of Peoplefirst Rehabilitation.

Winning awards is nothing new to Breier, who was a first team all-Ivy selection in 1990 and 1992 and a Penn captain in 1991, 1992 and 1993, sharing the captainship with future Major Leaguer Doug Glanville in ’91. And he’s remained faithful to Penn baseball, having hired the last two executive fellows at Kindred from the ranks of graduating Quakers and also serving on the program’s board of directors.

Any current Penn baseball player might want to network with him. Breier’s Forbes profile shows he’s making slightly more than most bloggers.

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Senior Spotlight: Tom Grandieri

On the same day he walked in Penn’s commencement ceremony, Tom Grandieri C’10 was honored at the Ivy League Baseball Player of the Year. Even better, he’ll now be featured in this season’s final installment of “Senior Spotlight”. There seems to be no better choice than Grandieri, who led Penn and the Ivy League in average (.458), hits (38), runs (25) and RBIs (25) within league play this season. The Villanova transfer also broke the school’s single-season mark for hits (71) and doubles (22) on his way to becoming just the program’s fourth player of the year selection ever. And his brother, Brian, of course, was a very good basketball player from 2005-08. Here are some final thoughts from Tom as he leaves Penn after three terrific years on the diamond:

On his decision to come to Penn: He transferred here during his sophomore year in 2008 because of how much his brother enjoyed playing basketball for the Quakers and also because Villanova wanted to use him as a pitcher while he preferred outfield. “Somehow, crazily, it all worked out and I made it here. I was able to get the transfer in at the nick of time and a lot of good things happened. It was the best decision I’ve made to this point.”

Time devoted to baseball over the past three years: About five hours per day, six days a week. “It sounds like a lot but it was not much of a hassle. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of everything else.”

Favorite part of college baseball: Forming bonds with teammates, as well as the competition. “You had to bring it every single day.”

Grandieri is the first Quaker since 2003 to be the Ivy League Player of the Year

Best baseball moment: Coming back from a 10-0 deficit in the final inning against Lehigh to win 11-10 last season. Even more remarkable, the Quakers were being no-hit though the first six frames until the seventh-inning explosion. “I had never heard or seen or been a part of a game like that.”

Funniest baseball moment: This one is an instant classic. “There was a no-doubt about it homer to left and [left fielder] Jeremy Maas just did a dead sprint, jumped into the fence and hit his head on the pole. And the ball ended up about 80 feet over the fence.” Maas, who Grandieri says jokingly doesn’t have much going on upstairs, was then asked the inning and the score, getting both answers wrong. “Our coach and trainer looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a normal answer for Jeremy.’ Jeremy even admits now he would have answered it the same way (if he didn’t hit his head).” Maas did not have a concussion – but he did have a great story to tell.

Favorite Ivy League team to play: Princeton. “They have one of the most beautiful fields I’ve ever played on and a bunch of good pitchers. Every time you play Princeton, there are 25 scouts.”

Tom's brother, Brian, was a tremendous basketball player for Penn

Better athlete between the Grandieri brothers: Tom was kind enough to give the nod to Brian before his older brother tore his ACL during his freshman year at Penn. “Brian could dunk in the eighth grade, which people are always surprised to hear since he couldn’t jump over a phonebook at Penn.” These days, however? “I’m a much better athlete.”

Favorite part of Penn away from diamond: Hanging out at the local watering hole, The Blarney Stone, which “kind of became a sponsor for the Penn baseball team.” 

Favorite sport besides baseball: Without a doubt, basketball. He went to most Penn basketball games either as a fan or a student worker, and plans to get season tickets if he stays in Philly next year. “I’m a closet basketball freak.”

Favorite class: Psychology of Personal Growth. “It was basically group therapy. There were 25 kids in the class and we sat around and talked about our lives.”

Favorite restaurant: Back to Blarney. “A lot of people don’t know Blarney has food; it actually has amazing food.”

Thoughts on graduation: “It was awesome – a good way to end three years of hard work and put everything into focus.”

