SYRACUSE — Clinton High School graduate and current Le Moyne College redshirt junior Andrew Taft is lighting up the Northeast 10 Conference for the Dolphins baseball team.
Taft, whose 6-foot-4 , 275-pound frame, leads the 16-6 Dolphins and the NE-10 with eight home runs, says he’s grateful for head coach Scott Cassidy giving him a chance after the University of Buffalo dropped its baseball program.
“UB was a great opportunity for me,” Taft said of his time as a Bull. “The school decided to cut the program after my three years there and Coach Cass was nice enough to pull me in after those three years and give me an opportunity to play.”
While at UB, Taft carried a .251 batting average with 12 home runs, 18 doubles and a triple in three seasons. He added 56 career RBIs and walked 44 times. This season as a Dolphin, Taft holds a .375 batting average with eight home runs, 10 doubles, 29 RBIs and 33 runs scored.
Taft said that he’s learned a lot from Cassidy, a former Major League pitcher who spent time in the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres and hitting coach Mike Meola.
“In the games, it’s fun to stand next to Meola and Cass in the dugout and hear the things that they’re saying,” Taft said. “Coach Cass is a Major Leaguer so the things that he’s saying are things that we’d never think of. It’s really interesting to hear those things. Even Coach Meola, the things he brings up and the things he talks about during the games are just incredible and things you’d never think of.
“It’s been absolutely awesome and I’ve learned so much,” Taft added. “From an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint.”
Taft said that he got his love of the game from his dad, who also happened to be his Little League coach.
“My dad was my Little League coach since I was six years old,” Taft said. “I have an older brother who played so I was always on his team and my dad put a pitching machine in the backyard and I was always out there with him and I played some travel baseball as I was growing up.”
Taft joined the Warriors varsity squad as a freshman and went on to make two state tournament runs his junior and senior year.
“He’s (Andrew) been great,” Cassidy said of his standout redshirt junior. “You felt for the guys at UB because of their situation and their program being cut so it’s tough for any kid to have to go through that. All those kids were trying to figure out where to go and we were fortunate enough to land him.”
Cassidy says that not only does Taft have a big effect on the Dolphins on the field, but also off the field and as a teammate.
“What was impressive about him coming here was that he got along with everybody right away,” Cassidy said. “Our team really, really, really took to him right away, not just the stuff he’s been doing on the field, which obviously you can see by his stats because he’s been killing it, but the comradery that he has with our teammates and how he is with our team, he’s actually made the culture in our program that much better than it already was.
“That aspect of it has been phenomenal. He’s the kind of guy you just got to like. He’s a fun-loving guy. He’s a giant, but he’s a teddy bear at the same time. He really cares about his teammates and it’s really cool to be around,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy went on to add that Taft has done everything that they have asked of him and more. “He’s been playing first base, he’s been playing outfield, he’s DH’d for us,” Cassidy said. “We can put him in the middle of our lineup and he’s driving in runs and hitting home runs. I think he’s really having a tremendous year and I think it’s only going to get better for him. It looks like he’s starting to hit his stride.”
“God only knows what he’s going to do for the rest of the year; he’s off to a hot start and he’s made our lineup that much more potent. It’s not only been beneficial for our whole team but for each individual hitter,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy said Taft has been hitting in the two-hole in the Dolphins’ lineup. “It’s funny because you don’t usually see a guy his size hitting there,” Cassidy explained. “But our leadoff guy gets on base a lot and it gives him a chance to steal bags when they throw him (Taft) breaking balls a lot. Taft has been taking advantage of it because he’s been coming up with runners in scoring position and he’s been driving them in in bunches.”
Taft says that if there’s any advice he could give to the younger kids looking to go play baseball at a higher level, it’s that they need to have fun with it. “Something that I’ve come to learn is to just have fun with it and you can’t stress about it too much,” Taft said. “You have to have fun or else the game just gets ruined for you.”
Taft also said that as a player, you need to have a short-term memory.
“(New York Yankees slugger Aaron) Judge can turn in an 0-for-5 day with five strikeouts and come back the next day and hit three home runs.
“Baseball is a funny game like that and you need to have a short memory and bounce back. Your highs can’t be too high and your lows can’t be too low. You have to have that even-keel mindset and keep pushing through everything.”