Josh Porter can’t hit a Josh Beckett fastball. Nor can he hit a Tim Wakefield knuckleball. And two weeks ago he couldn’t put a bat on anything BoSox prospect Justin Masterson served up.
But at least he had the chance to take a few swings.
As a fifth-year senior with the Northeastern University baseball team, Porter played in his fifth and final spring exhibition against the Red Sox on Thursday, Feb. 28 at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida.
And it looks like the 2003 Middleboro High School grad will retire hitless against the old hometown team.
“I’ve connected on a couple of foul tips. Other than that, I usually just tip my cap and head back to the dugout,” Porter said Monday during a short visit to the family home in Middleboro.
What started as a lucky and entirely-unexpected treat for the incoming freshman in fall of 2003 has become an annual pre-season ritual — uh, shellacking — for the Huskies, and Porter is now armed with an enviable library of stories to tell when conversation happens upon the subject of baseball.
“I just lucked out, I guess,” he said. “My first year on the team was the first year they did it, and I had no idea about it when I made the decision to go to Northeastern. There was a rumor about it when I first got there, but we really didn’t believe it. Then coach (Neil McPhee) told us it was going to happen and it would be an annual thing.”
This most recent game against the Sox came in the midst of an 11-day road trip to Florida, where the Huskies trained and stayed at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, a multi-sport training center for professional and amateur athletes. Northeastern played to a 6-4 record against the likes Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Villanova, all competitive pre-season games with a purpose.
Though it was little more than batting practice to the World Champs, a 15-0 loss to the Sox was no doubt highlighted the trip for the Huskies. They got shelled again — last year it was an 11-0 loss — but it was much worse for Boston College a night earlier, the Eagles suffering a 24-0 pounding.
“It’s a cool experience,” Porter says. “Most of the guys on this team won’t play at the next level, so you get a chance to act a like a big-leaguer for a day. I mean, it’s only spring training, and it’s not Fenway Park or anything, but you’re still in a major league clubhouse and you get to hang out and do the pre-game stuff. It’s cool for guys like me, because I won’t ever get to do that again.”
Yeah, it’s fun for the college kids, but there’s no question which team the near-capacity crowd is there to see.
“Even though we’re the college kids, and the underdogs, everybody there is rooting for the Red Sox. There’s always a lot of people from Massachusetts down there, and this year there were like 600 Northeastern alumni, but they were all rooting for the Red Sox, too.”
Adding to the grandeur of Porter’s future tales is the fact that he played against the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams.
Just two weeks into his first collegiate season, the then red-shirt freshman got an at-bat against the Red Sox team that eventually went on to win Boston’s first World Series title since 1918.
“That was unbelievable. That was the year (the Red Sox) just signed Curt Schilling and we basically played against the starting lineup. It was the only time Manny and Ortiz were in the lineup,” he said.
In 2005, Porter had a run-in with lefty reliever Alan Embry. Nothing. It was Wakefield in 2006. Still nothing. And last year, Porter took a few chops at Beckett, coming up empty again.
“He spots his pitches better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and obviously he throws hard, so you have to make the decision whether or not to swing about a half a second quicker than normal,” Porter said.
“Sometimes you hear a guy say ‘I could hit that pitch’, or ‘I could make that play’, but it’s a lot harder than it looks on TV. It’s a big jump from college to the pros. Those guys are so good at what they do, in the field, at the plate and on the mound — they’re just so good.”
Not only was it his last game against the Sox, but Porter is now into his final season of college baseball with the Huskies.
He is a team captain for the second year running, and as the team’s starting first baseman, expectations are high. And they’re high because he’s set a high standard. His .342 batting average was second on the team last year, and in the field he’s committed just three errors in three years.
Northeastern finished the 2007 season with a record of 24-22, and they’ll be looking to improve upon that mark. Another team goal is to get back to the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. The Huskies narrowly missed the cut last season, a 12-17 league record leaving them a half game short.
In the classroom at Northeastern, Porter is pursuing a degree in Human Services, and he returned home Monday to some good news in the form of an acceptance letter from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.
He says his ultimate goal is to work as a school social worker or guidance counselor with an inner-city school system.
~taken from SouthCoast Today http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20080313/pub04/803130417 ~