BRISTOL - The first time Bunty Ray saw Gavin Greger play was two years ago, and he knew he was looking at something special.
Ray, head coach of the Bristol Central baseball team, runs a sandlot-style camp every year. He enjoys seeing how both the younger and older kids throw and catch, and even just how they get on and off the field.
As he watched a seventh-grade Greger, he could tell Greger was a player he would love having in his program.
“That’s when I pretty much saw his capability,” Ray said. “He probably could’ve started for us then. He’s kind of one of those kids who’s a freak of nature. But he’s got a ways to go to learn the game, too.”
And that’s one of Greger’s greatest aspects, Ray says. Yes, the freshman has a load of talent and could be a force in the CCC for years to come. In a terrific performance in a 5-0 win over Newington on Friday, Greger tossed five shutout innings, allowing just one hit with seven strikeouts and six walks, and he pitched his way out of a trio of pressurized situations - two bases-loaded jams and another situation with runners on first and second.
But that’s still just the beginning. Greger is scratching the surface of his potential, and there is plenty more to learn.
“That’s the good thing about him. I think he understands he’s at a certain point in his career, but he’s got a lot of adjustments he needs to make,” Ray said. “There’s a game within a game that if he wants to play at the next level, he’s gotta keep getting better.”
Ray has been coaching baseball for more than 20 years and has been the Rams’ head coach for 13 seasons. Could Greger end up being one of the best arms he’s had come through his program?
“I don’t even think that far in advance,” Ray said. “You never know what could happen with anything. You just have to enjoy his talent now. … Obviously, he’s a big part of what we’re trying to do going forward. He plays a great center field and puts in some good at-bats, but we’re a complete team. I don’t look much further past the next game, more or less the next three years.”
Greger on Friday replaced starter Alec DiLoreto, who pitched two innings before Ray called on Greger in the middle of an at-bat with a 2-0 count. Ray knew he was only going to get about 40-50 pitches out of DiLoreto, as the senior has been battling a pulled quad muscle injury suffered in the preseason.
Ray asked DiLoreto to “bulldog through,” knowing that if the Rams had a lead with DiLoreto on the mound, he would be able to bring in Greger without losing any stability.
And there came Greger, smiles and all, trotting in from center field to mow down the Indians - even if he may have been a little extra amped up with adrenaline to begin the outing.
“Sometimes we’ve just gotta calm him down a little bit, but that’s part of his passion. That’s what makes him who he is,” Ray said. “He plays with passion and has a smile on his face, and you saw what he can do. He’s got a lot of ability. He’s got a lot of enthusiasm. Sometimes you need to temper it a little bit, but it kind of makes him who he is.”
Ray was more than happy with how Greger handled himself against Newington. It was similar to how the freshman has approached situations throughout the first quarter of the campaign.
He was also brought into a win over Plainville with the bases loaded, and he fired a strikeout to get out of the inning. On Thursday, he was brought into the seventh inning of a scoreless game against Hall, but surrendered the game-winning hit. That’s all part of the learning curve, said Ray.
“I’m happy with how he’s performed in stressful situations. He’s still learning how to pitch, but he’s already got the tangibles down,” Ray said.
Along with DiLoreto, Sean Wininger, Kyle Lauretti and Peyton Clark, Greger rounds out a pitching rotation the Rams (3-1) will rely heavily upon.
“We have some young arms we still have to work through. We can’t just have two-three guys throwing,” Ray said. “Right now it’s all situational pitching for us. It’s all about who we wanna bring in, in each situation. It’s still a young season, and I think we’re just trying to get an identity because we are still young. Even though I’ve got some veterans, I still have to see what they can do.”
Greger, who prior to high school played baseball in AAU but did not play middle school ball, may not yet be a veteran on the mound. But that didn’t stop him from being a calming presence after he got in a groove against Newington.
“I had to get used to the bump,” Greger said after the win. “I was a little worked up from [Thursday’s loss to Hall], and I didn’t want that to happen [again]. I just cleared my mind and was free to play, and I was having fun. Once I caught fire, it was hard to stop me. I was having fun with my team. Overall, it was a great team win.
“We’re off to a hot start this year. Our offense, one through nine and even our bench guys, we’re on fire. We’re looking good this year. [Not making last year’s state tournament] is motivating us, but we’re just taking it game by game. We have such a good team, I think we’re gonna have a fantastic chance this year to do something special.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com