Baseball players come from all over. All over the country and all over the world. From small community colleges and from perennial powerhouses like USC or Arizona State. They even come from the Ivy League. Hall of Famers like Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins, who both starred at Columbia top the list. Bill Almon, the former number one pick in the draft was a standout at Brown University. More recently, lefty Craig Breslow of the Athletics, who was an International League All Star with Pawtucket has carried the Ivy banner as a Yale grad. “The Sporting News” tabbed Breslow as “The smartest athlete in the world”, and the “Wall Street Journal” surmised that he could be the “smartest man in the world.” Knowing Craig, I would not disagree. I can vivdly remember him trying to explain his college major at Yale to me. Molecular biophysics and biochemistry. I had to check the dictionary just to type it into this space! Aside from being one of the most reliable relievers in the Bigs over the last two seasons (152 appearances in 2009 and 2010, combined) Breslow founded the Strike 3 Foundation, raising money for cancer research. His inspiration is his sister, Leslie, who was diagnosed with cancer when the pair were children. Leslie is a 17 year cancer survivor.
There is another Eli on the horizon. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, 23, is coming off an impressive 2010 campaign. He combined to hit .288 with 22 Homers and 102 rbi. While at Yale, he became the Ivy Leagues’ All-Time home run leader with 33. Ryan was a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Golden Spikes Award in 2008. The Red Sox selected the 6’4″ catcher in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. Lavarnway was introduced to Breslow when the catcher was an undergrad, and they have maintained the relationship. “Craig came and spoke to us at Yale when I was a junior. He talked about the Strike 3 Foundation. We were all just college kids with no money, though. I think Coach (John) Stuper just wanted us to meet. We’ve kept in contact. When he was with the Twins, at Spring Training, we spent some time together (in Fort Myers). He’s a great guy. He’s helped me out a lot.”
With the unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia listed as the #1 catcher in Boston and Jason Varitek, in the twilight of his career, as the backup, Lavarnway knows that Red Sox Nation is the land of opportunity for a young, talented backstop. “In the long run, I want to help this team win and I want to be that guy. It’s a great opportunity to be coming up in the system at this time. The Sox are such a storied franchise. So many great players. Jason Varitek has always been one of my favorite players, since I was a kid. I hope to learn a lot from him at Spring Training and throughout this year. Hopefully, I’ll earn the opportunity to come up and help the Red Sox win.”
Lavarnway is excited about heading south and getting started. As a catcher, he’ll get ample chance to show his stuff to Terry Francona. With all the pitchers there, there’s always a need for catchers, and Lavarnway will take advantage of the situation. “It’s a good opportunity to get to know the Major League pitchers. These guys who have tremendous stuff are some of the best pitchers in the game. Going into this year, I would rank our Major League staff at the top of the league. It’s tough to catch those guys if you’ve never caught them before. You need to get to know what kind of pitches they throw in which situations. When they bounce their curveball, when they like to expand the zone. I’m going to really bear down at Spring Training and get to know these guys a little bit.”
With his Ivy League education in his back pocket, Ryan Lavarnway should be a quick study.