By Mike Walsh
Kettleers Media Intern
July 19, 2012
One year ago today, Patrick Biondi’s batting average fell below .200 for the final time in the 2011 Cape Cod League season. An 0-for-5 day at the plate against the Harwich Mariners dropped the center fielder’s average to .197. From there it plummeted to .172 at season’s end.
As Thomas Wayne once told his fictional son, Bruce; “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” It just so happens that we now stand exactly one year after that oh-for and at midnight, Thomas’ son will pick himself back up during the premier of The Dark Knight Rises. Likewise, one year after the sinking feeling yet again struck Patrick Biondi, he takes the field with an even .400 batting average.
Excuse the topical Batman reference, but nobody in the Cape Cod Baseball League has learned how to pick himself up more than the Michigan junior who returned to the Cotuit Kettleers in 2012 after an abysmal 2011 campaign.
Since back-to-back two hit games to open the 2012 season, Biondi has set the Cape on fire with eight multi-hit games and a recent 13-game hitting streak. Entering the July 19th game at Wareham, Biondi sits second in the CCBL in batting average. Just .002 off the league leader.
.400 is a long way from .172 and Patrick Biondi has come a long way as well.
The Woodhaven, MI native was a basketball star until mid-high school when he made the decision to focus his athletic abilities on the diamond and not the hardwood. From there the decision came down to playing at Kentucky or Michigan. Of course, he stayed loyal to his home state and became a member of the Wolverines.
Loyalty would play a key role in the magical season he is currently having wearing the maroon pinstripes of the Cotuit Kettleers.
Following his sophomore season at Michigan, Biondi was invited to the Cape on a permanent contract. One he was unable to live up to.
“It was a great experience. Obviously, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. From that standpoint it was a tough summer,” said Biondi, who managed to go just 15-of-87 at the plate. “It was a little bit frustrating but it was good for me. It helped me mature both mentally and as a player.”
It is one thing to struggle as an athlete. It is a whole other deal when you cannot figure out why. For Biondi, the difficulties came as a surprise.
He was named to the All-Big Ten freshmen team while hitting .313 in his first season at Michigan. As a sophomore he hit .283 and led the Wolverines in runs-scored with 36.
“People say the game is 90-percent mental,” said Biondi, for whom it was a definite combination. “Part of it was a lack of confidence at the plate. Part of it was I wasn’t as ready to hit mentally or physically.”
As Biondi learned, once you struggle for a little bit it is always tough to get back to where your were.
“It was frustrating last summer, to be completely honest.” said Biondi while sitting in the front row of the Lowell Park bleachers. “I learned how to bounce back, though. I was able to start to build a foundation for where I am now.”
Upon returning to Michigan for his third year, he was able to get back on track and have another good college season. As a junior he was named co-captain of the Wolverines and hit .306, once again being named to an All-Big Ten team.
“At first, it is like two different worlds. You go back to school and everyone expects you to be a player still. I knew that everything that could of gone wrong last summer did. I knew I was capable of being a better player,” assured Biondi.
However, the thoughts of that first summer on the Cape never fully left Biondi’s mind. When his name wasn’t called in the first 10 rounds of the MLB draft, he punched a familiar number into his phone.
On the other end of the line was Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts. The two had developed a bond that can only be forged through one’s deepest struggles. Roberts maintained that relationship with Biondi and was ready to welcome him back with open arms.
“It was Patrick.” said Roberts, simply. “He had some goals that he set and he was nice enough to want to come back. He loved being in Cotuit.”
Still, Biondi continued to weigh his options, not deciding for sure to return until about five days before the season.
The young man again showed loyalty to his coach and the village of Cotuit as a whole; “Another coach called from one of the other teams, but I told him that if Coach Roberts had a spot for me I was going to go back to Cotuit.”
The two have had many seminal-type moments over the past two summers. A lot of advice and words of wisdom have been passed down from one to the other.
“I think what he has instilled in me more than anything is to just be confident. You are never going to excel in this game if you aren’t confident in yourself,” said Biondi of his coach.
And so the stage was set, he returned on a temporary contract knowing full well that he had to prove himself early in order to stay with the team.
He did that and more in the early going for the Kettleers, kicking off the season with seven hits in five games. He then proceeded to go on a tear that placed him among the league leaders in numerous categories and a probable starter in July’s All-Star game.
“He has come back with such a marvelous attitude and worked so hard,” added Roberts after a 2-1 win in which his star went 2-for-3 with an RBI. “Anybody can see his improvement.”
In a way, Cotuit’s seasons have emulated that of the 5’9” Biondi. When he struggled in 2011, the team finished with just 16 wins and in the cellar of the West Division. Despite having more top-level stars, including three first round picks, the Kettleers didn’t function as a unit and that was ultimately their downfall.
This year, Biondi has taken over the reigns as a team leader both on and off the field.
“Being a returning guy, everybody looks to you to ask ‘what did you guys do last year when you went here?’” said Biondi. “It was just a natural thing.”
The 2012 team has taken on the defiant spirit of their diminutive leader and fought back from a slow start. Despite having few projected early round draft picks, the team has come together in recent weeks and risen to first place in the division.
All the while, their starting center fielder has been proving himself to coaches, to scouts and most importantly, to Patrick Biondi.
“Last year I had goals for what I wished would happen,” said Biondi, staring out over a field that once appeared to be a roadblock. “This year I came out and said ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ It wasn’t anything average-wise, it was more me proving that I belonged out here and that I could play at this level.”
It was then that Biondi finally answered the question that myself and Kettleers fans have been wondering since the blonde haired 21-year-old threw on the No. 15 jersey for round two at Lowell Park this summer.
“What I told [coach Roberts] was that I have two goals. I want to be on the All-Star team and I want to win a championship.”
One down, one to go.