Coaches always talk about the importance of senior leadership on a team. Sometimes, though, it is provided by those who are not quite ready to graduate.
This year’s Dartmouth baseball squad was a well-balanced one which had several seniors to provide experience in the lineup. But, it was a 6′ 1″, red-headed junior right-hander from Plymouth, Mass. who brought continuity and stability to the Big Green pitching staff.
Conor Brooks finished the season with a record of 4-3 while pitching a team high 54.1 innings.
He also finished second in the Ivies with 60 strikeouts and allowed just 10 walks in his 11 appearances this season.
Brooks was the “workhorse” for Head Coach Bob Whalen’s troops. He entered the season with more experience than any other starter, as the Big Green suffered from the loss of several notable senior hurlers a year ago.
“I didn’t see myself as a leader,” Brooks said. “There were many individuals – I just had to accept my role.”
Brooks is lavish in praising the younger members of his staff – Mark Swan ’01, Jeff Dutremble ’01, and John Velosky ’02.
“We have three other number one [starters] out there. Those guys would be a number-one starter on any other team.”
Brooks clearly showed his leadership on the field, hurling complete-game wins against Princeton (his first career shutout), Yale (against which he also recorded a save the day before), and against first-place Harvard.
“[He’s] always been very strong and very durable,” Whalen said of Brooks. “He showed it when he had to get two out to get the win against Yale and then come back and pick up a complete game win the next day.”
“Conor had a fantastic year,” Whalen continued. “To put it into perspective he did a lot of good things for the team. Not only did he mature in several ways from last year to this year but he also brought tremendous contributions to the staff and the team.”
Brooks’ adjustments this season propelled his game to a higher caliber as he developed better control and enhanced and increased the use of his off-speed pitches to become more than just a fastball pitcher. “His approach this year was to get batters out with his off-speed stuff,” catcher Mike Levy ’01 said. “He used his change-up to lefties, slider to righties and when his slider was on it was really on … the Yale and Harvard games proved that.”
Whalen could not agree more with Levy’s analysis of his maturity as a pitcher.
“He has done a better job of locating his fastball and he hasn’t given up the mistake pitch,” Whalen said. “Most of the time he gets right to the glove, which makes his other pitches better.”
“To me he was absolutely invaluable because we didn’t have a lot of guys with depth and with significant experience,” Whalen added.
And Brooks’ experience and level of confidence will only rise going into next season as he makes plans to play his second summer in the Cape Cod League.
“I’m from Cape Cod, and last summer I didn’t have a place to play. I had watched games the year before and knew what the league was about.”
“I had no invite so I went down and tried out … started out as a scrap guy, no role, moved to middle relief, and by the last two or three appearances threw seven innings and I was invited to come back next season,” Brooks explained.
With numerous Division I schools contributing ballplayers to the Cape Cod League, the level of competition will only further strengthen Brooks’ ability.
The hopes are high for the red-head as he enters his senior season. The team loses only one everyday starter in third baseman and captain Mike Conway ’99, and the staff of young arms adds a year of experience under their belt.
“If we’re fortunate enough to have the improvement he had from one year to the next again we’ll be in good shape,” Whalen said.
“Next year he will be a front-runner for one of the pitchers of the year,” Levy predicted. “He wants to go to the next level so count on next year being his best.”
Brooks, once again leading by example, is less concerned with his own statistics and ready to make a run at the Ivy League title.
“If everyone stays healthy,” Brooks said, “we should be unbelievable next year.”