FARMINGTON — Tom Grady bounced around the outfield and lineup as a freshman last season for the University of Maine at Farmington baseball team.
Stability comes this season for the Erskine Academy graduate.
“He’s going to play centerfield every day and he’s going to hit right in the middle of our lineup,” UMF baseball coach Chris Bessey said. “Our expectation is that Tom is going to have a big year. It’s saying a lot because he is only a sophomore, but he’s ready.”
Oh, is Grady ready.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Grady, a Whitefield native, spent the bulk of last season adjusting to the collegiate game.
He played in 32 games for the Beavers, hitting .267 with four doubles and 10 RBIs. Grady also struck out 18 times, second most on the team.
“Last year I didn’t know what to expect,” Grady said. “I didn’t know what I was up against.”
Added Bessey: “He probably struck out more than he expected. But he was facing pitchers, good pitchers, who could change speeds and locate. There was a big difference to what he was used to. We had to shorten his swing up a bit, make it more compact.
“But he’s a natural hitter, and we’re going to need him this year.”
Indeed, UMF will.
The Beavers last season finished 9-23 overall and 8-16 in the North Atlantic Conference. The eight NAC victories were the most for the team since 2003.
With a young and talented roster, the Beavers set their sights on a top-four finish in the NAC, which would earn them a postseason berth.
However, two would-be key players — catcher Matt Woodbury and outfielder/catcher Colin Mello — didn’t come out this spring, leaving Bessey and staff a few holes in the lineup.
“We lost a little bit on the offensive side, no doubt,” Bessey said. “Those two guys would’ve been key. But we still have some hitters back.”
Grady, who will hit third or fourth, bulked up in the offseason with the anticipation of playing a greater role this season.
He enjoyed a strong fall baseball campaign, as well as establishing himself what Bessey called a “gap to gap hitter.”
“He doesn’t get cheated,” Bessey said. “He makes contact. He can go to all fields.”
Grady, who will also pitch in a relief role this season, said he hopes his increased strength and added experience will help him bring some power to the lineup.
“I look at myself as a power hitter,” he said. “I feel I can be a big bat in our lineup. I’ve worked hard in the offseason. I worked out a lot to get bigger and stronger. I’m ready for this season.”
The Beavers open the season Friday with a pair of NAC games against Colby-Sawyer at Winter Haven, Fla. They will play four more games over the weekend in Florida before returning home.
The top four teams in the NAC will make the conference playoffs this season, something UMF hasn’t done in three years.
Bessey said he hopes that streak will end this year.
“We have a good team,” he said. “We’re young, but we should be competitive. We want to get 10 conference wins.”
Added Grady: “We have two huge games right off the bat this weekend. We want a top-four finish, and I think we can do it.”