August 11th, 2014 is a day that few will forget in Suns Baseball history…especially the four Suns veterans Derek Gardella, Brenden Geary, and Dan Palazzo who played their last game at Wahconah Park this season.
On that day the Suns faced the Worcester Bravehearts in game two of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) best-of-3 semifinal series. Coming off of an 8-4 loss to Worcester the previous night, all three players faced elimination head on. And they just couldn’t come up with a victory, as shortstop Andy Lack knocked them out of the postseason with a walk-off single in the 10th inning. The Bravehearts would go on to claim the FCBL championship, and the 2014 Suns were left with that bitter, “till-next-summer” feel.
With over a week left in the 2015 season at the time of the interview, Brenden Geary discussed his desire to make one last playoff run with the Suns after 2014’s heartache: “I mean if you make the playoffs you might as well win it. Nobody wants to go one and home…I think we got a good team and these guys don’t want to say bye to each other right now.”
Derek Gardella had more to add to Geary’s comments: “The biggest thing [about the playoffs] is trying to get into the playoffs then once you get into the playoffs it’s anybody’s game. Like last year we made a small run at it. We played at Brockton and almost beat Worcester in extra innings…”
“We have such little time left to play together and have fun out there,” Dan Palazzo said. We might as well put all we can into it and try to do well for Pittsfield, staff, coaches, everyone, ourselves.”
The Suns clinched a spot in the eight-team playoff tournament in the last week of regular season play. After eeking their way into the championship hunt as the 8th seed, the Suns took on top seed Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday, August 12th. Their postseason was halted early, as Martha’s Vineyard won, 4-1.
Win or lose, life goes on. All four players will return to college as seniors this fall. However, none of them plan on stepping off of a baseball field anytime soon.
“Well, I’m sure everybody here will tell you that everybody’s played to make it to the next level. Nobody wants to stop at college,” Geary said. “If you can play at the next level, then good for you.”
Gardella also discussed baseball after college: “You play the game ‘cause you love it and you always want to be the best you can be. So, you want to make it to the next level, but unfortunately if it doesn’t happen then you go to college, you get your degree, and you start making a life for yourself.”
Although the four players are on summer vacation, they still recognize that Suns fans look to the team for entertainment and enjoyment after a long day of work.
“They’re [the people of Pittsfield] all hard-working people too, and they’re just as important as we are,” Palazzo said. “If they can get away for a few hours every night and enjoy what we do, then that’s our role, I guess.”
Olmo had more to add on the subject: “I just think it’s cool knowing that people are excited to watch us play, like being someone’s main thing for the night and just having people have fun coming watch us, just doing what we love to do.”
Having played two or three summers with the Suns, all four players are certainly pros in Pittsfield. It was interesting to see if they had any particular advice they would give to a first-year Suns player.
Olmo said that he would tell a rookie to “Take it all in, because before you know it, it’s done.”
Geary said that all first-year Suns players should “definitely show up open minded, willing to work and willing to learn.”
He also added that it is necessary to interact with Suns fans and the greater Pittsfield community: “We probably have one of the better fan bases in the league. It’s important to get to know those people, and that’s connections after college as well.”
Gardella continued, “I love signing autographs for the kids. It’s just good to have those people [the Pittsfield fans] always behind you, no matter whether it’s going good or bad. They’re always there, the ‘Pittsfield faithful’.”
In Gardella’s three seasons in Pittsfield, the “faithful” have never failed to root for the home team— the Suns’ average attendance has ranked in the top three in the FCBL since 2013 when Gardella joined the club. In 2015, the Suns ranked second in the league in average attendance, with 1,654 fans per game.
Not only is the Suns’ high attendance record a mark of success in team management and promotions, but it also may qualify the Suns as a crew of Berkshire County “celebrities”. “The way the people look at you on the field, they look at you… as an athlete,” Gardella said. “They all look up to you.”
Although the Suns may be too humble to call themselves celebrities, they are undoubtedly role models in Pittsfield.
Brenden Geary is particularly familiar with the power of a role model. His grandfather was Paul Dowd, who served as president of the Berkshire County Jimmy Fund for 30 years, had a spot on the Pittsfield City Council, and played at the minor league level for the Boston Red Sox. Dowd passed away in 2013 after fighting a battle with ALS, and the field at Wahconah Park was named in his honor in 2011.
