Baseball Coaching Produces Three Pro Talents in Last Three Years: Flashback Friday from the Justice, September 19, 1995

This summer and fall, we’ll be taking a look back at our 2022 Hall of Fame inductees through the lens of The JusticeBrandeis’s student newspaper.

We hope you can join us for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Gosman Sports Center on October 8, 2022. Tickets are still available for purchase!

This week, why was Pete Varney the right choice to lead Brandeis baseball?

THE JUSTICE

Tuesday, September 19, 1995

Baseball Coaching Produces Three Pro Talents in Last Three Years

By Dan Friedell

Arizona State University, Wichita State University, the University of Miami and Brandeis each have one thing in common: each has become a consistent developer of professional baseball talent.

How does a Division III school like Brandeis, with a student body one-tenth the size of the other three, become a stop on the major league scouting tour?

In the last three years, the Brandeis baseball coaching triumvirate of head coach Pete Varney, assistant coach Bob Boutin and pitching coach Eric Podbelski have produced three players that have signed professional contracts. Pitcher Jamie Fernandes ’93 signed with the Boston Red Sox organization in the summer of 1993, catcher Tim Graham ’95 signed with the independent Nashua (NH) Hawks and pitcher Nelson Figueroa ’96 signed with the New York Mets organization last summer.

In an era of high school scouting reports, radar guns and camcorders, putting together a strong baseball team has gone from an art of playing hunches to a science.

Interestingly, the Brandeis baseball team uses all of this information, but as a Division III school, it still relies heavily on old-fashioned methods.

Varney stressed that the baseball program, which has consistently been one of the strongest in New England, benefits from the value of a Brandeis diploma.

“If (a player) is fortunate to have a 10-year career as a professional baseball player, when that time is done, he’ll still be only 32 or 33 years old with a lot ahead of him,” Varney said. “The education he received will still be with him years later.”

Because the spring is often short in New England, much of a player’s improvement occurs between the fall and spring seasons, inside a fieldhouse or in summer baseball, away from the watchful coaches’ eye. Due to the controlled climate of the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, pitchers have a chance to refine their mechanics, while batters may be hurt by the lack of game at-bats by playing in the north. However, nothing can make up for lost time, but players can benefit by coming to Brandeis and playing more often earlier in their collegiate careers.

“As a smaller school, we offer a player the opportunity to participate a little earlier at a higher level. Some players we have are good enough to be on scholarship at bigger schools, but they might be the eighth pitcher on their staff until their senior year,” Podbelski said.

Despite the technology and scouting services employed by major league teams, both Fernandes’ and Figueroa’s blockbuster performances in front of major league scouts gave them draft potential.

Fernandes was discovered by professional scouts later in his senior year. He was opposing a heavily-scouted pitcher from the University of Southern Maine, and by throwing a one-hitter and winning the game, he got noticed.

Figueroa pitched in the Cape Cod League in 1994, a league in which 90 percent of the participants get drafted. His team, the Wareham Gatemen, won the league championship, and Figueroa was a key member of the pitching rotation and a league All-Star.

“Nearly every kid who comes to Brandeis aspires to become a professional ballplayer,” Varney said. It’s a combination of the effort he puts in and the skill of the coaches that will lead to realizing that goal.”

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