Today I sat down with Bowdoin College outfielder, and a good friend of mine, Joe Gentile ’18, about academics and athletics at Groton School and what’s in store for the Bowdoin program.
Joe MacDonald: Hey, Joe, how you doing today?
Joe Gentile: Good, Joe, how are you?
JM: Great. Thanks for joining us. Let’s get started. First off, how was playing baseball at Groton School?
JG: I’d say playing at Groton has been the biggest learning experience for me overall. Especially in baseball, being on the team since eighth grade, I got to learn the game from a lot of older guys, and as I got older really started to take on a leadership role. When I first got there, in terms of skills, I was a pretty rough player, and then as I got older, being under Coach [DiSarcina] and the older guys, started playing the game a lot smoother, started honing my mechanics in hitting and in the field.
JM: What was it like playing for somebody like Glenn DiSarcina, a former Major Leaguer?
JG: Like I said, great learning experience. He really holds his players to a high standard, which really helped me. Doesn’t let anyone slack off. As a hitting coach, he’s probably the best hitting coach I’ve ever had. He really taught me to have a good approach at the plate. Really turned me into a line drive, gap-to-gap hitter which I really wasn’t before and that’s really transformed my game a lot. The fact that he was in the Major Leagues, he can show you aspects of the game that you wouldn’t otherwise see, little intricacies. He knows the game better than anyone else I’ve ever played under.
JM: At Groton you played three varsity sports, you were captain of two of them, hockey and baseball. What do you think are the merits of playing multiples sports in high school?
JG: Each sport taught me something a little different. Football is definitely a strenuous game, a lot about grit and determination, overcoming adversity. So that was new. I had never played football before going into high school and that was a huge experience for me, growing up and getting bigger and stronger for football. Hockey I’ve been playing my whole life and I couldn’t picture not playing hockey. It just came so naturally. And that, once again, taught me other things about sports; competition, flow of a game, having to stay positive throughout a whole game, momentum and all that, very important parts of sports. Then baseball of course just teaches you the mental side of the game, just having to overcome certain things, stay focused. So I think combining the three really just taught me a lot about competition and what it means to play sports and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
JM: Do you ever wish that you had given up one or two other sports so that you could have focused on baseball more?
JG: I thought about that during high school, for sure. Either giving up football to work on strength and conditioning in the fall, having some more time to get bigger and stronger, but looking back on it now I don’t think I’d give up any of the experiences. I think being a teammate for all those years has really taught me how to be a leader and to be a good teammate. It taught me how to win, how to lose, and all the things that come along with it, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
JM: At what point did you decide that you wanted to play baseball in college?
JG: I started playing in the summer showcase circuit after sophomore year, and that really just got me into the whole culture of it, and after that I knew that baseball was the route I wanted to take, and I started getting more passionate about the game. Before that I had kinda split my time between hockey and baseball which were my two main sports, I’d say, and playing hockey my whole life it was tough to make that choice, but I think I made the right one.
JM: Groton’s one of the top academic prep schools in the country. Was it tough to balance your academics and your athletics and how do you think that experience will prepare you for your future in college?
JG: Definitely the tough academics and playing sports really taught me how to balance my time effectively. Trying to get into the weight room after practice just for as long as I could and then getting right out and doing my homework and trying to get down early for extra reps and all that. It teaches you to use your time effectively, not to waste any of your time. I know Bowdoin is academically rigorous as well. I think I’m prepared. I think I know how to manage my time well and get everything that needs to be done, done.
JM: A couple questions about your on-the-field game. What would you say are some of the areas that you still need to work on?
JG: I think I still could use some work in the outfield, getting good reads on the ball, getting my breaks on the ball better, coming around it, throwing the ball to the cut off men. At the plate, having a full-field approach, mostly. Hitting line drives to all fields. I really try to focus on hitting the ball gap-to-gap. Just hitting line drives. I’ve been trying to focus on that for a long time now. Baserunning is another thing, I think Coach Connolly wants me to be a threat on the basepaths, so I can always get faster and more explosive on the basepaths, so that’s another aspect of the game that I want to improve on.
JM: And you haven’t always been an outfielder.
JG: No, I made the transition from first base to outfield after my freshman year. It just seemed like a more natural position out there after I shed some baby fat and gained a little more speed. I felt a little bit like my tools were better used in the outfield than at first base.
JM: What do you think some of those tools are?
