July 28, 2009
By Bill Abramson-New Bedford Standard Times/Sunday, July 26, 2009
NEW BEDFORD -- Gene Conley. Dave DeBusschere. Jeff Macchi?
Macchi played his college baseball four miles away from Dr. Paul Walsh Field at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus, and, despite hitting .375 his junior year, baseball may not even be his best sport.
Conley won a World Series with the Milwaukee (yes, they used to play there, too, after Boston and before Atlanta) Braves in 1957 and three titles backing up Bill Russell at center for the Boston Celtics from 1958-1961. He also pitched for the Red Sox in 1961-1963, was the losing pitcher in the 1954 All-Star Game and is the only athlete to win championships in two pro sports.
DeBusschere pitched two seasons for the Chicago White Sox and played forward and guard for the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983 with University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith and teammate Bill Bradley, who later became a U.S. Senator from New Jersey. DeBusschere died in 2003.Ironically, Conley and DeBusschere pitched against each other in a 1963 game at Fenway Park.
Macchi is the UMass-Dartmouth version of a two-sport athlete, playing guard for the record-tying (27 victories) school basketball team and outfield for the baseball team. He has continued to play baseball this summer with the New Bedford Bay Sox. Macchi started the season with the Bay Sox as New Bedford and the rest of the New England Collegiate Baseball League waited for teams to be eliminated from the NCAA tournaments so players would become available for the summer.
"I signed a two-week contract, but I thought I had a chance to stick," Macchi said. "My coach (former manager Cory Conrad) told me there were no more full-season contracts, but if one opened up, he'd call."
The contract recently became available as a flurry of Bay Sox were ruled out as one injury after another decimated the roster, including all-star center fielder Dusty Harvard and right fielder Daniel Pigott.Macchi isn't surprised he got the call to come back.He hit .375 with 11 doubles, three triples and two home runs for the Corsairs during the 2009 season, his third with UMass-Dartmouth and his second as the regular center fielder. Macchi joined the baseball team after starting all 31 games at guard for the basketball team, averaging 11.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.71 steals per game, and was named to the Little East Conference All-Defensive Team. UMass-Dartmouth won the regional tournament and lost in the round of 16 in Pennsylvania.
"We're going to be really good in basketball next year and we've got a chance to win a national championship," explained Macchi, who will be a senior next month. "In baseball, we had a lot of good young kids last year and we're mostly juniors and seniors now, so we should have a really good season." Taking the politically correct stance, he tried to put his preference for the two sports into perspective.
"I've played baseball my whole life," Macchi, who lives in Franklin, said. "I'm more natural at baseball. I've got a little brother, Jake, who is 8, and he's been playing since he was 4, so I'm sure my dad had me out there when I was 4, too. "I like baseball better during baseball season and I like basketball better during basketball season."
Going into the baseball season at UMass-Dartmouth, Macchi had some initial goals for himself."One was not to make an error all year in the outfield and I did that," he said. "But, I didn't hit as many home runs as I wanted. My goal was six and I hit two, but none 'til the last two weeks of the year.
"I play hard and I've hit the ball hard and don't get cheated on any at bat." Macchi got the call to come back to the Bay Sox on his way home from the golf course and said he couldn't pass up the chance to play in a league like the NECBL. "The difference here is in the depth of the pitching," Macchi pointed out, noting the change between facing Division 3 pitching and the Division 1 pitching he's up against now. "When we play our weekend series during the college season, we see good pitching. We're in a pretty good league and face kids who are pretty good, but it's not as good as here when we face someone good every night."
Added to the quality of arms that get thrown out on the mound every game is the challenge of hitting those pitchers with wooden bats after playing all year with aluminum."I hadn't hit with wood since two summers ago," he said. "I got hurt in basketball a year ago and didn't play summer ball last year."I hit with wood a couple of days before I got here to start the season, but when I got let go, I started golfing. When I got the call to come back, I went hitting that day. Mike Garrity, a friend of mine, came with me and he pitched to me. He put the screens close and hummed it at me.
"I played in the exhibition against the Military All-Stars (a week ago Thursday) and went 2-for-4. I've been hitting the ball a lot better this time."
Macchi celebrated his 21st birthday Friday night and had a single, walk, RBI and two stolen bases in an 11-inning 6-4 loss to the Manchester Silkworms.
The Bay Sox season could go into the second week of August, if the team goes deeply into the playoffs. That will give Macchi a two-week vacation before the school classroom and the fall baseball, winter basketball and spring baseball cycle begins again.