Dual threat: UMass baseball pitcher and first baseman Mike Geannelis looks to lead the way in 2016

By Adam Aucoin

 

(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

The long-standing adage in sports has always been that the hardest thing to do is hitting a baseball.

But the role of pitcher is no easy task either.

Just ask Massachusetts baseball’s Mike Geannelis.

This year, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior is preparing to take on the role of starting first baseman in the middle of the UMass lineup along with being one of the team’s predominant starting pitchers.

For Geannelis, his dreams of playing baseball started when he was just five years old.

“I was playing baseball as soon as I could,” Geannelis said. “I was always playing lots of sports but I most loved basketball and baseball. Being the youngest of four brothers, playing up with the older brothers was always fun for me, so the love just grew from there.”

Growing up in Williamstown, Geannelis remembers his father, Peter, always saw the potential in him to be great, and for that he is grateful for the impact he made on his life.

“My dad was a big factor in my love for the game,” he said. “He has always been the biggest influence on my life. His attitude and work ethic were the things I tried to take from him. He’s such a hard worker. Anyone that knows him will attribute to that.”

Once Geannelis saw the potential in baseball, the sport became his sole athletic focus. Along with playing in the spring, he began participating in summer ball for the New England Ruffnecks, a college developmental program for players under-13 to under-18 that is well-respected across the country. From that point on, baseball was his life.

Geannelis recalls that once he started playing summer ball, he started to get the feeling that there might be a future for him past high school with the sport.

Leader by example       

Once Geannelis arrived in Amherst in 2014, he wasted little time making an impact in his freshman year.

During his inaugural season, he hit .347 with two home runs and a .463 slugging percentage. All of those marks were best or tied for best on the Minutemen that season. On the mound, he made 14 appearances, finishing the year with a 4-3 record. For his efforts in 2014, he was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year – the first in program history – and to the All-New England second team.

Last season was not as successful at the plate for Geannelis, as he batted only .254 with one home run in 33 games. He did enjoy a strong season on the mound however, compiling a 1.84 ERA and four saves in seven appearances.

Despite having a bit of a down year compared to his freshman numbers, Geannelis said he is ready to make a big impact for UMass entering the 2016 season, which begins Mar. 4.

“Personally I think I am very prepared to take on the role as a focal point of the team this season,” Geannelis said. “I’ve worked a lot on both sides of the ball being a first baseman and a starting pitcher this year. It’s definitely a lot to do both, but coach (Mike Stone) does a great job with preparation, so I know we’ll be ready for when the season starts.

Stone, who is entering his 29th year at the helm of the Minutemen, has total confidence in his versatile junior to make a difference this season.

“Being a two-position guy, he certainly has a lot potential to have a very positive impact on this team. We’re trying to get him ready to be a starter instead of being a reliever like he was last year, so we think he can make an even better impact for us in that role and it will be a real positive situation for us,” Stone said.

Stone believes Geannelis’ versatility is what makes him such a strong leader on the team.

“Being a guy who is playing two positions and hitting in the middle of the lineup, he will certainly get the opportunity to show what type of leader he is,” Stone said.

“A lot of guys will be looking to (Geannelis) to seeing how to conduct themselves on and off the field and he will certainly be in a spot to help the younger guys, so we are very confident with what we have in him.”

Geannelis understands his heightened role on the team and keeps that in mind in the way he leads.

“I try to lead by example and lead by my attitude on and off the field,” Geannelis said. “We have a lot of young guys that have come in, so I’m excited to see who steps up. My goal is to just set the tone at the plate, in the field and on the mound to contribute the best I can. Hopefully people will see that and follow suit.”

What lies ahead  

UMass is coming off a season where it went 16-27, but salvaged its way to a 12-12 record in A-10 play before missing out on the A-10 tournament.

The Minutemen also lost some major pieces from their 2015 team to graduation.

Most notably, they lost outfielder Kyle Adie, who batted .322 and had 55 hits during his redshirt senior year, and second baseman Rob McLam, who batted .294 and had 35 hits last season. UMass will also be without their biggest power threat from last year in outfielder Adam Picard, who led the team with four home runs last season.

On the mound the Minutemen are also without graduating starters Conor LeBlanc and Andrew Grant, a big reason why Geannelis will be relied on as a pitcher this season.

Despite all of the losses the team has faced, Stone and Geannelis both believe UMass can have a successful season in 2016.

“We can’t dwell on guys that are not here,” Stone said. “We have been doing a lot of work over the last couple months getting people to be ready to step into those roles, so we are very excited for what we have.”

“We haven’t been as successful as we wanted to be the last few years, but with leaders we’ve got and the talent and chemistry on this team, we can definitely make a playoff push,” Geannelis added.

As for his personal goals, Geannelis is just focused on doing whatever he can to help his team win this year and put himself in a position to get selected in the MLB draft.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.