Making It or Breaking It? Baseball Players Reflect on Future Plans

john+stankiewicz+throwing+a+baseball

COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS

John Stankiewicz, GSBRH '22, will be playing in the minor leagues for the Minnesota Twins when circumstances permit.

By PATRICK MOQUIN

Baseball is an unforgiving sport given time. No baseball player has ever quit; the sport simply moves on without them. Younger kids can’t hit the ball off the tee and pick up a football helmet or lacrosse stick instead. Middle school players get cut in high school, and the vast majority of high school players don’t get offers from colleges. From there, a smaller, highly capable group meets their match at the collegiate level, ending their dreams of reaching “the big leagues.” Only the most talented and persistent progress past this point, but the Rams had two such players break through this summer.

Two men on the 2020 Fordham baseball team can now proudly say that they’ve made it to the next level, as shortstop Jake MacKenzie and starting pitcher John Stankiewicz, both Gabelli School of Business at Rose Hill ’22, signed MLB contracts last month.

The pandemic has postponed their minor league careers for now, but eventually, MacKenzie and Stankiewicz will begin to play in the farm systems of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins, respectively. Both players signed contracts as undrafted free agents on June 15.

At one point, MacKenzie was considered a shoo-in selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, and Stankiewicz was considered as a late-round pick as well. However, this year’s draft was significantly shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, going from 40 rounds in 2019 to just five in 2020. This denied thousands of high school and college players the opportunity to be drafted and vastly widened the undrafted free agent market.

After going undrafted, MacKenzie admitted that he was disappointed but said, “I knew that there were some teams that still wanted to give me a chance to play at the next level, and that was something I still really wanted to do.”

Stankiewicz echoed his teammate’s sentiments but admitted he was more uncertain, saying, “I wasn’t sure if I would be signed because each team went about signing guys differently but I was hoping I would get the chance to sign.”

Both players had spoken with several teams before the draft, and in MacKenzie’s case, several teams pressured him to sign as soon as he was eligible. In the end, both players signed with teams that had already shown interest in them, indicating that the shortened draft was likely the only thing that prevented them from being drafted in the first place.

As they plan the next stages of their lives in the sport, they both described the difficulty of preparing for their minor league debuts during a pandemic. Stankiewicz said that the Twins had to change their plans for him, because “Normally, after the draft I would go and play somewhere in the minors but this year is different. We’re missing out on the next level of competition but this extra time is great to work on things to prepare you for next year.”

The pandemic has postponed their minor league careers for now, but eventually, MacKenzie and Stankiewicz will begin to play in the farm systems of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins, respectively. Both players signed contracts as undrafted free agents on June 15.”

Meanwhile, MacKenzie said that he was using the time off to take in the moment and prepare for his playing days to begin. He also agreed that losing his final college season hurt him in terms of development, as he’s had to do work on his own that he would have done with the team.

With so many players leaving, mainly seniors and these two MLB signees, the Fordham baseball team will never be able to properly replay their 2020 season, which was canceled in the wake of the coronavirus last spring. It’s even more deflating after hearing from the players about what could have been.

Earlier this year, MacKenzie described the hole that departing players would leave in 2021, saying, “We had a good core group of seniors coming back, and it’s going to be pretty tough trying to do it next year without them.” Now, he and Stankiewicz will join that group of players moving on.

Despite suffering significant losses, the Fordham baseball team is technically built to develop players and give them a future in the sport. The team’s personal results and pursuit of the Atlantic 10 Championship are important, both to the student body and to the players themselves, but in the end, the dreams of these student-athletes do not end on their birthdays.

Unlike some other sports at Rose Hill, the baseball team has a reputation for athletic success beyond the turf at Coffey Field, and as these players leave, they were both quick to point out the effect that Fordham has had on them.

Stankiewicz described his three years on the team as “amazing” and said, “It was great to have the chance to compete with all my teammates and learn from my coaches over the years … and I am grateful for the opportunity to have chosen Fordham University.”

MacKenzie was just as happy with his decision, saying, “Between baseball and school, you can’t really combine the two in a better way. You’ve got great academics there, and then baseball was exactly what I was looking for … You get a chance to get out there and play against the best teams in the country regardless of how big the school is.”

Fordham’s top players are obviously a key to their success, but what often goes unsaid is the profound effect that the program can have on the players. These two student-athletes entered Fordham out of high school with little more than raw talent. In three years as Rams, they’ve developed into pro-caliber prospects and even better men.