Robert Donovan was a rarity for the Old Forge baseball team when the team began playing this season.
Donovan, now a senior, was the lone returning starter back from last year’s state semifinalist team.
“He was the only underclassman starter we had last year,” Old Forge head baseball coach Tony DiMattia said.
Primarily a first baseman last year, Donovan became a starting pitcher and a third baseman for the Blue Devils this season, remaining a calming veteran presence in the midst of going through some major changes himself.
“I pitched one inning last year,” Donovan said. “I played first half of the time, and now I’m splitting time between pitching and third. I think I got in two games at third last year.”
Despite all the maneuvering, the switching of positions, Donovan knows he can’t let that slow him down this year.
“I’m switching gloves again this year,” Donovan said. “In Legion [ball], I played first base, so it’s a little different.
“It’s quiet at third this year. I don’t feel as involved as I was last year. The first baseman is involved in nearly every play.”
Getting back to the mound wasn’t as difficult for Donovan, who possesses a change-up and slider to go along with his four-seam fastball.
“It wasn’t hard [to get back into a pitching rhythm],” Donovan said. “During the summer, I got prepared to pitch more, to be the main guy this year.”
He surprised himself in the opener, not anticipating how well he would throw.
“I expected to throw 65 to 70 pitches against Riverside,” Donovan said. “I threw 112 pitches, and have been more than a 100 a few times.”
His maturity on the mound has been a steadying influence on the Blue Devils, who have gotten off to a slower start this season, in part because of the weather. His confidence is growing.
“All three of my pitches are better than they were in years past,” Donovan said. “[Assistant] Coach Gary DiMattia calls all the pitches, and I’m usually in agreement.”
As the weather grows warmer, Donovan hopes the Blue Devils will heat up as well. The senior understands expectations are as high as always at Old Forge, especially in light of the school’s football and girls basketball teams reaching the state final this academic year. But he believes in his teammates despite an uneven start, and knows the best is yet to come.
“The pitching staff has been good, we’ve been getting timely hitting and our two big bats in A.J. [Cantarella] and Paul Papi are going,” Donovan said. “It’s coming together. We started a little slow because we didn’t get outside enough to see live pitching.
“I’m the only one back with state experience from last year. It’s a new team, but we still have the same expectations — make a run at the state title.”
Even with a half-dozen or so football players on the team, Donovan’s experience is seen as being a crucial component of the team by Tony DiMattia.
“We looked at him as being a leader of the team, as he and Paul Papi were the only ones who saw a lot of time last year,” DiMattia said. “He’s done a lot of work in the off season, and has put us on track. He has to keep the ball down, and if he does, we’ll be in good shape. He’s been lights out so far.”
Donovan prefers to spread the credit.
“We have to cut down on errors, and we’ve struggled to hit at times,” Donovan said. “When we hit, we beat up on everybody.”
With how well the Blue Devils have dominated the District 2 Class A tournament over the past decade, the best may well lay ahead for Old Forge. Donovan will be among the leading players in that charge to another district title, and another run at a state title. That’s becoming a common theme at the school, and Donovan is proud to do his part to make that dream come true.