Kayla Wong/Daily Collegian (2023)
Kayla Wong/Daily Collegian (2023)

Will MacLean trades touchdowns for home runs at UMass

“I always wanted to be outside or be in a rink”

May 20, 2023

Will MacLean bent down, said a prayer and brushed his fingers on the dirt, writing a cross before stepping up to the plate. 

It was a rare warm day in Amherst, Mass. and the Minutemen needed a win in their second game against Rhode Island. Down by two runs in the ninth, MacLean stepped up to bat with a runner on base. He was having a good day at the plate but all that mattered in the moment was tying the game up. 

With one powerful swing, MacLean launched the ball over the fence to tie the game. As he trotted around the bases, his teammates were waiting at home plate to celebrate. He lifted his arm and jumped in a group that included his best friend Carter Hanson and his closest friends. 

The moment marked the importance of UMass in MacLean’s life, the place that he almost rejected. Baseball was not his first choice; Will explored a few different options before settling on the diamond. Some sports were easier to let go of than others.

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Four year old MacLean hated every part of hockey.

After begging his parents to play the sport, he failed to consider one extremely important aspect of hockey: the ice. Will laid on the cold surface, crying about the temperature. His coach was always there with tissues in his pocket to wipe up the tears, as it became a common theme in his first year of hockey.

At that time, it didn’t seem like the four year old was going to be an athlete. Will eventually got used to the temperature, but he also picked up other sports along the way. Hockey, baseball and football became his favorite activities.

Will was born into a sports family as his mom, Amy, played Division III volleyball and softball. With Amy growing up in Downeast Maine, taking on sports was the only activity she could find for herself. Will’s dad, Craig grew up in a sports family himself, watching his mom play basketball. Now in her older age, she continues to play for the senior Maine women’s basketball team. Craig himself played football throughout his life and ended up also at a D-III school.

Sticking to one sport was almost unnatural in the MacLean household. The oldest of the three brothers, Ben, played baseball, basketball and football. He had a wiffle ball bat in hand when he was a year and a half old, and when Ben picked up a sport, it was likely that Will and Matt were going to follow in his footsteps. The middle, Matt, traded basketball for hockey, but still played baseball and football. Young Will followed suit, and with as much overlap as the brothers had, the competition to be the best of the bunch arose.

“I was always getting picked on and never won,” Will said. “Definitely playing with my brothers, they made me better and that was always fun. We had really good rivalries growing up.”

Courtesy of Craig MacLean

Will’s competitive nature on the baseball diamond dates back to playing tee ball against his brothers. Ben started off as the most competitive, controlling the games he played against his brothers. Will and Matt were left to go against the older brother whenever they were outside.

The brothers built a wiffle ball field in the MacLean household’s backyard to compete against each other when they weren’t at practices or games.

“Will has been competitive for as long as we know, a little more than he should,” Amy said.

Will’s competitiveness translated to the makeshift wiffle ball field in games against his brothers. If he did not like a call from his brothers Will and Amy would likely hear.

‘That wasn’t a strike!’

‘I was safe!’

Occasionally followed by a rock through the back of a windshield of the family minivan or back door. 

That minivan was not only a shuttle bus but also a dressing room while on the way to practices. Craig and Amy spent most of their days in the car bringing each kid from practice to practice.

“I didn’t like sitting at home not doing anything,” Will said. “I always wanted to be outside or be in a rink.”

Entering his high school years at St. Thomas Aquinas, Will kept playing hockey, baseball and football all at the varsity level. He stayed focused on football for the most part, baseball and hockey remained more for his enjoyment than anything else. With a dad that played in college and coached him as a kid, football was his number one sport as a kid.

Will had made a name for himself as a prominent football player at his high school which led colleges to start to reach out and gauge interest in his future.

One name stood out the most: Brown University.

Going into his senior year of high school, he visited Brown and loved what the school had to offer him. From the name to the facilities, Will thought it was the place for him. He had a few talks with the recruiting coordinator and had his mind made up that he was continuing his football career at Brown.  

“In the moment, I was just taking it all in because it was really cool,” Will said. “But then it came to the point where I needed to make a decision and I had my heart set on Brown.”

One summer everything changed for Will, sending his athletic career on an entirely different trajectory. He loved playing baseball and wanted one last summer to have fun with the sport. The “easiest way to stay busy” was playing summer baseball in the south for Team Nike New England. While summer ball made Will happy to have one last ride, not everybody was on the same page.

“We didn’t commit at all,” Amy said.

When Will headed down south, his parents were of the mindset that Will would be stepping onto the baseball field for the last time. They didn’t want to spend money to travel so they opted to watch from New England. What they didn’t realize at the time was that Will would slash impressive numbers and grab the attention of college baseball coaches.

One name from the bunch was extra persistent in his attempts to recruit Will: UMass coach Matt Reynolds.

“When I got a call from Matt Reynolds, I was sitting in my hotel room,” Will said. “After the call I went onto Google and I looked up UMass baseball because I had no idea.”

“Zoomass” was the name that ran through Craig and Amy’s minds when they heard a call from UMass. Most kids brought up in New England know UMass as a party school, so when Reynolds gave Amy a call about Will, she turned him away. She said that he was focused on football but if he wants his number she can give it to him.

“I was like, “Oh, [Will] is in Georgia,” Amy told Reynolds during the call. “And he goes ‘I know, I just watched him’ and I was like ‘oh great’ and I had totally forgotten what he said his first name was, like I wasn’t paying attention.”

Not expecting much to happen after the call, Amy gave Reynold’s Will’s number. She was left surprised when Will was mad that his mom had told Reynolds that he wanted to play football. Amy and Craig were D-III products so they did not know much about the college recruiting process. When Will started to get calls from more than just football programs, his parents knew they were going to have to navigate a new experience for both them and Will.

“I was the only one out of my two brothers that really went through the whole recruiting process,” Will said.

Will’s oldest brother played at Colby College for one year while his middle brother did not go to college. What this meant for Will was asking for help from his summer ball and high school coaches about the recruiting process.

Will stepped onto the campus for the first time for a visit with Ryan Coleman, a current junior outfielder for the Minutemen. Will and Coleman had played summer ball with each other and grew up a town apart in New Hampshire. When they came to the campus they were met with a familiar face in Collin Shapiro, who grew up in Will’s hometown of Exeter.

“It’s nice coming into a program where you have kids from your same area and it makes it easier to mold into the team,” Will said.

The visit to UMass flipped Will from having his heart set on Brown for football to UMass for baseball.

“When he came and visited here and spent the weekend with the guys on the team, he came away like ‘this is where I want to be, I love these guys,’” Craig said.

There was just one small hiccup in the commitment process for Will: there was no spot on the team for him.

He had committed to UMass in November of his senior year and by that time UMass had already filled the spots for his class. Will had to decide if he wanted to take a gap year or search for a spot on another team.

Gap year was the answer, and the Winchendon School, a preparatory school in Massachusetts, was the perfect fit for him. The pandemic limited games and practices, though, so instead, Will took the time at Winchendon to develop physically and mentally. When he wasn’t on a baseball field he was in a gym. Will gained 25 pounds of muscle, going from a tall, scrawny kid to a physically fit baseball player.

Kayla Wong/Daily Collegian (2023)

Now, as Will wraps up his sophomore season at UMass, he has become an impact player every time he steps onto the field. Both in the dugout and at the plate.

Not only has he become a better player, but he has built relationships that he will take with him when he graduates. Long trips mean making connections and talking to one another for hours on end.

“Baseball has opened up all these opportunities for me and I’m really grateful for that,”Will said. 

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire. 

 

 

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