Dan Connerty and Sam Belisle-Springer reflect on their time with the Stingers baseball team
Anyone will tell you that, in any sport, every team could use more than a few veterans that other players can depend on. What is less widely discussed is the pressure these veterans often put on themselves to be dependable.
With the Stingers baseball season over, veteran pitchers Sam Belisle-Springer and Dan Connerty have finished their last season with Concordia. Both players started their careers with the Stingers in 2013. Connerty left to pitch in the United States for two years, returning to Concordia in 2016, while Belisle-Springer has played four straight seasons.
When the 2016 season started, both were slated to be the team’s premier starting pitchers. Connerty had just come back from playing for Northwood University in Michigan and was named team captain, while Belisle-Springer had been awarded Pitcher of the Year in 2015.
Both were feeling the pressures of leadership.
“Going into [this season], I knew I had to be a starting pitcher, I had to be the number one guy,” said Belisle-Springer. The team had lost one of their other starting pitchers from the year before, and Connerty hadn’t played on the team in two years. “There were a lot of question marks. A lot of that pressure was pressure that I put on myself, and I think that really played into my slow start.”
Meanwhile, Connerty found himself struggling with the pressures of captaincy. He admitted that when manager Howie Schwartz named him captain, he felt like he needed to be the perfect leader the team deserved at all times.
Through the month of September, Connerty and Belisle-Springer allowed a combined 29 runs in just over 23 innings. Before too long, Schwartz decided to sit both of them down and put his background in sports psychology to use.
“He sat us down, we spoke for a good twenty, thirty minutes about what we needed to focus on,” Connerty said. “[Howie] said that I was just putting too much pressure on myself. [I’m a] strong enough leader off the field that, when I go into the game, I don’t have to expect to be perfect.”
Connerty adjusted his leadership strategies, understanding that not everyone on the team had the same competitive spirit he and Belisle-Springer brought to the game.
“There was a difference this year [from] the 2013 team. Not playing at 100 per cent wasn’t acceptable [in 2013]. We had guys on the team who held you accountable. This year, you couldn’t really do that,” Connerty said. “There’s a fine line between being constructive, and coming off as a condescending asshole.”
Belisle-Springer agreed that sometimes the commitment level on the team was lacking. “I had the feeling that half the team didn’t care,” Belisle-Springer said. “The starters really cared but we had a lot of guys who were [just] there.”
With Schwartz’s guidance, the two pitchers were able to finish the regular season with style. By mid-October, both had managed to bring their respective earned-run-averages below four. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to translate this strong play into success at Nationals.
“I had a really strong stretch of three or four starts, and I wasn’t able to carry that over into Nationals,” Belisle-Springer said. “The big disappointment is that I feel like I’m a lot better than what I’ve done in my four years.”
The Stingers lost in the semi-finals of the Canadian Collegiate Baseball Association National Championships to the Université de Montréal. Neither Connerty nor Belisle-Springer have won a title in their time with the team.
“The main reason I came here was to win a national championship. I really thought we had it,” Connerty said. “Once I got to Nationals, I wanted to leave this weekend with no ‘what ifs.’”
Despite performing well individually at Nationals, Connerty still can’t shake the sting of the loss. “As the captain, your goal is to get the team prepared to win,” Connerty said. “We didn’t win. In that sense, I failed. I can handle it, [but] it’ll take time.”
Belisle-Springer doesn’t want to carry too many regrets about how his collegiate career ended, but wishes his team could have had one more showdown with their rivals. “It was disappointing not to get another shot at Mcgill,” he said. The Stingers played the Redmen six times this season without pulling off a single win.
As for how the team will do without them next year, Belisle-Springer is uncertain, but cautiously optimistic. “I think we’ve got some good young guys. [Pitcher Jarryd] Taylor is going to be really solid next year,” Belisle-Springer said. “Hitting-wise, that’s where I’d be a bit worried, because we weren’t a great hitting team this year and the best hitters are leaving.”
For Connerty and Belisle-Springer, the end of their time at Concordia does not necessarily mean the end of organized baseball. They both have intentions of going pro.
“We’re both at the skill set where we can continue to take baseball further,” Connerty said. While Major League Baseball may be out of the question, both pitchers are confident they could make it in lower-level independent leagues or overseas.
“I’ve always been told, anything you can do, do it as far as you can,” Connerty said. “[So] why the hell not? Real life’s pretty boring anyway.”
Belisle-Springer is equally ambitious about his future in the game and said he’ll look back fondly on the time he spent playing for the Stingers.
“I grew a lot as a baseball player, and I have a lot more growing to do,” Belisle-Springer said. “When I finally put it all together, I’ll be able to say I was a pretty good baseball player. One day.”