Dowd’s connection to Pittsfield and historic Wahconah Park has played a powerful role in Geary’s dedication the Suns.
“Every night it’s pretty emotional for me,” Geary said. “He [Dowd] went through a really tough battle when he went through ALS, and it’s a privilege for me to come out here every night and play on his field. He was such an inspiration, a big motivator, and somebody who was always in my corner, up or down, that’s most people’s grandfathers. So, honestly, it’s a privilege."
Dowd also taught Geary of not only being an ambassador on the field, but a role model to Pittsfield youth in the community. “I think it’s important to act the same way you do on the field as off the field,” he said.
Geary certainly takes after his grandfather; the first baseman was awarded the 2015 FCBL Commissioner’s Award. The honor is given to two players each year who embody selflessness and leadership in the dugout, on the field, and in their team’s community. Along with Gardella, Geary also had his number retired by the Suns in a tearful ceremony on Friday, August 7th on his grandfather’s field at Wahconah Park.
Dowd would also be proud of his grandson’s recent play. In the last 16 games of the season, Geary racked up 23 hits and raised his batting average 108 points, from .146 to .254.
Although Geary cherishes playing on his grandfather’s field, it’s not the only reason the hot-hitter is back in Pittsfield for a third year.
“The coaching staff, Tom [manager Tom Conley] and Geddy [assistant coach Matt Gedman], Kevin McGuire [General Manager] and Morgan [Powell, Assistant General Manager] and Kyle [Deaton, Director of Promotions] and all those guys and the Goldklang Group, that’s the fuel to come back too. Every year it’s been better. It’s a tight-knit community, but it’s also really nice to have those people at your back for support. That’s a reason why a lot of us have come back. The friendships we’ve made are incredible. I keep in touch with these guys every season,” Geary added.
Geary was not the only Suns player to be honored by the FCBL. In their final season, Olmo and Gardella were selected to the 2015 FCBL All-Star Game at Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts. Olmo, who led the 2015 Suns squad with a .274 batting average, 26 RBI, and 48 hits, discussed what it meant being an All-Star in his final season with the Suns.
“You know, it was really cool especially knowing that this was my last summer. That was probably one of my biggest goals, personally, was to be an All-Star, and to achieve it in my last try was awesome,” said Olmo.
Gardella also felt honored to be selected. “The whole day was just fun. All the scouts were there too, so it was a great day. It’s just another day to play baseball and have fun. The sun was shining, so it was a great day for us.” When asked about his experience working out for MLB scouts, Gardella’s response was honest and concise: “It’s always cool to show off.”
Gardella was actually a multi-sport athlete in high school. A Latham, New York native, Gardella captained his football and baseball teams at Shaker High School as a junior and senior.
Did he have a favorite sport? Could he make a return to the gridiron?
“I love baseball and it’s my number one love, but there was nothing like the Friday Night Lights games. I don’t think my body could handle that [football] anymore."
All four players revealed some of their pre-game routines and life inside the clubhouse. Olmo and Palazzo make sure to take a quick nap on the trainer’s table. Geary tries to lay low and calm any pre-game nerves. As for Gardella, “I try to work out twice a day before a game,” he said
Hey, whatever works…
These players closed out the interview by answering one last question: who is the biggest jokester on the team? All four answered in unison: leftfielder Hunter Bross. “Hands down,” Geary chuckled. “It’s not even a question.”
The 2015 season has officially concluded and the end of the summer looms. But, it is only true to say that the 2015 Pittsfield Suns brought pride, honor, and entertainment to the city of Pittsfield. Ryan Olmo, Derek Gardella, Dan Palazzo, and Brendan Geary epitomized the role of community baseball.
They were role models signing autographs behind the dugout after games. They were victors, bringing joy to over 5,000 fans with a walk-off win on the 4th of July. They charged into the postseason. They made irreplaceable connections with teammates and fans.
But most importantly, they never lost touch with their love of the game.
“Right now summer baseball is all about having fun,” Geary said.