Preparation is everything in sports. Especially high school. Rather than coming off an offseason of fully individualized training for that one skill, student-athletes at this level are coming from every direction imaginable from season to season. In New England, no transition is quite as complicated as opening the door from winter sports to baseball season.
That’s been the focus of Peabody captain and catcher Aaron Dollin as the season begins on Saturday at St. John’s Prep. He knows the difficult transition from winter to spring as well as anyone as a hockey player for as long as he’s taken the baseball field, and as a catcher preparation is his forte.
“It’s different” Dollin said speaking of the turnover from hockey to baseball. “It’s a tough transition to go to baseball which is more of a slow-paced game, a strategic skill game...You have to get used to swinging right, in hockey it's more of a brute-strength sport. You need to have the fundamentals down for baseball....Slap shots to swinging, it's very tough. A lot of time spent in the cages fixing the swing.”
While fixing his swing for this season Dollin has taken on a mass of new responsibilities. For the first time he is the starting catcher at the varsity level after a year where he played JV and battled with two others for playing time at the varsity level.
Being of that mindset, he knows to take nothing for granted, “Last year was a big uphill battle. It took a while to just find playing time. This time it's going to be nice to start out playing but Eric (DeMayo)'s a good catcher, I can’t just let myself go.”
So Dollin is stepping up in every realm of catching this preseason, focusing on his long-fantastic defense and game-calling skills that have built up over 10 years playing the position. With that he’s even trying to expand his game as a hitter, where he didn’t get many reps a season ago.
“Last year I didn’t get to hit at all, for the most part, I got four varsity at-bats because I just caught. It’s a tough thing to focus on hitting and to focus on catching because you have to work so much with pitchers and make them right. You really don’t even have time to hit...This year, most likely, I’ll be hitting...it’s coming along good right now...I’m feeling good in the box and everything. It should go well.”
But even while zoning in on hitting more than he ever has in his baseball career, Dollin is stepping up as a leader in every facet from working with the array of arms that Peabody could use in their pitching rotation to keeping the team focused with the wild preseason they’ve faced weather-wise.
Through all these years Dollin has been able to shape himself into a very respectable baseball player, looking up to leaders early in his Peabody career like Matt McIsaac and great professional catchers like Yadier Molina. Even without the varsity experience that some other players on the roster this year hold, he knows what it takes to prepare for a season and has been a guiding force while the team hasn’t been able to take the field once thanks to a wave of terrible March and April weather following a strangely warm winter.
While other areas teams like opening opponent St. John’s Prep have gotten reps in outside, the Tanners have had to come together as a team indoors in any available location.
“It’s a huge challenge, it’s a different feeling” Dollin commented. “It’s different taking ground balls on the diamond outside than in the gym or a turf field. It puts us at a big disadvantage. Just because we don’t have any experience yet...Danvers indoor sports complex, route one sportsplex, the gym. It’s too different to even try to replicate the same conditions. You can get the distance to second base right but the first and third distances will always be off.”
But for all these hurdles the team has had to overcome, he remains optimistic and doesn’t use any of them as excuses. Working on his swing, continuing to expand his defensive skills as a new every day starter, and the primary partner of every pitcher vying to make an impact on the team; Dollin’s impact on the Tanners as a captain is multidimensional.
That work in many areas in close quarters has shown him a great deal of what his team will be made of too. He points to Pat Maguire and Will Diezemann as two pitchers who have the potential to make names for themselves this year and asserts that the whole staff will surprise people.
As a captain, that’s not all Dollin wants to see either. His ambitions for this season go as far as the league title all the way to a state championship. This is a team that truly believes in themselves despite some of the outside doubts in them. Being a part of a team that drove far but fell below expectations and now enters a season where so many doubt them is a blessing to him.
“Last year expectations were obviously through the roof because everybody expected us to do well. This year nobody expects us to do well. We expect to do well. We know we can win games and win the league. We can win a lot of games this year, just as much as last year, it’s just an unproven staff.”
The experience and leadership of this team is strong and without the pressure of high expectations they can just be themselves. Thanks to the preparation and guidance of veterans like Dollin, they’re headed into opening day in the right direction even without stepping onto a field together yet.
“Having the weight off your shoulders is a good thing” he wrapped up. “You can really show people up when they aren’t expecting much from you.”