There was Mike Webb, practicing with the Wareham Gatemen, a team affiliated with the invitation-only, wooden-bat Cape Cod League.
Webb had to bide his time. The righthanded pitcher from Pawtucket needed a break in the form of either an expiring contract or a player deciding to leave the Gatemen.
After two-plus weeks of holding tight, Webb on June 24 was offered a full contract to remain in Wareham’s fold for the summer’s duration.
“I’m super excited and enjoying the whole experience,” said Webb by phone one day earlier this week.
The unique aspect of Webb’s story stems from his college background.
He doesn’t hail from a high-caliber Division I program, the kind that routinely sends representatives to the Cape. The 22-year-old plies his pitching trade for Rhode Island College – as in the Division III Anchormen.
“They say I’m one of the few D-III kids to get a full contract, which is awesome,” said Webb.
Wareham officials told Webb that if they knew about him long before his standout redshirt junior season this past spring at RIC, he wouldn’t have been stuck in a holding pattern as far as biding his time for a contract.
Then again, the pre-2019 pitching version of Webb resembled an intrepid hunter on a safari. From the sound of it, no stone was left untuned in the quest to settle on a pitching motion that would sync up with his 5-foot-8 frame.
“Before, I was more over the top. (In 2018), I dropped down my arm slot to see if I could throw from the side more effectively. I had a hard time throwing strikes that way, then I pulled my lat muscle and was out for a while,” said Webb about the 6.43 ERA he posted in nine games (three starts) as a sophomore for the Anchormen.
After numerous twists and turns, Webb received sound advice from Frank Holbrook, who took over as RIC’s head coach prior to this past season.
“He told me to stick with what you’re used to and we’ll work off that. Let’s not overthink things. Just focus on your abilities,” said Webb. “That helped me a lot.”
Webb put everything together and dictated the terms. He emerged as the ace of the Rhode Island College starting rotation after posting a 6-0 record in 11 games (all starts) with a 2.72 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 76.1 innings pitched. On the season, he recorded a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and held opponents to just a .195 batting average.
Strong results go hand-and-hand with recognition. Webb’s stellar numbers garnered plenty of plaudits, from First Team All-Little East, to Fourth Team All-American and Second Team All-New England by D3Baseball.com, to Second Team All-New England by both the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings and the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA).
The question was whether he could get his foot in the door with a Cape Cod club. Webb did his part by putting feelers out there, though things started to pick up steam after Wareham caught wind that Webb hailed from the same Bishop Hendricken program that produced two former contributors with the Gatemen – John Toppa (UConn product) and Gian Martellini (Boston College product).
“(Wareham manager) Jerry Weinstein told me to come up one Saturday morning. I threw pretty well and threw another simulated game and did well again,” said Webb. “He said he was going to keep me on the team but I would have to wait and see before getting a contract.”
Instead of taking part in the Cape Cod League’s longstanding tradition of staying with a host family, Webb each day makes the roughly 50-minute drive from Pawtucket to Wareham.
“I would drive a couple hours to have this opportunity,” he said. “It’s definitely a good price to pay based on what I’m getting out of it.”
Webb entered Friday’s action with three games of Cape action under his belt. His ERA stands at 12.60 after three games (one start), the bulk of the damage coming in his most recent appearance on July 6 when he was touched for six runs on seven hits in two innings.
“I got hit around, but it’s about the process … not worrying by staying in the present and getting through it,” said Webb. “There’s always pressure, but if you listen to the coaching staff and not worry so much about the results … I think that’s what has helped me stay in the game.”
Webb’s fastball has three variations – four-seam, two-seam, and cutter – and can rise as high as 95 miles per hour, though typically sits in the low 90s. He also relies on a changeup and feels the cutter is his most effective pitch.
It’s an arsenal that figures to serve him well as an option out of the bullpen for the Gatemen. The plan is for him to return to RIC’s rotation next season, when Webb will be a redshirt senior. He started his college career with Division II St. Michael’s College in New Hampshire, but his time there was cut short after suffering a foot injury four games into his freshman season. He transferred to RIC after the 2016 season.
“(Pitching in relief), it’s something that better suits me as far as the next level and bouncing back a lot quicker,” said Webb, a product of Darlington National and Collette Post 10.
One of the perks of playing on the Cape is the opportunity to work out at Fenway Park before pro scouts. The day’s top thrill came while shagging batting practice fly balls off the Green Monster. Inside the visiting dugout and clubhouse, Webb underwent a series of tests, from neurological to height and weight, and also received tips on pitching mechanics.
“The day we were there, we saw (injured Red Sox pitcher) Nathan Eovaldi playing catch in left field,” said Webb. “We were on the field for close to two hours. Just an awesome experience.”
If Webb needs any reminders of the select company he finds himself keeping these days, all he has to do is scan the Wareham roster. Summertime relationships between highly-touted teammates are being forged from those hailing from Miami, Michigan, Wake Forest, and Cal State Fullerton.
“We have a lot of guys who were drafted out of high school and ended up declining so they could head to college. It’s been awesome to learn from them and see what they do to get better,” said Webb.
Then there’s the Pawtucket native who’s on a mission to open more doors for those who like him aren’t letting certain facts stand in the way.
“It’s awesome to be part of this and I hope this helps put Rhode Island College baseball on the map,” said Webb. “There are a lot of good players (in the Little East Conference). It’s just about who wants it more. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices. I wouldn’t want to call it a grind because a grind implies that it’s negative, but it’s definitely a lot of work.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03