East Lyme's Matt Malcom thriving and surviving in first season at ECSU
Mansfield — Matt Malcom has lost count of the number of bruises on his body.
Thirty games as a starting catcher taking foul tips off your 5-foot-7, 185-pound frame and blocking pitches in the dirt has a way of beating you up.
And don't forgot about the wear and tear on the legs of the Eastern Connecticut State University freshman.
"It's been a long season," Malcom said with a smile after catching a three-hour, 16 minute marathon against Tufts on Monday. "My legs are definitely not ready for it; They're sore. A lot different than a high school season. ... I've got bruises everywhere. They look good on me. I'll keep telling myself that until I actually hurt myself."
The Warriors can't afford to have Malcom, an East Lyme High School graduate, join an injury list that is already crowded with catchers.
Malcom has been the ultimate Warrior this season, appearing in all but two games. He's served as designated hitter three times.
"The biggest challenge is that we've had so many injuries that we've basically taxed him by having him to play not only back-to-back games but sometimes twice in the same day with doubleheaders," coach Brian Hamm said. "He's done a really good job not only keeping his focus through sometimes 18 innings in a day but also trying to do his best to keep his legs under him.
"It's starting to show a little bit. But he's really tough. And he does his best to keep his body in shape on his off days. He competes, for sure."
Malcom, who regularly bats clean-up, has remained productive despite his heavy workload. He leads the team in doubles (10), home runs (six) and runs scored (39), and ranks second in batting average (.353) and hits (42). His 22 RBI is two behind the team leader.
"It's that mindset that I carry and that standard that I hold myself to," said Malcom, explaining his success in his first season. "I mimic my mentality a lot after Kobe Bryant. There's one quote he said, 'No matter how hard you work, I'm willing to work harder.'
"That's kind of the motto that I set my life by. I try to prove everybody wrong."
In Monday's 8-4 loss to Tufts, Malcom stretched his on-base streak to 16 straight games — the longest on the team this season — by walking in the third inning.
Basically, he's just doing what he expected to do when he arrived at Eastern. Playing baseball in the Eastern Connecticut Conference really prepared him for college, he said.
He carried over the confidence gained from a terrific East Lyme baseball career during which he was named to The Day's All-Area team as a junior and senior.
"I hold myself to a high standard," Malcom said. "I wanted to play every inning and wanted to start every game. I expected myself to come in here and do that. Using that mindset, I pushed myself in the off-season in the weight room, every day in practice and it earned me a spot.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity that I've been given. There's no limits in life. You can do whatever you want. I know that type of caliber player that I am. I just put my mind to it and got it done."
While at East Lyme, Malcom set his sights on playing college baseball but said he "didn't get the looks that I wanted to in high school."
Malcom heard good things about Eastern and remained committed to joining the program after Hamm replaced Matt LaBranche as head coach.
Hamm has watched Malcom grow and develop, both on and off the field.
"I knew the success that he had (in high school), certainly," Hamm said. "We were really excited to have him. Then he had a very good fall. He's just continually gotten better. He's done a really good job of maturing throughout the year.
"Academically, he's continued to improve in the classroom. He's learned how to manage his pitching staff on top of figuring out how to compete as our number four hitter. So he's had to learn all these things. And he's figured it out."
In the home stretch of regular season, Eastern is aiming to improve its seeding position for the upcoming Little East tournament. The Warriors, who entered Thursday 20-16 overall and 7-8 in the conference, are in the early stages of Hamm's rebuilding process.
With players like Malcom on the roster, the future looks promising.
Malcom isn't resting on his first-year success. He knows he has plenty to polish, especially his catching skills. It's been a challenge learning to manage a large pitching staff. He displayed a strong throwing arm on Monday, nailing Tufts junior Elias Varinos trying to steal second in the first inning. Varinos had been successful in seven of the previous eight attempts.
"Behind the plate, there's definitely adjustments that I need to make, that I'm still learning to do," Malcom said. "How to control a game and stuff like that. I've been working a lot with my pitching coach who's been helping me out.
But we'll figure out."
Eastern's pitching coach is Chris Wojick, a former player at both Eastern and Montville High School.
"He's not an East Lyme guy, but we've got a little chemistry," Malcom said with a laugh.
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