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Senior pitcher Sam Swap stepped up in a big way this season by turning in a 7-2 record to go along with a 1.15 ERA and 69 strikeouts for the Valley Regional baseball team. Swap was named to the All-Shoreline Conference First Team. (Photo courtesy of Sam Swap )
Warriors’ right-hander Sam Swap likes to float the knuckleball to keep opposing batters guessing. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Sam Swap is proving himself a unique and valuable asset to the Valley Regional baseball team this year. Sam has anchored the Warriors’ rotation all spring, and his seven wins are a huge reason why Valley has qualified for the Shoreline Conference and Class M State tournaments. Sam anticipates that he will hang up his cleats before going off to college, but he’s happy to be putting together an outstanding final season to punctuate his high-school career.
Sam, an Ivoryton resident, recently earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors for his work on the mound. For the regular season, Sam posted a 7-2 record with a 1.15 ERA and 69 strikeouts for the Warriors, who went 12-8. Sam knew that he could pitch, although his performance this year is surprising even to him.
“This is nothing like what I expected. I knew this would be my last year in baseball. I just wanted it to be fun. So I just came out wanting to have fun, and I had a nonchalance that I hadn’t had before. I just pitched what I wanted to pitch,” says Sam. “I’ve known that I’m a strong pitcher and one of the better ones in the Shoreline. I just didn’t know to this magnitude.”
One of Sam’s signature wins came early on in the season against Hale-Ray. Sam put up a stellar one-hit performance against the Noises and notched 13 strikeouts in the effort. Sam says it was a game like any other, where he toed the rubber with the same mindset that he’s featured all year.
“I think just every game I do the best I possibly can,” says Sam. “The game I had against Hale-Ray with 13 K’s and one hit on 80 pitches, that was my best performance in a while.”
Sam, a right-hander, features an interesting repertoire of pitches. Along with his traditional fastball, curveball, and slider, he also sports a knuckleball. The knuckler is an uncommon pitch at any level, but especially in high school. Sam learned the knuckleball from his father, Peter, and it’s his favorite pitch to throw. When Sam is ahead in the count, he often uses the knuckleball to put hitters away.
“I’m known for being able to throw a knuckleball well. My dad taught it to me at a young age. I thought it was the best pitch ever,” says Sam. “I throw the knuckleball whenever I get up in the count. It keeps the hitters off-balance. I don’t try to throw it hard. I lose control at higher speeds. When it spins, it’s just a meatball down the plate. When I throw it right, it’s pretty unhittable.”
Given his affinity for the knuckleball, it’s no surprise that Sam’s favorite player is former Boston Red Sox knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield. Sam feels as though he’s learned a lot from watching professionals like Wakefield pitch.
“I gained a lot of knowledge from pitching watching the pros a lot and how they handle it. Then I put that into my own pitching routine,” Sam says. “I’ve been a Red Sox fan my whole life. My favorite pitcher of all time is Tim Wakefield. He was one of the best, definitely. I gained a lot of confidence from watching him pitch. It made me realize you don’t need a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. You just need a good pitch that you know when and where to throw it to get a guy out.”
Head Coach Brian Drinkard says that Sam’s other pitches are also hard for batters to track, and this is why Sam made the All-Conference Team this season. Along with Sam’s pitching prowess, Drinkard says that he brings tremendous energy to the squad.
“Sam’s really stepped up for us this year. He’s a great kid, and he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s a real free spirit. He has a few games where he features the knuckle, but he has good stuff other than that,” Drinkard says. “He’s got great movement on his pitches. His fastball moves all over the place, and he has a nice slider. His velocity is way up this year, and then he can drop that knuckleball. Our first baseman says kids are always asking what he’s throwing, and that’s not even about his knuckleball.”
In addition to dealing on the mound, Sam also wants to be a good teammate. That’s why he makes sure he keeps his fellow Warriors upbeat when any setbacks occur.
“Most of the time I try to keep everyone in a positive headspace. If someone is frustrated, I try to keep their hopes up, especially if it’s an underclassman,” Sam says. “There’s always another chance, another turn coming up. A positive headspace in baseball is important.”
After finishing his high-school career, Sam will head to the Hartford Art School, where he will pursue photography and, potentially, a career in photojournalism. No matter how this season turns out, Sam says that he will always look back fondly at his time as a member of the Warriors.
“I don’t think I’ve played in a more fun baseball club with the chemistry and everyone keeping behind Coach Drinkard, Coach Lou Rolon, and Coach Charlie Wolfe,” says Sam. “It’s just a great ball club.”
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