2023 Gazette Baseball Player of the Year: Patrick Fitzgibbons, Hopkins Academy
|Published: 07-27-2023 7:35 PM
Greg Vreeland called his older brother, Hopkins Academy baseball coach Dan Vreeland, over to the hitting tunnel set up near the field.
The mesh cage allowed the Golden Hawks’ junior varsity call ups and bench players to take batting practice swings while Dan Vreeland was working with the Hopkins Academy regulars on the main field. The roster contains 20 players during the tournaments, and the former Nichols College pitcher’s arm is on a pitch count.
“Is everything OK?” Dan Vreeland asked Greg, who played both football and baseball at Castleton and has coached college football for the past decade.
“You’re going to want to see that redhead hit on the field,” Greg responded.
That redhead was Patrick Fitzgibbons, then an eighth grader who played JV all season before a 2019 postseason call up.
“There’s something special there,” Greg said.
Fitzgibbons showed it within the next few days when Dan Vreeland included him in the full field group. He usually opens batting practice with flip screens, short, quick tosses that allow the players to ease into their swings before batting practice proper.
“Which by the way is not fast enough for anybody to turn around on and hit it out of the park,” Vreeland said. “And he was in eighth grade, and he hit it out of the park.”
Fitzgibbons’ mouth popped open. He looked at Vreeland and asked “Did that go out?”
Vreeland downplayed his response.
“This is going to happen all the time for this kid. He needs to get used to, ‘every swing I have is going to be something special’ now,” Vreeland said. “He was still a small kid generating that kind of power. You could tell it was something special.”
Special looks familiar to Vreeland and the Hopkins Academy baseball program. Fitzgibbons is the latest in a line of talent that stretches back to Jon Morrison, who played at Rhode Island, Jack Feltovic, who won a state championship and is at Wheaton, and Andrew Ciaglo, now playing college basketball at Cameron University in Oklahoma.
Just 223 students attended Hopkins Academy this year in seventh through 12th grade. The school regularly graduates classes of just over 30.
“Any time I realize a kid is special I think, ‘how do they keep coming here? How do I get this lucky?’” Vreeland asked.
He credits the Hadley Cal Ripken program for feeding him fully formed baseball players. Vreeland rarely has to tell his athletes to stand ready with a glove down or where to be on a bunt.
“There’s always a shock to your system like how is this happening to me again?” Vreeland said. “It seems wild every time one appears because when they leave it feels like the last one.”
Fitzgibbons strongly gravitated to baseball during his freshman year. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all MIAA organized sports for the spring.
Baseball remained fairly safe as a non contact sport. He took a lot of batting practice with Feltovic and joined Northampton’s American Legion junior team. Coaches told him it’s a sport he could play in college.
“Baseball has become what I loved,” said Fitzgibbons, the Daily Hampshire Gazette Baseball Player of the Year. “I always like to think of myself as a guy that does the dirty work.”
He couldn’t play for Hopkins Academy as a freshman but instantly impacted the state championship team as a sophomore, sliding into second base and home face first as often as he could. His yells soundtracked the 2021 state title season as much as baseballs popping leather gloves.
“The thing about Patrick that made it feel like I was watching the most special baseball I’ve watched in my entire life was you could feel the emotion he was feeling on every play – good, bad or something in between, you could feel what he was feeling,” Vreeland said. “He wears on his sleeve in a way that fires you up in the best of times and in the worst of times.”
The Golden Hawks savored far more success than failure in Fitzgibbons’ three years. They won a Western Massachusetts and state title in 2021 and reached the sectional semifinals and state Round of 16 last season. As a senior in 2023, Fitzgibbons hit .436 with 35 RBIs, eight doubles, three triples and two home runs. Hopkins Academy won every game he started on the mound, though they were few and far between because of his proficiency as a catcher.
Vreeland struggled with where to play Fitzgibbons throughout his career. He filled holes in the outfield, third baseman, shortstop and pitching before settling behind the plate.
“I grew up a catcher so I knew the value of having a guy who’s that guy up there,” Vreeland said. “But how do I waste that speed? How do I waste that athleticism?”
Fitzgibbons happily played any role. That attitude carried over from soccer and basketball, where he wasn’t much of a scorer but put his body on the line and leveraged his athleticism on the defensive end.
“Doing what I can to help the team win, which is all you need at the end of the day,” Fitzgibbons said. “Even soccer is not the most physical sport, but I like making it as physical as possible.”
It’s a wonder he didn’t play football instead. Strapping on catcher equipment every half inning scratches a similar itch. Not only is it the most contact-friendly position, but it allowed him to survey the field, call pitches and organize the defense. Runners rarely tried to steal second with Fitzgibbons behind the plate, and those that tested his arm often failed.
“That’s what I like to pride myself with is being the leader on the field and trying to affect the game as much as I can,” Fitzgibbons said. “Throwing somebody out is the best feeling, especially when the throw beats them by like five or six steps. I don’t even need to see the tag sometimes, if the throw is there I know Chace (Earle) or Dom (Aloisi) is going to get the tag down.”
Fitzgibbons’ prowess at the plate and behind it combined with his infectious energy powered the Golden Hawks to a 16-5 record. Hopkins Academy reached the Class D semifinals and the Division 5 state final, coming from behind in four of their five tournament wins.
“You come to rely on how good that No. 1 guy is, that guy who is hitting everything for you. It’s easy to overlook what his batting average is or what his slugging percentage is,” Vreeland said. “The attention is on his intangibles anyway. I’ve always said that is the most valuable thing he brings.”
Somehow college coaches haven’t discerned his value yet. Fitzgibbons broke his hand last summer before many of the big showcase camps and couldn’t perform in front of college coaches. He’ll attend Marianapolis Prep in Connecticut next season to give himself another full summer and potentially fall to be recruited and find a home at the next level.
“I think he’s going to find a place that will appreciate him for all that he is,” Vreeland said. “Some coach is eventually going to see Patrick the way that I see him. They’re not going to want to miss him.”
FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS
Nate Carillon, senior, South Hadley
Neil Cunniffe, junior, Amherst
Anabal Diaz-Ofrey, senior, Holyoke
Matt Drobiak, junior, South Hadley
Chace Earle, freshman, Hopkins Academy
Nico Fasulo, junior, Frontier
Patrick Fitzgibbons, senior, Hopkins Academy
Liam Flynn, junior, Hopkins Academy
Alex Gochinski, senior, Frontier
Cam Graves, sophomore, Smith Academy
Rylie Heeter, senior, Gateway
Marshall Ingram, senior, Smith Vocational
Raul Lopez-Ofrey, junior, Holyoke
Ian McDonald, sophomore, Belchertown
Josh Misiaszek, sophomore, Belchertown
Rosco Palmer, junior, Smith Vocational
Brady Perkins, senior, Belchertown
Liam Pond, junior, Hampshire
Edward Przybyla, senior, Hampshire
Topher Reardon, junior, Easthampton
Elijah Rubinstein, junior, Amherst
Liam Skribiski-Banack, senior, Frontier
Griffin Smiarowski, senior, Smith Academy
Peter Sullivan, senior, Northampton
Drew Thompson, junior, Hampshire
Spencer Waite, junior, Amherst
Cody West, senior, Hopkins Academy
SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS
