By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Four years have gone by in a flash for Devon Stewart.
All of a sudden at the tail end of his collegiate playing career with Canisius College, the 22-year-old senior right hander can’t believe that it’s all over.
Stewart threw his last game at the Demske Sports Complex in Buffalo two weeks ago against Niagara, took the mound for one more time in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the third game of the Golden Griffins’ championship run, and threw his final college pitch on Saturday against Missouri State Bears in his school's second-ever regional appearance.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “It definitely went a lot quicker than I thought. It’s been a good four years.”
In his final appearance, Stewart went 4 2/3 innings at Hammons Field against the Bears – ranked eighth in the nation heading into the Springfield Regional – allowing four runs on seven hits with two walks and three strikeouts leaving with his team down 4-1 on the way to a 14-1 loss.
“They’re pretty solid from top to bottom in the lineup, there are no real weaknesses,” Stewart said. “They have some of their best hitters in the bottom three or four guys. I just tried to throw strikes. I was struggling a little bit with command and I relied on two pitches mostly.
“I kind of lost my changeup a little bit, which doesn’t help me against lefties, but I tried to work low and [hoped] they would pound the ball into the ground. That’s how I work, and it didn’t work out as well as I would have hoped, but that was the plan.”
The native of Maple Ridge, BC also stranded nine baserunners in his final Griffs outing, leaving the bases loaded in each of the first two frames, working around some of his issues with command and keeping his team in the game during his time on the hill before being removed after throwing 98 pitches.
“You just have to try and clear your head, bear down, and make the best pitches you can,” Stewart said. “I know bases loaded [with] one out is a big strikeout-ground ball situation, but just try and stay simple, make the best pitches you can, and I worked out of some jams pretty well today.
“Unfortunately my pitch count got up because of it but [I was] just trying to hit my spots, make the best pitches I could and hopefully get out of the inning.”
The righty also hit four batters on Saturday, after plunking six in his appearance against Rider on the squad’s MAAC championship run. Prior to the playoff outings, Stewart had totalled eight hit batsmen in his previous 14 starts.
“On the mound the last few starts, today especially, I’ve felt like I could hit my spots,” he said. “And then out of nowhere there’d be one pitch where I kind of lost it in my body and it just kind of got away from me. But I don’t think there’s one thing. Definitely today I was able to hit spots when I needed to, and then out of nowhere I’d miss by a couple feet, so definitely just being a little bit more consistent mechanics-wise.”
Consistency is one of the areas where Stewart improved the most in his senior season, helping him to his best year statistically. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound hurler posted a 3.43 ERA in the regular season for the MAAC champions over 86 2/3 innings, walking just 22 batters and striking out 67 over that span.
“Going away for summer ball [with the Anchorage Bucs] was a big thing for me, but the biggest thing is that I’ve been focusing a lot better,” Stewart said. “I’ve been focusing on trying to hit my spots. I’ve always had the same stuff, it’s just whether or not I could put it together. I’d have a good outing and then a bad outing, but I feel definitely a lot more consistent throughout the whole season and that’s helped me for sure.”
Spending his summer season in the Alaska Baseball League was an enjoyable experience for Stewart, not only for the baseball and adjustments he made in his game, but for the environment and atmosphere it provided.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Stewart said of Alaska. “It’s not too different from BC, but it was good baseball. I definitely got a lot better there. I pitched out of the [bullpen] for the first time in my life. I liked that, so I definitely have an option further down the road if that’s the case. It was just nice and relaxed and fun to go and pitch and play baseball. It was not as stressful as here, for sure.”
Handling his stress well on the mound, some of the most difficult times for Stewart occur on the bench, when he is done pitching and can no longer be the asset to his team that he wants to be.
“It is definitely hard,” he said. “In my freshman year I pitched the second game [of the MAAC final] and then also in my sophomore year when we won it I pitched the second game, so I kind of got us to the finals and then once we were there I had to sit back and watch.
“Last year was nice because I actually got to pitch in the finals. It didn’t work out the way we had hoped but it [was] different this year too … but it’s definitely hard sitting on the bench and not being able to really contribute.”
Now that it’s all over, Stewart leaving Canisius with a degree in biology and two conference championship rings, the right-hander is hoping there will be more baseball in his future, and maybe some more school when that’s done.
“My overall goal is to go play pro ball,” he said. “Hopefully it works out. I feel like I’ve been throwing pretty well this year and I had a good summer so that should work for me, but if not I will look back at school eventually. I definitely have to go get something; I don’t really know what yet. When I came in as a freshman I was thinking med school and now I don’t know if I can do another six years of school. We’ll see where things go.”