Athletes are often perceived as existing outside of the student body. Their dedication to sport, rigorous training schedules, and time in the national spotlight frequently distance them from the general population. Yet, their stories go far beyond the jersey. On the field and off, they have aspirations, passions, hardships, and triumphs. Press Pass is a new series dedicated to bridging the gap between athletes and Superfans by exploring what it means to be an authentic member of the Boston College community.
Joe Cronin - Baseball
On a Birdball team like no other, Captain Joe Cronin leads through example, encouragement, and passion for the game of baseball. In his final year at Boston College, Cronin’s team will make its first NCAA tournament in seven years.
The Scarborough, Maine native’s path to BC was forged through the support of his parents and the experience of his father, who was his high school’s baseball coach. As an only child, Cronin’s parents could easily travel with him for summer and travel teams. Every weekend was spent playing baseball with his parents by his side or in the stands.
“That was obviously a huge sacrifice for them, because I know they probably didn’t always want to do that,” Cronin said.
When Joe got to Scarborough High School, his father had already accepted another coaching job at a college nearby; Cronin credit’s his father’s replacement as a major influence in his baseball career. It was his new coach who showed Cronin that he was good enough to play at the next level, and BC soon came beckoning. The combination of beauty, prestige in the classroom and on the field, and a perfect location sold Cronin on The Heights during his freshman year of high school.
“Having the opportunity to (have) that, and be two hours from home and be at a school as special as this is something you can’t find anywhere else,” Cronin said. “I compared every other school I went to to here and I was always coming back to (BC)…nothing ever really stacked up to it.”
Upon Cronin’s arrival on campus, he was a shy, soft-spoken kid uncertain about himself on and off the filed. The small-town player from Maine claimed to be a bit shell-shocked when he was tossed into an entirely different environment populated by a wide array of people from places all over the world.
“When I got here, I didn’t know if I could play here essentially, because you come from Maine high school baseball and then go to the ACC and it’s a completely different game,” Cronin said. “I had no idea what to expect, and I struggled in the fall a lot. “
But a conversation with Coach Gambino helped turn things around. “He told me, ‘Until you believe you can hit here and play here, it’ll never happen,’” Cronin said. “He knows I can play, but it was a matter of me getting (enough confidence) to believe in myself. He threw all of us out there as freshmen and said ‘I trust you, go play,’ and that was huge. We failed a lot, but he stuck with me.”
By the time his sophomore year came around, Cronin knew that he had earned himself a spot on the diamond and came back knowing that he deserved to be where he was.
Through the years, Cronin’s production and on-field presence has grown. He is tied for third place all-time with 49 career doubles and for seventh in career triples. Currently, he possesses a team-high .444 slugging percentage and leads the Eagles with 34 RBIs, three triples, four home runs, and 83 total bases. Cronin is also tied for first with 13 doubles and is second on the team with 30 runs.
Outside of his dominance in the stat books, Cronin has also grown as a leader in his four years and was voted captain by his teammates at the beginning of his final season. “Baseball has helped me come out of my shell,” Cronin said. By feeling like he was a part of something bigger, he gained confidence on and off the field and steadily became the type of man and player that his teammates could look up to.
“It just means that the guys around you trust you,” he acknowledged. “That’s something that I think anyone wants. It means that in the first three years people saw something in me that I could be a captain. It means a lot for me to be a captain of this program, because I know how special this program is. It makes it a little bit more special because the culture we have as a team is so tight that it’s nice to be looked at as a leader.”
Cronin’s leadership and experience paid off, as the Eagles seemed to overcome every barrier in their way this season. As a result, they have made a name for themselves in the world of college baseball and paved the way for future teams to remain dominant. With classes over, the team can now dedicate focus to the tournament.
The Eagles know the big picture and the ultimate goal, but taking it one game at a time keeps them level and grounded. “You have to win the inning,” said Cronin, who stays calm and collected when talking about the future, stressing the importance of not getting too far ahead and not losing sight of the smaller battles.
When it comes to battles, it is something that Birdball is quite familiar with, on and off the field. Perhaps it is their inspiration off the field that motivates them to keep performing on it. Pete Frates is forever linked with the team that he was once a member of. Throughout the years, his fight and his courage has inspired the entire community to go above and beyond and fight for something greater.
“We know how badly he wants us to win, so obviously we want to win for him. The fact that he still cares so much about us, it’s great for us because it just feels like, for someone who’s so important to a whole—basically the whole world and a whole disease—he still cares so much about us, that we just want to win for him,” Cronin said.
Having been on the team when Frates was a coach makes the fight all the more special to Cronin. “When I was a freshman, he was in the dugout with us every game, basically,” Cronin said. “My freshman year, he was traveling to everything, he was around us all the time; I feel like he’s been an inspiration for my class, especially since he’s been with us all the was through.”
“It puts things in perspective for us, when we lose a game we think our life sucks, or we think our problems are huge, its kind of like a perspective thing. You see how much he’s gone through and how positive he’s been,” Cronin added.
Frates’ resilience has definitely rubbed off on this years’ team, as it has won in walk-off fashion many times, notably against Louisville and UVA. “It speaks a lot to who we are as a team, all fall we’ve preached; we’re gonna be a better team in a close game because we’re so good fundamentally, we work so much on the little stuff,” Cronin said.
By focusing on the technicalities of the game, Cronin knows that the team can trust in its preparation to get them through the battle. It is that quiet confidence that allows the Eagles to thrive under pressure. “We know if it gets down to a close game we’ve done enough to know that we have the upper hand,” Cronin said.
Against UVA, down by three in the ninth, the Eagles knew they still had a fighting chance and went out swinging to take down the defending champions. “We’re going to be the best team in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Cronin stated matter-of-factly. “We’re never going to be out of a game.”
Those wins gave the typically dormant Eagles the upper hand in said high-pressure situations. With nothing to lose, they knew they had the skill and the stamina to outlast any team, and with a newfound confidence, they executed accordingly.
In the final series of the season, it was a win-or-go-home situation. Playing at No. 22 Georgia Tech, the Eagles needed to take two of three games to secure a spot in the ACC tournament. Trusting in the groundwork laid out by Coach Gambino, Birdball did what it does best: exceeded expectations.
The Eagles were slated for a rematch with Georgia Tech in the tournament, merely three days after taking the series. Cronin skipped his graduation ceremony to play, a shining example of his team-first mentality. He knew a diploma would be waiting for him upon his return.
Post-graduation, Cronin knows that his love for the game will trump any nine-to-five job; he plans on staying as close to the game as possible. He acknowledges that his future is uncertain but plans on focusing on the games ahead and not worrying about what comes next until what he hopes is late June.
"I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I'll figure it out. It's just kind of a waiting game," Cronin said. "I kinda just said, 'This year I'm gonna focus on playing and finishing out the year.'"
Birdball dropped the first game of the ACC tournament, but the NCAA selection committee saw something special in the Eagles, the same thing that fans have seen all year. The committee granted them one of 64 coveted spots, sending the men of Chestnut Hill to compete in Oxford, Mississippi. There, they will have their chance to prove that they belong in the dance.
The Eagles face off against Tulane at 4 p.m. on Friday in a single-game elimination style tournament: win and see another day on the diamond or lose and watch the regional final from the stands.
“We know we can go out there and play with, and beat, anyone,” Cronin said. “You have to take it one game at a time.”
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