TAMPA, Fla. – For University of Tampa Spartans pitcher Michael Calkins, no response didn’t mean the end of the line.
The Oneonta, N.Y., native, is established now, having seen action in two of the four NCAA Division II Championship Series contests in 2015, including a complete game victory that sealed the national championship for the Spartans.
However, if not for an unorthodox recruitment trip, Calkins may have been overlooked. He reached out to the Spartans to no avail, so he decided to visit his brother, who lived in Florida, to help him get noticed.
“I called them, I emailed them, and nothing,” Calkins said. “So my brother just walked up on the field during one of the practices, because I was too scared, and he introduced me.
“He said my brother is a six-foot-four lefty, and you are going to want to see him pitch.”
That is when Calkins met Sam Militello, the assistant coach of the Spartans and the most influential mentor in the pitcher’s career. The high school senior could throw no faster than 84 mph, but a few tweaks would unlock his potential.
“Militello gave me a five-minute bullpen, he told me to change three different things mechanically, and then within eight months I was throwing much, much harder,” said Calkins, who can now throw in the low 90s.
The marketing major would need the power when he took the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies as a junior. Each year the Spartans play an exhibition game against the MLB club, and Calkins gained invaluable experience when he threw two scoreless innings with a pair of strike outs.
“It’s 10 times the number of fans you are used to. You are facing grown men. They are just huge,” Calkins said. “It’s a little intimidating at first, but at the end of it, it’s just baseball.
“You just throw strikes and get outs.”
Spartans head coach Joe Urso stresses that the value Calkins adds to the team extends past what he does on the mound. As one of four seniors on the team who has been at the school as a freshman, he describes his ace as a quiet, but confident leader.
“You need those type of guys to help the coaching staff, for the players to realize what it really takes,” said Urso, whose team has won two of the last three Division II national championships.
“As coaches, we can say things over and over again, but (you need) the players that have the experience to tell the guys this is really what it is about,” Urso said. “It makes my job a lot easier, to have a guy like him that has seen it for four years.”
Calkins hopes that all his success translates into a shot at professional baseball. This time around, his brother will not be able to simply walk up to a coach on his behalf.
“They choose you at the end of the year, so right now I am just focused on winning ball games, and hopefully that transfers over to possibly an MLB draft call.”
Calkins holds a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 innings pitched for the 16-1 squad.