Blue Sox Graham Is Still Swinging
By far the oldest player in the Intercity Baseball League, Lexington Blue Sox designated hitter Dan Graham is still giving pitchers nightmares at 35 years old.
Arguably the Lexington Blue Sox's biggest asset heading into tonight's Game 1 of the Intercity Baseball League semifinals is their experience. The four-time defending IBL champions, have veteran leadership all over their roster.
But one member of the team is a little more veteran than the rest --35-year-old designated hitter Dan Graham.
Graham usually hits in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot for the team. He's still feared for his fluid southpaw swing at 35, though probably not as much so as a few years ago, when he was two-time MVP of this league.
After Lexington's fourth straight league title last season, Graham had set his mind on retiring. The time commitment was starting to become overbearing; after all, his wife had given birth to twins that May, and he had a family at home to care for.
But this slugger couldn't stay away from the game he's devoted his life to. He worked with Blue Sox manager Rick DeAngelis to develop a plan that would allow him to balance playing on the team and caring for his kids.
The result has been an impressive season from a guy who routinely takes games off on the weekends to be with his family. Graham's four HRs are tied for the team lead and his 15 RBIs are fourth on the team.
But DeAngelis says Graham's greatest quality is his leadership.
"His veteran leadership ability, along with his baseball skills and intangibles are off the charts," DeAngelis said.
The Blue Sox players routinely call Graham "coach," even though he's listed officially on the roster as a position player.
"Having Dan on the team is basically like having another coach out there. It's great," said Lexington centerfielder Pete Frates after a game in June.
For one player, Graham's title of "coach" makes even more sense. In fact, Blue Sox rightfielder Dan Capra has trouble not calling Graham "coach."
Since 2008, Graham's been the head coach at Lowell High School, and was Capra's manager during the youngster's senior year, in what amounted to a turning point in Graham's coaching career.
Graham had meant to start coaching the team in 2007, but was suspended for the season after being arrested for driving under the influence on St. Patrick's Day. Upon taking the team over in 2008, he immediately earned the team's respect, and ended up taking the team to the playoffs that season, Capra says.
"Everyone messes up, and I feel like he erased what happened," Capra said. "He did a great job getting us ready for games, and we just kind of forgot about it."
Now, Graham is able to give advice to players up and down the Blue Sox roster, even the ones that have played on the team for nearly a decade.
"I've had a lot of coaches in my day, and I'm a coach myself, too," Graham said. "I try to share what I've picked up along the way. From being around the game for so long, and having that seniority, I can approach guys that a 22-year-old wouldn't approach."
Graham's baseball career spans nearly three decades and stretches from his birthplace Lowell to halfway across the country.
The lefty played right field at Division I Central Connecticut College before graduating in 1998, where, according to Graham, he was three-time all Conference and hit at an over .400 clip during his senior year. (Archives for that season were not available.)
After college Graham went undrafted, and spent the next few years trying to get the attention of professional scouts. His best season came in 2001 with the Springfield Capitals of the Frontier League, where he hit .350 with double-digit HRs and a boatload of RBI.
But still, no scouts came knocking at his door.
"After that season, I kind of knew that I'd proven myself, and that if I didn't get a chance now I'd never get that chance," Graham said. "Personally I think that I was deserving of a shot, but all I was told was that there were guys just as young with better measureables."
During that time, Graham treated baseball as his job, working various jobs in education and landscaping to make money during the offseason. Graham was traded back to an Independent League team in Brockton in 2002, and has stayed in his home state ever since.
Six years ago, his dreams of a professional baseball career extinguished, Graham joined an old friend, Rick DeAngelis, and the Blue Sox. Since then he's dominated a league filled with college kids looking for experience, and older guys who play for the love of the game.
"In this league, you're not playing in front of scouts every night," Graham said. "Not like in the Independent League, where there are guys being signed every day. Here, guys like [Lexington shortstop] Steve Gath and [Lexington's] Ross Curley are absolutely playing because they love it."
Since he's taken over at head coach at Lowell High School, each season with the Blue Sox has taken a while to ease into, and this season especially.
But in his first game back with the team, in a 11-4 win on June 17, Graham showed throwback form.
After entering the game earlier as a pinch hitter and making an out in his first at-bat, the 35-year-old stepped to the plate with no one on in the bottom of the sixth inning.
"Hey, watch out for the rookie!," yelled Frates sarcastically from the bench as Graham got ready in the batter's box.
He barely missed the first pitch, a fastball. Next came a slider, which missed the plate. Then another fastball, in a similar spot to the first one.
A few seconds and one seemingly effortless swing of the bat and loud "CRACK" later, the ball landed over the right-centerfield wall.
At 35, Dan Graham is still a beast with a baseball bat in his hands.