Tad Gold grounded a hard single to left field on Saturday, July 5, to record his first hit as a professional baseball player. A 2010 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Mr. Gold plays for the Aberdeen Iron Birds of the Class A New York-Penn League, a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, current leaders of the American League East. His inaugural hit came in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a game between the Iron Birds and the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Mr. Gold was the national 2014 Division 3 college baseball player of the year as a senior at Endicott College in Beverly, and he played three years as a starting outfielder for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the high-quality amateur Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) here.
The FCBL, like the Cape Cod League and other amateur wooden bat summer leagues, offers gifted players an opportunity to showcase themselves to major league scouts. Mr. Gold’s resumé induced the Orioles to draft him in the 32nd of 36 rounds in the major league draft of high school and college players in June. He learned of his draft selection as he was being honored before the Sharks’ home opener in June.
A month later, Mr. Gold finds himself in Aberdeen, Md., in rookie A ball, scrambling for at bats and riding the buses for five or six hours, mostly to scenic small towns in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and a couple of not-so-scenic places like Youngstown, Ohio.
He plays under the intense scrutiny and analysis that Major League Baseball teams apply these days to talent competing to get to “The Show” and multimillion dollar paydays. The NY-Penn League has been in business for 75 years and has seen a troop of major leaguers come through, playing until recent decades in splintery old ballparks with bad lights.
Not today. The increase in popularity of minor league baseball and MLB’s attention to its prospects has created showcase playing grounds. Mr. Gold and the Iron Birds play at state-of-the art Ripken Stadium, created in 2002 by Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Its 6,300 seats are generally sold out.
This week, in a happy coincidence, two dozen Island Little Leaguers and entourage will be at Ripken Field to watch the Iron Birds and Mr. Gold.
If you’d Like to watch Mr. Gold and the Birds play locally, mark down August 28-30 when Aberdeen travels to Lowell for a three-game set with the Spinners, a Red Sox affiliate.
The Times caught up with Mr. Gold by phone last week to get his impressions after a month of pro ball. “The routine is similar to playing with the Sharks: we get home late at night, wake up later in the day and back to the ballpark for eight or nine hours,” he said. “The biggest difference from the Sharks is that the competition is a lot tougher and when we go on the road, it’s for a three-game series or more, so you’re sleeping in hotels. It’s cool, though: we got to see the hot dog eating contest when we were in Brooklyn. Their stadium is near Coney Island.”
(For the record, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog contest for the eighth consecutive year, downing 61 dogs for the $20,000 prize.)
“Baseball is a job,” Mr. Gold said. “There aren’t many off-days, but I’m as excited today as I was the first day I got here. This is a first class organization. Our stadium is amazing. The baseball people are really smart and they bring in roving instructors to work on every facet of the game — hitting, fielding, base running, making cutoff throws. I’m going in early today for bunting work. These coaches are passionate. You can tell they want us to succeed. They’re always bringing up examples of major leaguers who’ve gone through here.”
His first hit felt good. “It felt good to contribute to a win,” he said. “And it was Seinfeld Night at their park so there were like 9,000 people in the stands.”
How does the clubhouse differ between amateur and pro ball. “Ultimately, it’s more like we’re teammates than guys competing to make a living,” he said. “I wondered about that, what the atmosphere would be like. Really, we’re a bunch of 18- to 24-year-olds playing baseball, You know, I always called my managers or coaches ‘coach’ not by name, but it’s all first names here. They emphasize that we are colleagues, co-workers.”
Mr. Gold’s manager is longtime major leaguer Matt Merullo, a third generation Boston-bred baseball family that includes Boston sports legend Lennie Merullo, who, at 97, is the only living man who has played for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series (1945). Matt Merullo’s 19-year old son, Nick, signed with the O’s last month, becoming the fourth generation of Merullos in pro ball.
Life has sped up in several ways for Mr. Gold. “Really good competition. You don’t see a guy who doesn’t throw 90 (mph). I’ve seen 98,99. That’s the adjustment, getting used to the fastball. In college, a guy at 85 was throwing pretty good. Here you’ll see a curve at 85.
“I absolutely know I can play at this level,” he said. “I’m starting to catch up to the fastball and I’m more and more comfortable in the [batter's] box. This is a special time of my life and I try not to lose sight of that.” However his current season turns out, Mr. Gold will return to the Island, at least briefly, after Labor Day when the short Class A season ends. Then, perhaps there will be an assignment for a fall instructional league or a winter at home getting ready for spring training.