Brian Donahue '07
Donahue is a two-time All-NESCAC selection and earned conference rookie of the year honors in 2004.

Amherst's Donahue Enjoys Summer on the Cape

October 6, 2005

AMHERST, MA - It is not preposterous. But it is rare. Amherst College junior pitcher Brian Donahue played in the Cape Cod Baseball League this past summer, and, to be more specific, he played quite well.

Every summer the 10 Cape League teams (each one represents a town) suit up some of the best college players in the country from big Division I schools like Texas, Florida and Stetson. And every summer Major League scouts, toting clipboards and radar guns, line up behind backstops to evaluate this talent. Without fail, even on overcast evenings, the stands are full and there is hardly room for another folding chair or blanket on the grass.

The Cape League is one of the best amateur leagues in the world. One out of every six major leaguers plays in it.

A Sudbury, Mass. native and a psychology major at Amherst, Donahue admitted he felt a little intimidated when he saw this year's list of Cape leaguers. He recognized some of the names from ESPN. "There are a lot of really good players here," he said, "but I feel like I can compete. It makes you feel better about your baseball ability when you know you can play."

There is no doubt that Donahue, a 6-4, 235-pound junior, can play. He appeared in nine games this summer for the Cape League's Brewster Whitecaps, picking up a win and a save while striking out 11 in 14.2 innings of work. Over his two years at Amherst (where he is a starting pitcher) he has compiled a record of 11-4 (including two shutouts). He has pitched 123.1 innings with 93 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.55, and opposing batters have hit only .197 against him.

"Donahue is in line to be a top-notch pitcher," said Bill Thurston, head coach of the Amherst baseball team for the past 39 years. "I think he can be a pro." An Amherst player going pro is actually not an unprecedented phenomenon. Twenty-three players (13 of them pitchers) have signed professional baseball contracts.

While leading Amherst to an unbelievable 730 wins, Thurston has had a particular influence on his pitchers. Every season he videotapes his hurlers to study and critique their motions. "We work them hard on proper mechanics," he said, "and the mentality to throw strikes. We study arm action. We work with pressure points on the ball. You don't have to throw hard. The best power pitchers throw the ball with a lot of movement."

"Coach will be in your face videotaping you," said Donahue, "and at first, you're like 'This is kind of weird.' But then he shows you exactly where your arm is, what your legs are doing, and what you're doing wrong. It could be that you're not tucking your glove in or your wrist isn't exactly where it should be. I think I've picked up a couple miles-per-hour [on my fastball] from these little things."

The Amherst College baseball team allows their pitchers to take batting practice only if they throw a shutout. On May 14, 2005, pitching in a conference tournament game against Trinity, Donahue secured himself and the rest of the pitching staff some wild cuts in the cage ("We love to get in there and swing for the fences," he says, "try to show up the hitters"). Unknowingly, he also earned himself an invite to the Cape League.

An unofficial scout for the Brewster Whitecaps was at the game, and saw Donahue's one-hit gem as the Jeffs blanked the then fifth-ranked Bantams. Soon after, he received a call from Dave Porter, the general manager of the Whitecaps, who offered him a spot on his team as a temporary player.

Because wooden bats are used, the Cape League is a transition for all college hitters, who are accustomed to wielding aluminum. While he didn't hit during his summer in the Cape League, Donahue had to make adjustments of his own. At Amherst they play four games a week; on the Cape they played six. And, more importantly, at Amherst Donahue is a starter; on the Cape he pitched out of the bullpen. "I'm used to pitching and then resting for five days," he said. "It was a tough transition. My arm wasn't used to pitching one day, taking a short break, and then pitching again."

On the other hand, seeing a hitter with a wooden bat was a welcome change. Donahue explained that at the start of the season, as hitters are adjusting to the new bat, pitchers always dominate. "We can throw inside a lot more," he said. "If you get jammed with a metal bat, you can bloop it over the infield. With wood, the bat will break. Wooden bats are also heavier, tougher to get around."

"Brian (Donahue) is a very smart pitcher," said Porter. "He pitched against the greatest players in college ball and did well."

Each team usually carries around 30 players-some invited for the whole summer, others invited as temporaries-until July 4, when the league requires rosters to be cut to 23. Donahue's performance was good enough to earn a call from Brewster head coach Bob Macaluso, inviting him to stay on for the remainder of the summer.

"I learned a lot about pitching this summer," said Donahue. "I learned a lot about how to pitch to batters, rather than just go out there and rely on my stuff and throw." He hopes to bring this new knowledge and experience back to Amherst and the NESCAC and guide the Jeffs to their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.