By Hector Longo
---- — LOWELL — It’s May of Michael Calzetta’s junior baseball season at UMass Lowell.
The talented 6-foot-4 right-hander should be swamped with thoughts of the upcoming Major League Baseball draft, a first job in the some secluded minor league outpost and dreams of the big leagues.
The dream still lives, and Calzetta indeed is planning summer with the New York Penn League Lowell Spinners.
Only, an elbow problem has put the big league dream on hold.
Instead of pitching this summer at LeLacheur Park, he’ll tend a rake and work the grounds crew.
“Oh, I’ll be back,” said the former Lawrence High great and 2010 Eagle-Tribune Baseball Player of the Year.
“This is disappointing, but I can’t tell you how excited I am about my senior season here in Lowell.”
Simply put, Calzetta hasn’t been the Mike Calzetta most at Lowell expected to see since his freshman season. Sure, coach Ken Harring got the “Tasmanian Devil” competitor he expected in Calzetta, but the performance has at times been erratic.
“I really haven’t been 100 percent, since fall of my freshman year,” said Calzetta.
“But I figured that at 70 percent, I could succeed against most of the guys in this league. So I pushed it through the pain. I came here to play, not to sit.” Calzetta took the ball whenever asked.
After a 4-0 freshman year, he battled to a 4-3 mark as a sophomore.
Off he went to Sanford, Maine, and a summer with the Mainers of the NECBL. But it was there, in the popular college summer league, that even a buzzsaw like Calzetta had enough. “I’d just be warming up, and my fingers would go numb,” he said.
“It was to the point that I couldn’t even feel my hand.” Calzetta, fearing he was a candidate for “Tommy John” surgery, had the elbow looked at it and underwent an operation for bone spurs in October. He had dodged the major bullet — it wasn’t a reconstruction — but suffered a serious setback.
“I knew it was my junior year and (I’m draft eligible),” said Calzetta. “So I kind of rushed myself back. I had my velocity, but I didn’t have my command, and because of that I started to lose my mechanics.” The entire spring has been a battle — between Calzetta pushing himself to perform and his body telling him that rest is most important. He began the season as the River Hawks closer and stumbled along in the unfamiliar role.
Only lately has coach Ken Harring given Calzetta some starts, and the vintage “Calzy” has begun to re-appear.
A week ago, in his final start, Calzetta held Dominican to three hits in eight innings, striking out six.
It was his third quality start in four tries and lowered Calzetta’s once-horrid ERA (9.00) down to a respectable 4.40. Calzetta’s heart now says its time to head to Lynn for summer ball with the North Shore Navigators.
This time, though, his head will take charge of the situation.
The elbow needs rest and will get it, as he works the field for the Spinners and he gets a summer of much-needed on-campus therapy. “I’m not happy. I can be honest about that,” said Calzetta, who won’t pick up a baseball until August when he begins a throwing program. “But next year should be unbelievable. We’re going Division 1. Hopefully, we’ll get some sweet gear. And I promise you, I’ll be back.”