Middlebury College senior Mike Joseph loves baseball — and now he has a shot, a long shot perhaps, to embark on a career in baseball, having signed a contract in August with the Baltimore Orioles.
As you read this, Mike is in Sarasota, training and competing for a month (15 games) in the Florida Instructional League. He’s the first Panther to join a Major League organization since the early 1950s.
Baseball is Mike’s passion, even an “obsession,” he said, “a healthy one. My joy comes from working hard and seeing the results pay off on the field.
“Pitching to a hitter is one of the most competitive actions in sports. One-on-one for 27 outs; I love the battle, both mental and physical, of going up against hitters.”
Middlebury Coach Bob Smith confirmed his dedication. “Mike is quiet and reserved, a man of few words, but he has a drive in him. He’s easy to coach. There were days we had to ‘throw him off the field’ because he wanted to work more on some phase of the game.”
Mike’s opportunity with the Orioles comes as a result of his play this summer for the Torrington (Conn.) Titans in the Futures College Baseball League (FCBL). The league consisted of nine New England teams, college players using wood bats playing a 54-game schedule.
“I thought I would have a chance to get noticed,” he said in a conversation at the Middlebury Market before heading to Florida. With the Titans, he was quickly installed by Coach Mischa Dworkin as the “set-up man,” pitching the eighth inning of games.
He played well, pitching 24 innings in 21 games, striking out 22, and compiling a fine earned-run average of 3.28.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Mike said. “About 40 percent of the players came from Division I programs, some very good ones — Vanderbilt, Florida, Notre Dame. There were some kids who had been drafted out of high school. It was eye opening.
“I was not overwhelmed. I realized I could compete with kids from big programs. I gained confidence from that.”
Mike found it helpful to be able to focus exclusively on baseball. “It was run like a pro team, very structured. I could get to the park two or three hours before the game. In college, it’s always a rush to get ready.”
The big break came in a pro scout “showcase” before the league All-Star Game on July 26. He threw a “bullpen” for about a dozen scouts from major league organizations. His fastball was clocked from 91 to 93 mph.
“After that, there were scouts at every game I pitched,” he said. The Twins, Diamondbacks, and Nationals all showed interest. He traveled to Philadelphia and pitched in the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park, again throwing in the 90s.
“That was fun,” Mike said. “The Phillies made an offer but I was more confident signing with the Orioles. They were first.”
On Aug. 29, Mike and his parents, Dale and John, attended an Orioles-White Sox game in Camden Yards. Orioles’ scout Dean Albany and General Manager Dan Duquette visited with the family during the game.
At six-foot-seven, 215 pounds, Mike is an imposing figure on the mound. His numbers have not been spectacular at Middlebury, in large measure because he has always drawn the toughest starts as the ace of the pitching staff.
While his absorption with baseball is genuine, it is hardly exclusive. Mike represents the ideal of the student-athlete. A philosophy major, he has earned a 3.8 GPA in his three years at Middlebury. His special interest is Buddhist philosophy and he is especially taken with the writing of Nagarjuna, an early Buddhist philosopher and teacher.
Mike was quick to acknowledge his Middlebury coaches, pitching coach Jim Neidlinger in particular, who had 11-year professional career himself, including some time in the majors.
“Jim is obviously good technically,” Mike said, “but he was even more helpful to me in terms of mental preparation. He really sticks with you when you’re not pitching well. He never gives up on a player.”
Mike’s parents are excited on his behalf.
“It is hard to imagine anything more gratifying for a parent than to see your children have a real chance at pursuing what they love, whatever that may be,” they wrote in a recent e-mail. “This opportunity also brings with it mixed emotions. He will miss out on a good chunk of his senior year with his friends and teammates. Michael has had a wonderful experience at Middlebury, both academically and socially.”
Mike’s plan is to return to Middlebury in October and complete two courses this fall, take the spring term off to pursue this baseball adventure, and return next fall to finish his degree.
Coach Smith is philosophical about the loss of his best pitcher.
“We will obviously miss Mike but I am thrilled for him. Wherever this opportunity takes him, he will represent himself and his family, our program, and Middlebury College in a way that will make us all proud.”