It had always been a dream for Mikey Stewart. But the Dresden resident can remember when the dream began to look more and more like a reality.

“Ever since I was about 10 years old, it’s been my dream to play college baseball,” Stewart said. “Once I got to about sophomore year in high school, that’s when I really envisioned myself, and kind of got a little more competitive. It became more of a strict goal, to hopefully play at a Division I program someday.”

Someday has arrived for Stewart. The current Cheshire Academy pitcher and former Richmond standout will play baseball at Monmouth University next year after signing his commitment letter with the Division I school on April 12.

“It’s a great feeling because so much work has gone into it,” Stewart said. “I’m looking forward to the facilities at Monmouth and the coaching staff. They’re a very invested program that should allow me to be successful.”

The feeling is mutual, according to Monmouth coach Dean Ehehalt, who said Stewart’s skill set is one with plenty of room still to grow.

“He’s a big, strong kid with a good arm, and he’s got a burning desire to develop,” he said. “He’s patient, but he understands that his best days are ahead of him.”

It’s the latest step in a baseball progression that has seen Stewart on the rise throughout his high school career. A standout at Richmond for his first three years, Stewart transferred to Cheshire, a boarding school in Connecticut, where he was allowed to repeat his junior year and where he is currrently a senior.

The competition was a step up at Cheshire, which Stewart said will be sending eight players to Division I and II programs, and he worked closely with Dale Plummer, a former pitcher at the University of Maine and with the Red Sox and Mets organizations, to tighten up both his reportoire and his approach on the mound. His two-seam fastball sits in the mid-80s with plenty of movement and he complements it with a changeup and a slider, but Stewart said his work with Plummer has been as much about the mental side of pitching as the physical.

“The higher level you climb, it seems the more mental the game becomes, and the more important mentality and confidence and things besides the physical tools become,” he said. “That’s something Coach Plummer is really good at and something he’s helped me a lot with.”

Cheshire coach John Toffey could see the change. He knew Stewart could play when he arrived — Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin had told Toffey about Stewart after seeing him at a baseball camp — but he began to see that he also had a pitcher whose drive to succeed elevated those talents.

“He was strong when he arrived, but I think that we have seen an improvement over the time he’s been here, too,” he said. “He’s an incredibly hard worker, and he’s very, very competitive. He’s really driven to be the best player that he can be. He has an outstanding work ethic, one of the hardest-working kids I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”

Harvard soon became interested. So did Fordham and UMass-Lowell. Stewart eventually went to a camp at Monmouth, and when the school offered a roster spot, Stewart, already on board with the campus, academics and proximity to the New Jersey coastline, couldn’t say no.

“They seem to take players with good work ethics, and their major focus is developing the players,” he said. “That’s really what I was looking for, coaches that would invest in me as a person and a player.”

He already has a blueprint for what it will take to succeed at the Division I level. Part one involves upping the intensity at the gym in order to add lower-body strength and a few miles per hour to his fastball. Part two is pounding the zone, and allowing his strengths of movement and pitching to contact to flourish.

“I think I’ve worked hard enough that my stuff is good enough to get anyone out,” he said. “I just need to fill up the zone, because you can’t defend ball four.”

As for how he gets a chance to do that, Stewart isn’t sure. Neither is his future coach.

“I think everybody comes in with a starting pitcher’s mentality,” Ehehalt said. “We’ll develop a plan that we think will work for him, and we’ll keep evaluating it and see what his strengths are. I think he’s got the arm, he’s got the body. He certainly has the drive and the willpower. We’re hoping the performance is going to come when he comes down.”

It’ll be up to Stewart, in other words. Which is just the way he likes it.

“Whatever role I’m given, hopefully I can embrace that role and help the team win some games,” he said. “Obviously, the ultimate goal would be to be a starter, but I’ll embrace whatever opportunity presents itself as a freshman. I’m looking forward to it.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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