South Xtra: Baldwin native motivated to play pro baseball
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What makes an athlete continue to play the sport he loves after he uses up his college eligibility?
Or when he is hurt?
For Baldwin product Sean Gaughan it is his mother, Nancy, who passed away in July 2010 from multiple sclerosis.
And that motivation has earned a chance to play professional baseball, earning an invitation to the camp of the Edinburg (Texas) Roadrunners, last year's United League (Independent) champions.
"One of her dreams was for me to continue on," said Gaughan, who spent the past month playing baseball in the Texas Winter League, a showcase league for aspiring baseball players based in Harlingen, Texas. "I continue to play for her."
"We used to have season tickets at the Pirates games at Three Rivers Stadium and sit in the handicapped section," said Gaughan, 23. "She would have a jersey on that said 'Sean's Mom.'"
The handicapped section at Three Rivers was just above the right field bullpen, which in the 1990s housed the Pirates' relief corps.
"We'd get to know all the players there. They'd know her all as 'Sean's Mom.'
"We saw Chris Peters' first major league game. Later he was my pitching coach at Point Park."
It was at Point Park where Gaughan flourished in 2008, batting .372 as an infielder/pitcher.
Unfortunately for Gaughan, soon after that he began feeling the effects of an injury in his sophomore year at Baldwin, where he also played basketball.
"One day my arm went numb. I thought it was broken."
Gaughan then learned he had broken his collarbone as a Highlander.
"It healed in the wrong spot," Gaughan said. "I have a lump on my side forever, but I don't want to make it sound like an excuse. It took four years to fix."
His statistics did dip a bit, though not tremendously. In 2009 the 5-10, 165-pound Gaughan hit a respectable .281 (18 for 64) at Point Park and hit .319 playing in the Western Major Baseball League, a summer college league.
But an attempt to transfer to Mississippi Valley State didn't pan out, as Gaughan never took the field for the Delta Devils. Then his mother passed, which took him away from baseball even longer.
So in order to continue on his mother's dream, Gaughan has played the past three seasons in various winter baseball leagues.
Playing in 2011 as a second baseman in the Arizona Winter League, he hit .250 in his first attempt to come back. A season later he tried his hand at pitching and finished second in the AWL in earned run average, sporting a nifty 1.47 mark while striking out 19 batters in 181/3 innings and only walking six.
This past season Gaughan played in the Texas Winter League, where he was reunited with his former catcher at Point Park, Dave Angle, and primarily played infield.
Gaughan struggled early on, batting just .160 as a year's layoff took its toll.
But as the season progressed, so did Gaughan's hitting. In the last week of the regular season Gaughan hit .316 (6 for 19) with two doubles, helping raise his final average to .226 and get his shot with Edinburg.
And as a pitcher, he retired all four batters he faced in his lone appearance this season to earn a save.
If Gaughan can parlay the motivation his mother's memory gives him into a professional contract, so be it.
If not, then he'd like to go into coaching, either as a baseball or basketball coach. Anyone who has ever watched a Pittsburgh Penguins game with Gaughan can attest he has passion for sports.
But there's also another family member who motivates him.
"My grandfather, John Bartus, was the President of the Polish Falcons Nest Eight for 35 years and is a great coach. He can always pick out anything that is wrong with my swing. But anytime I go to the Falcons club with him, his former players come to him and say thank you, even if they played for him 30 or 40 years ago. I want to do that."
First Published March 7, 2013 12:00 am