By Jean DePlacido
---- — As a high school sophomore, Austin Batchelor was too young for college coaches to contact him or his family.
But that didn’t mean they weren’t watching the Malden Catholic and New England Firebirds AAU standout pitcher closely.
Santa came early to the Batchelor house in Peabody as the 16-year old verbally committed to play for Boston College after receiving a substantial scholarship offer just before the holidays..
“I’m excited. BC is perfect for me because I wanted to go to a good academic college that had a strong baseball program,” Batchelor said.
“I also wanted to stay in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) and be close to home so my parents could watch me play. I had thought about Notre Dame or Vanderbilt, but both were too far away. And I really like the coaches at Boston College.”
The 6-foot-3 Batchelor was recruited by the Eagles as a pitcher/catcher and hopes he’ll get a good look as a member of the team’s mound crew. He said BC coach Mike Gambino wants him as a pitcher, but if that doesn’t work out he would catch.
“My wife (Paula) went to BC,” said Austin’s father Dave Batchelor, who was also his Peabody West Little League manager and took the league’s all-star team all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. “We told him the decision was completely up to him. He’s been getting letters from everybody, and we said he could wait to see what came along later if he wanted to.
“Boston College is the place he wants to be, and he wanted to commit now. Honestly, I didn’t think anything like this would happen so quickly. We were just hoping he would be able to get into a good school when he was a junior or senior.”
Last year as a freshman at Malden Catholic, Batchelor started out as a catcher but also spent considerable time strengthening the Lancers’ bullpen.
Austin Batchelor has played for Rich Gilbride of Beverly on the Firebirds for the past seven years, and the manager went out of his way to help his star player.
“Rich has done so much for the whole Firebirds team, not just Austin,” said Dave Batchelor, an assistant baseball coach for the Lancers. “He talked to the BC coaches about Austin. I can’t thank him enough for all he has done.”
What made college coaches sit up and take notice of Batchelor first happened at the Lynn Invitational last summer when he was 15, where the lanky right-hander topped out at 90 MPH on the radar gun.
“Gilbride put him on the team as a catcher even though he was pretty young,” his father said. “A couple of kids didn’t show up and he was asked to pitch. That’s when he topped out at 90.
Austin has the perfect pitcher’s body at 6-3 with long arms. There’s ease in his pitching motion, and Coach Gambino thinks when he matures he’ll throw in the 90s.”
The younger Batchelor had no idea how fast he was until he was first clocked on the radar gun, and in doing so surprised both his friends and himself.
“The gun hit 87 earlier last summer; that was the first time I had any idea how hard I was throwing,” Batchelor said. “I wanted to hit 90, but honestly I was just throwing the ball that day in Lynn when I did it.
“I hope I get a chance to pitch for Malden Catholic this season. I’m going to play for the Firebirds again this summer, but the name is changing to East Cobb New England after the program in Georgia, which is the best in the country. It’s a good name to carry, and we’ll be doing a lot of traveling to big tournaments.”
Austin visited BC with his parents recently, and then took in an Eagles hockey game.
He comes from a baseball family. Older brothers David, Beau and Bobby all played at Austin Prep. Beau is now a senior pitcher at Merrimack and played for the Navigators in the Futures League last summer.
The Firebirds went to Fort Myers, Fla., in October for an AAU Showcase, and once again there were lots of scouts keeping a close eye on the young pitching prospect from MC.
Austin, an honor roll student, is also an impressive basketball player for the Lancers. Come spring he may see a lot of action behind the plate as well as doing some pitching. MC has a new head coach this year in Pat Driscoll, who is replacing Steve Frecker at the helm.
“Austin may do more catching because there are three outstanding senior starters,” said Dave Batchelor, a police captain in Chelsea. “Gambino recruited him as both a catcher and pitcher. After he graduates it’s going to be so nice to go over to BC to see him pitch. It’s only 15 minutes from where I work — and a lot better than having to fly to all his games.”