GARRET MEADE PHOTO
Bishop McGann-Mercy catcher Iain Traynor, left, with Coach Ed Meier and pitcher Tom Tenaglia during a conference on the mound.
FARMINGDALE — Even though the names on the roster didn’t change much, this wasn’t nearly the same Bishop McGann-Mercy High School baseball team as last year. A team that didn’t make it to the playoffs in 2009 reached the Southeast Region Class C semifinals in 2010. Perhaps the best explanation for how the Monarchs did it can be found in two seniors, who over the course of one off-season turned themselves from role players into everyday players.
Through off-season training, Iain Traynor and Al Yakabowski have both transformed their senior seasons into something special. The two traded in limited roles on last year’s team for more enhanced positions on this year’s squad; they have both played virtually every game in helping the Monarchs capture their second Suffolk County Class C championship in four years.
Traynor walked into the first day of practice in 2009 in competition for the starting catcher job. The position went to Rocco Pascale. Traynor didn’t get much playing time, providing backup at third base and catcher, and pinch hitting every now and then.
Yakabowski was one of the team’s starting pitchers, but when he didn’t pitch, he sat on the bench.
Instead of complaining about their playing time, though, the two of them did something about it. They worked out over the off-season and did things like throw medicine balls against the wall and swing heavy bats. They made themselves into better players.
“Last year I was a bench player,” Yakabowski said at a recent practice before the Monarchs’ season came to an end Sunday with a 7-2 loss to the Friends Academy Quakers in the Long Island final at Farmingdale State College. “I wasn’t part of the whole team. Now that you’re part of the whole team, you’re going places.”
Referring to his two improved seniors, McGann-Mercy Coach Ed Meier said: “I think they’re a good example just for anyone to look at. They could have said, you know what, this isn’t the thing for me and they could have walked away or they could have said, you know what, maybe we’re going to work a little bit harder on it and prove to Coach that we can play, and I’m glad that they did the second one … Both of those guys hit the weight room. Both of those guys came into camp ready to go and it shows. They’ve had a huge impact on our success this year.”
And what an impact it has been, too.
One of the biggest changes in Traynor can be seen in his bat. Don’t be fooled by the fact that he bats eighth in the order, either. Opposing pitchers who look past him because he’s almost at the bottom of the order do so at their own risk. “He’s probably the best eighth hitter in our league — ever,” said Meier.
The statistics may bear that out. Traynor finished the regular season with a .327 batting average, two home runs, seven doubles and seven walks. In the county finals against the Port Jefferson Royals, he went 2 for 6, with a home run and four walks. He went 0 for 2 with a walk in Sunday’s regional semifinal.
But that isn’t all. Traynor has improved the defensive side of his game as well. While his ability to control an opposing team’s running game was a concern last year, it certainly hasn’t been so this year. For example, Port Jefferson didn’t even attempt to steal a base off him in the county finals, and the one time when the Royals had a runner try to take an extra base on him, Traynor threw him out at second base.
Yakabowski didn’t do too badly, either. As a pitcher, he had a 2-2 record with an earned run average just under 4.00. In his last two outings, he gave up only one run. “His last two starts have been fantastic,” said Meier.
Yakabowski, who bats seventh, had a .226 batting average with four doubles and seven walks during the regular season. He went 2 for 8, with two walks and four runs scored in the postseason.
As an outfielder, Yakabowski has shown better glove work than he did last year, playing in either left field or right field.
“I think the lesson here is hard work,” Meier said. “You’re not locked to a spot. You go out and put in the work, and you’re going to have opportunities. These guys got better. They played every day, and they made us a better ball club.”
Traynor said a maturity factor may have kicked in, too.
“All it took was an off-season,” he said. “It’s my last year. I just wanted to have fun and play good baseball. That’s what’s happening.”