Future plans: The communications major/pro baseball hopeful is happily undecided at this point. “I don’t know if the Ivy Player of the Year will propel me to get drafted. That would be awesome if that happened. If not, I’ll attack the real world. I’m passively attacking it right now.” If he can’t play ball professionally, he hopes to get a job in sports marketing or public relations.

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Catching up with … Adam Rubin

It was a weird and gloomy day last July when New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya turned his attention to a Penn graduate, and in his own clumsy style, all but accused of him of violating journalism ethics and writing a malicious story to get someone fired in the hopes of taking his job.

It was a horrible moment in what was a horrible season for the Mets, and it was clear to almost everyone that the journalist in question, Adam Rubin W’95, never did anything close to being unethical.

Yet while both sides were able to move on, the jaw-dropping press conference may very well be what Rubin is best known for to the general public – which is unfortunate because the fact remains he is a terrific sports journalist. Late last month, Rubin continued his ascension when he was hired by ESPN to cover the Mets for their new local New York affiliate.

I’ve known Rubin since I was a student at Penn (he often came back to his alma mater to mentor students at the Daily Pennsylvanian, where he was once a sports editor), so it was my pleasure to catch up with him for the latest installment of Penn Gazette Sports’ alumni interviews.

Here is our chat:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: What prompted you to leave the Daily News for ESPN?

ADAM RUBIN: Going back to the Daily Pennsylvanian, I’ve written for a newspaper for 20 years, which is hard to believe. I think what you’re seeing in the last several years is the rise in prominence of Internet sites, particularly in the sports world. The rise of the ESPNs and the Yahoos has really made it more difficult for newspaper reporters to be the one breaking the story. Also, I already felt like I was doing the same (Internet) job, plus writing for the newspaper. When breaking news, you were putting it on the Internet and then coming back in the next day’s paper to write something else. Now there won’t be any hesitancy to put your best stuff up right away. You just go for it basically.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How do you think your job will change at ESPN?

ADAM RUBIN: I had a blog (at the Daily News) that was just starting to incorporate Twitter and even doing video, so I don’t think it will change dramatically. Obviously the resources at ESPN are unbelievable. I’ve already been contacted by someone in the statistics department. Having that behind me only enhances my work. Certainly, there will be more of a radio and TV component too, which I did a little at the Daily News but not on a regular basis. In a lot of ways it’s comparable in terms of traveling as a beat writer, but I’m sure there will be more of a multi-media perspective.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How much do you think covering baseball has changed in general since you began covering the Mets in 2003?

ADAM RUBIN: Everything has become so much more instantaneous. It used to be – and I’m not that old – you either had in the paper that day or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, you had 24 hours to come back with something better the next day. Now basically if you have something five minutes before it’s announced and you’re able to tweet it that counts as breaking the news. It is certainly now a 24-hour news cycle.

Rubin: From the DP to the Daily News to ESPN

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: A lot has been made of the decline of the newspaper industry, but do you think these local ESPN sites are good for sportswriters?

ADAM RUBIN: It’s certainly helping sportswriters in term of job opportunities. I would say I don‘t think newspapers are going away any time soon, especially in the New York market. I do think there are actually more eyeballs looking at stories now than ever before; it’s just they haven’t really figured out a way to monetize it on the Internet.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Have you enjoyed being a part of the 24-hours news cycle with Twitter and the blog updates or has it just been a lot more work? What has that balance been like and how have you been able to handle it?

ADAM RUBIN: It’s great in some respects and very difficult in others. You never feel like you’re off the clock now. You’re always concerned that if you’re not monitoring things you’re going to get beat by a couple of minutes. But it’s rewarding in other ways. When you have a blog, nothing gets cut out from your stories. And it’s much better for interaction with fans. So it’s positive and negative.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Does that press conference with Omar Minaya still come up all the time?