JG: I think speed’s one of my good tools. I have a pretty strong throwing arm. Overall sense of the game, I don’t really have to think about the flow of the game, it kind of just comes naturally to me. I can hit line drives. Pretty good approach at the plate, rarely strike out, just make good contact, contact hitter, put the ball in play, try to get on base as much as I can.
JM: And how has your summer ball experience been different from your school experience?
JG: I’d say at school I was more responsible for the bulk of the run production and the leadership, especially as an older player, but now, on my summer teams, I’m surrounded by such good players, playing for Northeast Baseball, I feel like my role has kind of changed to more of a role player, like I started batting leadoff in the summer as opposed to batting third for high school, so I kind of have a different approach from the leadoff position, just trying to get base hits, get on base rather than driving in a lot of runs. And as far as being a teammate goes it’s kind of more laid back in the summer, people kind of coach themselves. But I feel like in school I was kind of more responsible for my teammates, trying to watch out for them, mentor them as much as I could.
JM: Can you take us through the recruiting process and how you decided that Bowdoin was the place for you?
JG: I knew starting off the process that I didn’t want to sacrifice the academics for the baseball experience, so I started looking at Ivies and NESCACs early on. Talked to a few Ivy schools, that didn’t really work out, then Bates and Bowdoin were the top two NESCAC schools on my radar. I talked to both coaches and talked to Coach Connolly. I think Coach Connolly got a connection from my 16u summer coach, Matt Petherick, who told him back in 16u that he had a kid for him to watch and Connolly kind of knew about me going into the 17u summer season, and he saw at a tournament early on in Worcester, and he liked what he saw, and he emailed me after I came back from my summer trip to Georgia [to the Perfect Game World Wood Bat Association Championships]. We got talking on the phone and I came up to campus and I instantly fell in love with the place. I could tell that he ran a great program and I loved the school right away, the campus, the academics, it just seemed like a great fit right off the bat. It was kind of an easy choice as soon as I got up there.
JM: Are you excited to play for Coach Connolly next season?
JG: He seems like a great coach, very disciplined. Lots of knowledge of the game. He’s been around baseball for a long time now so I know he’s knowledgeable about the game, and everything I’ve heard from current players, they say Connolly is a great coach, that they’d rather play for no one else, and he really holds his players accountable which I like. He runs a tight ship up there.
JM: How do you feel about the opportunity to play fall ball and prepare all year for baseball season?
JG: It’s definitely going to be an advantage now, going from the spring to the summer to fall ball without any gaps. I can work on more, focus on my game more, just keep hitting. You tend to lose some of your hitting mechanics in that gap between the summer season and the spring starting up again in high school so I feel like this extra time for practice is going to be great, especially for the strength and condition aspect.
JM: Where do you expect you’ll be playing in the field?
JG: Really anywhere in the outfield. Centerfield was my natural position in high school the last two years, but I’m pretty comfortable in the corners. Anywhere that I fit in out there would be great. I know that they lost a couple of outfielders this year.
JM: How do you feel about your chances at playing time this season?
JG: Coach Connolly did mention that he was graduating two senior outfielders, but I know there are other kids up there and I know that I’ll be competing for a spot right away, I won’t just be walking into a job and I know that it won’t come easy but I’m ready to prove myself up there and earn a spot in the starting lineup right away.
JM: How have your interactions been with your future teammates thus far?
JG: When I went for my visit in the fall they were very accepting. I’d already committed by then so they said it was more of a celebration than them trying to wine and dine me, but I love the guys up there, they seem like a great bunch of guys. Even outside of baseball they seem like they’re all best friends on the team, they all hang out with each other, so it seems like a great culture that I’m walking into up there and very welcoming and a tight-knit group.
JM: What do you expect will be the biggest difference between high school and NESCAC baseball?
JG: Definitely the pitching that I see day in and day out will be much stronger than I saw in high school, so that will be an adjustment. The speed of the game, just having a good player at every single position, as far as your opponents go, always gotta be on your toes. There’s never going to be an easy out up there, which is an exciting thing, I’m looking forward to the quality of play up there.
JM: One more question, Joe, what Major League player would you say your game is most like?
JG: Well I would say that I try to model my game after Mike Trout. Obviously, those are huge shoes to fill, but watching him play, he gives his all on every play. He utilizes his speed and his power and runs the bases well, plays a great outfield, so if I can one day be a fraction of how good he is, I’d say that’s who I want to model my game after.
JM: Thanks a lot for sitting down with me.
JG: Any time.
Thanks again to Joe Gentile for giving us his time, and best of luck at Bowdoin in 2015 and beyond.