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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    UConn’s Karaban takes to the mound at Fenway Park

    UConn basketball player Alex Karaban speaks with reporters of the field at Fenway Park prior to Saturday's game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in Boston. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley, left, listens to Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora in the dugout prior to Saturday's game between the Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park in Boston. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Members of the UConn basketball team and staff pose for a photo prior to Saturday's game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees at Fenway Park in Boston. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Boston — An understandably nervous Alex Karaban patiently waited to walk to the Fenway Park mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox-Yankee game on Saturday night.

    Karaban never played baseball and looked a bit awkward while warming up near the Red Sox dugout. He also practiced earlier this week inside the Werth Center and at Elliot Ballpark in Storrs.

    “He said he’s been practicing but it didn’t look like it,” coach Dan Hurley said before the first pitch. “It was bad. This could go anywhere. He’s played before 75,000 a couple of times, so I don’t think it is going to be a nerves or anxiety issue. He’s not a good baseball player.

    “It’s too late for Karaban. His mechanics are bad. He’s not a natural thrower.”

    As a two-time national champion, Karaban regularly delivered under pressure on the biggest college basketball stage for the Huskies. He came through again on Saturday before a packed Fenway, throwing a high strike to Boston’s Dominic Smith, who served as the catcher. His UConn teammates and coaching staff stood behind him.

    “I’m so happy it’s done now,” Karaban said afterward. “I’m glad I didn’t embarrass the program.”

    Just another in a long line of UConn basketball’s national championship celebrations.

    When introduced during the pregame ceremony, the Huskies received a warm ovation.

    They looked right at home at Fenway Park.

    Hurley spent some time talking to Red Sox manager Alex Cora, one champion to another, in the dugout. The Huskies posed for a team photo.

    Karaban, who’s from Southborough, Mass., is living a Boston sports fan dream.

    During UConn’s national championship run, Karaban played two NCAA tournament games and practiced at TD Garden, the home of the Celtics, in March.

    On Saturday, Karaban stood on the mound at historic Fenway Park. He missed out on the opportunity last year due to attending Jayson Tatum’s basketball camp.

    “It’s Fenway and the Red Sox are my team and they’ve been my team growing up, so it’s super exciting,” Karaban said. “It’s super cool just being here. This is my real first time just walking on the field.

    “I’ve been to a couple of games here, not many. I don’t follow baseball as much as probably some other people do.”

    Hurley, who played first base during his baseball playing days, is up next in the first pitch rotation.

    He’s scheduled to perform the duty when UConn is honored on July 6 at Yankee Stadium. He reached the catcher on his attempt last year in the Bronx.

    “I didn’t throw it with enough velocity when I watched it after,” Hurley said. “I didn’t throw it hard enough. So the next time I throw it, I’m going to throw it hard. I’m going to throw a real fastball. I’m not going to play it safe.”

    UConn’s national championship celebration tour also will continue.

    The Huskies will visit the White House sometime in late July.

    For Karaban, it will be hard to top Saturday.

    “This is probably going to be my favorite,” Karaban said. “The White House was cool and going inside there was definitely special. And the parade is definitely up there, too. But my personal one is going to be the pitch today.

    “As a Boston guy and a Red Sox guy, just being out at Fenway is definitely going to be my favorite thing for sure.”

    So what’s next for Karaban, who left Fenway wearing the jersey of his favorite player, David Ortiz?

    Perhaps drop the ceremonial puck at a Bruins game, or be honored before a Patriots game in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, just down the road from his home?

    “Not that I know of, but I hope so,” Karaban said. “The Patriots would be cool.”

    News and notes

    Only current UConn team members made the trip to Boston. Donovan Clingan, Stephen Castle, Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer are all preparing for the NBA Draft on June 26-27. Clingan stopped by Storrs to talk to the team on Saturday. “It was great to have him around,” Hurley said. “It also was nice to see him have a message for the players, which is to appreciate your time here because it’s special. As great as the NBA Draft is for him coming up, UConn was just as special so enjoy it.” … Here’s what Karaban said when reminded about Boston sports championship history. “It’s special being around such winning franchises. We definitely do have a dynasty. The dynasty is not over yet. We’re going to continue to build this dynasty this year.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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