North Andover’s Mike Hashem wraps up first pro season with much promise as an all-around pitching prospect
Article courtesy of Joe McConnell/Wicked Local North Andover
North Andover, MA - Mike Hashem will be coming home to North Andover on Sunday closer to realizing his lifelong dream than when he left back on June 18 after signing his first professional baseball contract with the Atlanta Braves organization. The Braves selected him in the 35th round (1,076 overall) on June 8.
For the past two months, Hashem has been suiting up for the Gulf Coast League [GCL] Single A Braves, soaking in the atmosphere of the sport that he has loved so much since childhood, while living in the Marriott Hotel, located in Disney World, complete with all of the amenities. He even saw Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward and Yankee star Alex Rodriguez, while they were rehabbing in the minors.
Most fresh out of college would be in awe, but the former Fisher College pitcher felt right at home as a result of the first-class treatment afforded to first-year players like Hashem by Atlanta's minor league affiliate.
"[The Braves] made me feel a lot more comfortable right away," Hashem said. "I knew this was the right fit for me. I was picked up at the airport, and was taken to the park [the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla.) by a club employee on June 18. That first day I took a physical and completed some paperwork, before I went back to the hotel. I went to my first pro practice the next day."
Talking to players on other teams, Hashem quickly realized that he's fortunate to be in the Braves organization.
"Some players on other teams have to live in motels, but ours is so fancy with a room provided for us in the Marriott, and a pool close by," he said.
Debuted against the pinstripes
Ironically, this lifelong Red Sox fan pitched his first pro game against the Yankees Single A club. "It was so cool as a Sox fan to pitch against the Yankees. I pitched one inning in that game, and struck out two," Hashem said. "But to be honest, everything was a blur for me in that first game."
Vladimir Nunez, a former Major League pitcher who played primarily for the Florida Marlins, is Hashem's pitching coach.
The North Andover native must have succeeded in his pro debut, because Nunez shook his hand afterwards and said "good job," and then added, "welcome to professional baseball," even though Hashem doesn't remember much more than that.
"I know I'm lucky to have somebody like Nunez as my first pitching coach," Hashem said.
Workouts in professional baseball take more of a toll on one's body, but Hashem is not complaining. He shows up to the park every morning at 6 a.m. with roommate Charlie Robertson and teammate Evan Danieli, and like Hashem they too are pitchers.
"We turn the lights on in the locker room every morning, and go right to the weight room," Hashem said. "We have to start putting on our uniforms at 8:15 a.m., and head out to the field at 9:15 a.m. for a full team practice. If it's a home game, we're off the field at 10:30 a.m., and head to the clubhouse for lunch. But we're back on the field at 11:20 a.m. for a noon game. Games usually last three hours, and then we head back to the locker room, before retreating to the hotel at 5 p.m."
Hashem added: "There's a specific throwing program every day. The arms here on this level are worked four times more than I'm used to, when I pitched in college. The body especially the feet get sore. My big toe on the foot that I use to push off is sore.
Working for the love of the game
Matt Saitz, who was the GCL Braves strength coach earlier in the season, saw Hashem's dedication first-hand.
"[Saitz] saw that I was the first one to arrive at the park, and usually the last to leave, and he said to me that I must really love the game," Hashem said. "I think I'm more excited now than ever before. I have really grown in the last two months to really love the game. Being a pro has always been my dream, and now I'm here. I'm so close now to see the fulfillment of that dream."
The GCL Braves have a sub-.500 record with 32 losses. They have 24 wins, but they are a mere two games off the pace of the third place Blue Jays, who have 30 losses, after dropping a 4-2 decision to the Braves on Aug. 24. The season ends on Saturday.
Hashem pitched two innings against the Pirates (32-25) on Tuesday, yielding no hits with one strikeout. He has grown into the closer's role on the squad.
In his last four games, Hashem pitched 5.1 innings, giving up just one walk, two hits and no runs, while fanning five. He also picked up a save.
But on this level, the development of the individual as a potential Major League player takes precedence, according to the former North Andover High School graduate.
"It's more important to the coaching staff that all pitchers get their innings in, and hopefully progress to the next level," Hashem said. "As a team, we have really come together in the last 10 games."
Hashem would like to be a starter next year, and move up in the organization, but right now he'll just do what the Braves tell him to do.
Staying focused and giving back
Baseball on this level is a 12-month commitment, and Hashem has a regimen already mapped out once he returns home next week to prepare for his first spring training as a pro.
Hashem will be following a nutritional plan to stay healthy and maintain his muscle mass. He will be naturally working out, but there's also the teacher in him. He will be helping out his college coach, Scott Dulin, during Fisher practices in the fall, not to mention hopefully run clinics for youngsters who have that same passion he has in pursuit of a dream.