In the fall of 1990, I along with fifty or so 18-22 year old baseball players tried out for the Springfield College baseball team. I remember seeing a familiar face or two, one of them being Bobby Bigelli from Johnston High School, whom I had just played against in a Rhode Island All Star game at Providence County Day School. Bigelli was a lock to make the team, he was a very talented shortstop and pitcher. In that first week of practice, I also met Sean Carey from West Warwick High School. Carey was a few years older than me and was already a fixture on the Varsity Team. The talent on that field in the fall of 1991 was the best I had ever been around – literally every player that was trying out was the best player on their high school team, most were the best player in their division, and some even the best player in their respective state. Of all the players I tried out with (even returning players had to try out), the best player on the field was Sam Gillen.
Gillen is the best overall player that I had ever shared a baseball field with. I have played with a lot of great players and with all due respect to Sean Maloney, Ken Giard, Jason Rajotte – Sam Gillen is the best player I had the honor of sharing the same field with. Gillen played at Springfield College from 1987-1991 (my freshman year) and his stats are just legendary. In 1991, he pitched to an astounding 1.61 ERA. He also recorded, in 1991, 53 hits, scored 36 runs, had 35 RBI. His career stats – .335 lifetime hitter, 178 hits, 32 doubles, 107 runs scored. I read somewhere in a Springfield College Alumni book that he had played some professional baseball after college. I wasn’t able to verify that, but regardless, Sam Gillen is the best player I have ever seen, played against, or with on a baseball field.
During that first week or so of practice, every player was required to run 2 miles in under 15 minutes (or something like that) per Coach Charlie Roys. Coach Roys had sent a letter home to all recruits and that was one of the physical requirements. I remember training all summer and was most definitely ready and able to run 2 miles in well under 15 minutes. The morning of the 2 mile run, I stood in line with about 25 other players on the track next to the tennis courts at Springfield College. I looked around at some of the players I would be running with/against and noticed Sam Gillen sort of in the back row with a few of the other older players. One of the assistant coaches yelled “On your mark, get set, go!” and we were all off. I ran like my job depended on it and got up in the front pack of runners and stayed there. 8 laps around the track was 2 miles and on lap 8, I was joined by two runners. One of them greeted me with “Hey what’s up, what’s your name?” I replied “Noel Roby” to which he replied “Hey we what lap are you on?” to which I replied “8th” to which he replied “Cool, we have been running with you the whole time, right?” I looked at him and his buddy who were both eager to hear my response. “Oh yeah, you guys are good. Lap 8” and with that I slowed down and let the two runners, whose names I can’t recall at the moment, pass me on the finish line. The two runners and myself had completed the required 2 miles and high fived each other as we headed off the track and back to campus life.
The next practice and thereafter on campus, Sam greeted me and introduced me to other players, and extended a very cool gesture to me. Standard issue baseball hats at Springfield College in the fall, prior to making the team, were your garden variety baseball hat with the adjustable flap in the back. Not very fancy but they did the trick. Varsity players had fitted baseball caps with the “S” knitted into the front of the hat, maroon colors, very traditional, very Springfield College. Before one practice, Sam told me to toss my standard issue fall baseball hat and he handed me his SC cap off the top of his head. He told me he wanted to give it to an up and coming player, someone who would wear it with pride and represent all the Springfield College was. I’m not sure how many he had laying around, but the gesture from a 4 year Varsity starter to a nobody Freshman (me) trying to make any team , even Junior Varsity, was just amazing to me. I wore that hat for the rest of tryouts, during fall baseball games, and for the entirety of my injury plagued, 2 season baseball career at Springfield. And that hat has remained with me throughout my life.
So, Sam, if you happen to read this and would like your hat back to give to one of your kids (if you have kids), get in touch with me. It has been in my possession for close to thirty years. It doesn’t fit my head anymore and has remained on the walls of my various homes next to a few of my other hats from my youth baseball days. I would be more than happy to dust it off and send it to you. It even has your number “23” on the inside of the cap (how fitting that your number 23 was worn by another legend, Michael Jordan.) This hat brings back so many great memories of my playing days and the amazing, yet short-lived, experience of playing college baseball. At worst, I get to keep the hat and continue to tell the story to anyone who sees it. At best, you get your hat back and tell the stories of your illustrious career at Springfield College to your family. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps Springfield College will take it and place it in a trophy case on campus for students to read about you and your career at SC. I am happy with any of these scenarios. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.