NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — New Bedford Bay Sox coach Chris Cabe feels Bow’s Tom Blandini has a baseball career that won’t end when he graduates from Southern New Hampshire University in 2020.
“He’s definitely got the talent to play at the next level,” Cabe said Tuesday. “He’s got to put his head to the grindstone and work at the things the pros are going to look at and see that he needs to fix.
“He’s got the potential to do it. It’s going to be up to him whether he wants to do it or not.”
Through games of July 29, the Bishop Brady High School alumnus has been “doing it” for the Bay Sox.
In 34 games, Blandini is hitting .288 with five doubles, 17 runs scored and 11 RBIs. And in 139 at-bats he’s walked 13 times and struck out only 17 times.
Those numbers compare favorably with what he accomplished as a junior for the Penmen.
Blandini hit .296 with seven doubles, three triples, five homers, 19 RBIs replete with 19 walks and only 15 strikeouts in 199 at-bats.
And for his career with the Penmen he has a combined .307 batting average with 101 runs, 24 doubles, 56 walks and only 42 strikeouts in 505 at-bats.
Given that Blandini walks more than he strikes out, Cabe has slotted him in the leadoff spot most of the season.
“He started in the leadoff position for us at the beginning of the year and he was hitting very well,” Cabe said. “Then he started to go into a little bit of a slide. Personally, I like to have a lefty in the two-hole (Blandini bats from the left side). Sometimes that’s why I moved him into the two-hole and somebody else into the leadoff position.
“He’s got great speed so to have him at the top of the lineup he can get on base and he can move runners over from the left side of the plate. He can get the ball in play from the two-hole and I’ve used him in the nine-hole position when he was in a slump. That hole is just like a second leadoff position. He’s either the leadoff guy or a two-hole guy or a nine-hole guy. He’s not locked into one in summer ball. He gives me flexibility. He can put the bat on the ball and he doesn’t strike out a lot.”
Nevertheless, playing his first season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League — arguably the second-best, wooden-bat summer league in the country — has been an eye-opening experience for Blandini.
“It’s definitely a different level of competition when you see guys throwing 94 to 95 miles per hour,” he said. “It definitely was something new for me. I had to think about my approach and what I really needed to work on.”
Playing in the 2018 College World Series gave Blandini an inkling of what to expect in the NECBL.
“Honestly, it was a great experience,” he said. “It was a very good experience for all of us to play against that type of competition.”
Besides having to face more prolific pitching in the NECBL, Blandini has had to adjust to something else: playing for a team with a losing record.
The Penmen have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in each of Blandini’s three seasons, the last six seasons overall, and twice have qualified for the Division II College World Series (2012 and 2018).
The Bay Sox (14-30 with one game left, on Thursday night) failed to qualify for the NECBL playoffs.
As a result, Blandini has had to work hard in order to maintain a positive attitude.
“First of all, I want and always have wanted to do everything I can to help my teammates and my team win,” he said. “All of us, including myself, go through slumps. That’s when it’s important to pick each other up.
“If you lack the support of your teammates it’s extremely hard to be successful. Every day I’ve always wanted to go out and do the best I can. Obviously I need to continue to work hard on all facets of my game in order to be productive.”
One facet of Blandini’s game that overshadows his hitting is his fielding.
With the Bay Sox he’s only made one error in 74 total chances for a .987 fielding percentage.
“Shortstop is what he was sold to us by (Penmen head coach) Scott Loiseau,” Cabe said. “He’s played some shortstop and he’s played some third base lately because we had another shortstop that came in from the Cape so Tommy moved over to third base and he’s played one game in the outfield. But he’s definitely a plus defender no matter where you put him in the field. He’s going to get the job done because that’s the type of player he is.”
“I think that’s his plan going into next year at school, moving to the outfield. But in the infield, the kid’s got very good hands and gets good reads off the bat. He has a decent arm from shortstop. I think he’s a little bit better player at third base in my eyes in terms of reaction time. He doesn’t have to think about too much. He just reacts and has good instincts at third base.”
Blandini possesses various subjective qualities which have enabled him to succeed not only in college but also in the NECBL.
“In order to succeed, you must be determined, competitive, driven and focused on baseball,” he said. “You have to be disciplined. A player like me must have good eye-hand coordination as well as being able to catch and throw the ball.
“Most of all you must have a passion for the game.”
Blandini attributes his family, especially his grandfather Vincent, for having given him an idea of what is required in order to be a contributor as opposed to a detriment regardless of team.
“My grandfather as well as my family gave me the opportunity to play summer ball as well as on AAU teams,” he said. “My grandfather really encouraged me to go out there and play. I’m very thankful for his support and encouragement.
“Along with my parents, he’s emphasized that I shouldn’t miss practices or games because that would let your team down.”