Allen Lessels' On Baseball: The journey begins for NH minor leaguers
THE journey begins.
The next group of New Hampshire standouts looking to work its way through the minor leagues and ideally up to Major League Baseball gets down to the business of playing for pay this week.
Guys like the University of Maine's Mike Fransoso of Portsmouth and Franklin Pierce University's Kevin McGowan of Nashua and Zach Mathieu of Derry have had a bit of a whirlwind week.
All three had their names called last Saturday in baseball's draft and went to Florida to their organization's spring training headquarters within a few days and by midweek all three had signed.
"It's been wild," McGowan said. "It's been a great experience and I've loved it all."
McGowan, a 6-foot-6 and 215-pound right-handed pitcher, and Mathieu, a 6-foot-7 and 265-pound first baseman, both were drafted and signed into the New York Mets organization. McGowan was picked in the 13th round and Mathieu in the 16th.
Both helped Franklin Pierce to a 37-19 record and into the NCAA Div. II national finals this season as juniors and are passing up their final season of collegiate eligibility.
Fransoso was the America East's Player of the year as a senior and led Maine to a 37-22 record and the league's regular season championship.
Fransoso and McGowan both landed at midweek in the New York-Penn League and their teams start their Single-A baseball seasons on Monday.
Mathieu was still at the Mets' spring training site at Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Saturday.
Drafted in the 27th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Fransoso is with the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers and will get on a bus this afternoon for a three and half to four-hour ride to Niles, Ohio, where his team will start a three-game set against Mahoning Valley on Monday night.
McGowan is with the Brooklyn Cyclones, who open the season with three games against the Staten Island Yankees starting on Monday night.
McGowan said he's been told he will likely be a starting pitcher, but the first order of business is to acclimate to a new throwing program and it may be a couple of weeks before he gets into a game.
Fransoso played shortstop in his long first workouts with the Jammers on Friday.
"The scout who signed me (Chris Kline) said they'd probably keep me there until I proved I couldn't do it," Fransoso said.
Fransoso has been proving he can do it throughout his career.
"There used to be a lot of critics," he said. "I was too small: I heard that a lot."
He was 5-foot-5 and about 130 pounds early in high school and by the time he was a senior - and helped Portsmouth High School to a second straight undefeated state championship - he was about 5-foot-9 but still only 150 pounds.
He's 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds and looks forward to bulking up in the offseason when he can concentrate on physical training.
For now, Fransoso will take the same approach that led to Player of the Year honors, four home runs and a team-leading 49 runs batted and a .352 batting average this season and an outstanding career.
"Play the game hard, run everything out and play not dirty, but gritty," Fransoso.
It's gotten him this far.
"It's been the dream since I was a kid," Fransoso said. "My mother found an English journal from fifth grade and everything in it had to do with baseball. What I liked playing. What I wanted to be doing in 10 years. What I wanted to be when I grew up."
Fransoso - along with McGowan and Mathieu and others - is doing it.
"It didn't really sink in until my Dad dropped me off at the airport and I was flying to Bradenton," Fransoso said.
Fransoso and McGowan and their families are looking forward to when their teams come to Lowell, Mass., to take on the Spinners, the New York-Penn League entry of the Red Sox.
"It's about 10 minutes from home," McGowan said. "They can't wait."
Fransoso and the Jammers are at Lowell July 13, 14 and 15.
McGowan's Cyclones hit Lowell on July 23, 24 and 25.
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Southern New Hampshire University pitchers Junior Mendez, a junior, and Jon Massad, a senior, were picked by the Oakland Athletics in the draft and both have signed.
Mendez, who had a 9-3 record and 1.67 earned run average with the Penmen with 133 strikeouts in 97 innings, went in the 16th round and Massad in the 25th. Massad was 6-3 with a 1.46 earned run average this season with 57strikeouts and 14 walks in 80 and one-third innings.
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The New Hampshire Fisher Cats close out a five-game homestand this afternoon at 1:35 against Erie. New Hampshire is due to send right-hander Marcus Stroman (2-1, 4.95 ERA) against righty Warwick Saupold (4-3, 2.56).
The Fisher Cats have Monday off and start a three-game series in Altoona on Tuesday. They are in Harrisburg for three beginning on Friday and return to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on June 24 to start a seven-game homestand against Reading and Portland.
Alessels@unionleader.com. Twitter: @allenlessels.