ADAM RUBIN: Just about every day, someone inquires about it. Frankly, everyone regrets it happened. I regret it happened even though I was kind of the recipient of it. Omar Minaya has been exceedingly apologetic ever since then. It was a very pressure-packed time for everyone. The season was crumbling before the Mets’ eyes. He had to fire his friend. It was an emotional time. Someone who is normally reasonably composed, even if he’ll tell you he’s not gifted articulately, really just had a meltdown on camera that happened to be directed at me because I was writing the stories that prompted him to fire his friend. But I can tell you my relationship is as strong as it’s ever been with Omar and I think most people in the organization are thankful the stories were written because it forced their hand to make changes. It hasn’t hampered my ability at all to cover the team; it’s probably enhanced it in a lot of ways.

Minaya regrets making Rubin the story last summer

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Is that the hardest thing for a journalist – to become the story like you were that day?

ADAM RUBIN: I’m very good in terms of anticipating things in terms of what story is coming up next. When I was sitting in that press conference, it was one of the few times in my life where I have ever been truly blindsided. I never saw it coming. When he first brought up my name, I thought he was begrudgingly giving me a compliment for my reporting and then it totally just took a turn in another direction that I didn’t foresee. You never want to have your ethics questioned at all. Usually journalists are not held in a very high regard, but if you look at the emails I got, I’d say they were 99 percent supportive of me. It was nice that people recognized I was acting responsibly.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So I think you know I’m a Mets fan. Are they going to be any better this year?

ADAM RUBIN: I honestly think it would be an accomplishment to be more than a few games over .500. Certainly they don’t line up with the Phillies at this point. If you look at the division, the Mets could easily lose to the Nationals. I have a hard time seeing the Mets being much more than a .500 club.

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: Finally, as someone who covered some really good Penn teams in the mid-90s, what did you make of Cornell’s run?

ADAM RUBIN: Well, I was there when Steve Donahue was the restricted earnings coach and I believe he was selling paint on the side to kind of make ends meet. To go up against Fran Dunphy (in the first round of the NCAA tournament) and to see Jerome Allen coaching the Penn team certainly makes me nostalgic. Over the years when you’re covering baseball, you kind of get tunnel vision. I was so sorry when Penn didn’t hire Steve Donahue and hired Glen Miller because I knew how much Steve Donahue bled the red and blue. Now it looks like he’s on to bigger and better things and has outgrown Ivy League. (Ed’s Note: This was said a few days before Donahue was hired to be the head coach at Boston College.)

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Glanville putting Penn education to good use

Back when I was a student at Penn, I used to go to many ballgames at the Vet, where, as many people probably recall, it was pretty easy to wander down to the first row without any hassle. Before one of those games, I decided to ask former Penn baseball star Doug Glanville C’93, who was then playing with the Phillies, to sign my PennCard. Glanville gladly complied – though if I remember correctly, the autograph pretty much evaporated before I even swiped it to get back into the Quad later that day.

But the point is this: Glanville is one hell of a nice guy and will always be associated with Penn.

I’m bringing up Glanville now not only because opening day is just about upon us, but also because there’s a lot of news surrounding the former Phillies ballplayer.

Just yesterday, Glanville signed on with ESPN to be an analyst, which he will do on top of his excellent New York Times column. And next month, his book The Game From Where I Stand will be released.

His post-playing days achievements should not be surprising. Glanville has always been a very free thinker when it came to baseball. As a systems engineer major in college, he wrote his senior thesis on the feasibility of building new ballpark for the Phillies at 30th Street Station. (“Hey, Glanville, why don’t you design a stadium you can hit in?” remains one of the all-time great heckles.)

And thankfully, his relationship with Penn has not faded away like his autograph on my old PennCard. Last month, Glanville spoke at the Kelly Writers House on his new writing career, and on April 12 he will discuss his career as a “scholar, athlete, builder and author” with students. He is also currently working on a piece for the Pennsylvania Gazette that will run in the July/August print issue.

In other Penn-related baseball news, Mets beat writer Adam Rubin W’95 is also making the move to ESPN. Penn Gazette Sports will feature an interview with him early next week.

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