After completing another successful season capped off by a second straight NESCAC title and two wins in the NCAA DIII New England Regional Championship, three Cardinals began their journey to professional baseball.
Pitcher Gavin Pittore ’16, pitcher Nick Cooney ’15, and outfielder Donnie Cimino ’15 all signed professional contracts this summer. All three players were crucial to Wesleyan’s success over the past few years, putting up historic numbers for the Cardinals on the way.
First and foremost, this reflects the preeminence of Wesleyan baseball, as noted by Athletic Director Mike Whalen.
Obviously it’s a credit to [Baseball] Coach [Mark] Woodworth and everything he’s done with our baseball program,” Whalen said. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had players playing in the Cape League the past two summers. It’s very rare to have one, let alone multiple DIII players playing in that league, especially all from the same team. So it really tells you the caliber of the student athletes we’ve had in our baseball program over the past few years and I’m certainly proud of that.”
The Cape Cod Baseball League is an elite collegiate summer league that has produced lots of professional players and caters mostly to Division I players. Each of the three University players spent time there in the last two summers and it was a vital part of their recent success.
“The Cape League has THE very best college players in the country,” Coach Woodworth wrote in an email to The Argus. “For our guys from a small academic school to be playing against players from all the big schools around the country is really amazing. By playing against such great competition, they come back playing at another level, and prove that they can do anything if they put their mind to it.”
Coach Woodworth is thrilled with the success of his players and what it says about the team.
“I am so proud of these guys for their commitment and care and all they’ve done for Wesleyan and the baseball team,” he wrote. “They worked so incredibly hard with all their hearts to make this happen and it’s an amazing affirmation of what can be accomplished when you really, really want something. I think this should be a great inspiration not only for Wesleyan baseball players, not only for all Wesleyan athletes, but also for everyone at Wesleyan who dreams big.”
Cimino, Wesleyan’s all-time leader in hits (240), was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 37th round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft less than a month after graduating. He was one of only 10 NCAA Division III players selected in this year’s draft, and has 13 hits in 20 games with the Cubs’ Rookie League affiliate in Mesa, Arizona this summer. Notably, the Cubs’ general manager, Jed Hoyer ’96, is a Wesleyan alumnus.
Named to baseball’s all-NESCAC team in all four of his years here, Cimino was the University’s most consistent batter during his career. He was also the two-time captain of the football team and was a huge part of the team’s recent success.
“I know Donnie well,” said Whalen, who coached Cimino in football. “He might be one of the best two-sport athletes to ever come through Wesleyan. He’s a great kid, and we couldn’t be happier for him.
Cooney, the Cardinals’ all-time strikeout leader (252), signed a contract with the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks (North Dakota) of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball on July 28 following his impressive senior season. He has pitched to a 3.86 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 13 relief appearances for the Redhawks since signing.
While Cimino was the rock of the Cardinals’ lineup, Cooney was the ace atop the rotation. He was named all-NESCAC three times and amassed a stellar record in NESCAC matchups.
“His ability and heart to take the ball in game one every weekend for three years and always deliver was inspiring to the team. Everyone in Wesleyan baseball couldn’t be prouder of Nick,” said Woodworth in an interview with the Wesleyan Athletics Department.
Meanwhile, Pittore turned his stellar summer performance in the Cape League into a professional contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which he signed on July 30. Pittore was named an all-star while pitching for the Bourne Braves this summer, after not allowing an earned run and notching 17 strikeouts in 17 innings in relief during his stint in the league.
By signing a professional contract, Pittore will have to forego his senior season at Wesleyan, the first University player ever to do so.
“I wish I could have finished my last year at Wesleyan. I love my school, my teammates and the coaches,” Pittore told Jimmy Zanor of The Middletown Press. “But it didn’t work out that way. I believe this opportunity is going to help me grow in a lot of ways and fulfill my dreams.”
Pittore was able to use the option of returning to Wesleyan as leverage in his contract negotiations, which ultimately resulted in a $105,000 signing bonus.
Coach Whalen and Coach Woodworth both approved of Pittore’s decision, which, despite taking him off campus in the spring during baseball season, includes completing his degree.
“For Gavin, even though it’s tough that he’s leaving Wesleyan, it’s such a good opportunity for him and his family that you can’t help but wish him well,” Whalen said. “What I’m most pleased about is the fact that he’s going to be here the next two falls to finish his degree while still having that opportunity to pursue his dream.”
“While we will miss him on our team this spring, this is an amazing win-win as he will be able to pursue baseball at the highest level, as well as get his Wesleyan degree,” Woodworth wrote.
Losing three high-caliber players who have keyed Wesleyan to two straight NESCAC titles will surely hurt the team, but Woodworth believes the remaining players are equally capable of doing great things.
“Our team has had a great run the last few years, and I’m very excited to see it continue,” he wrote. “We are a team of great guys who love baseball, and that is the formula for great results. This will be an exciting year for many guys to have their turn at doing great things.”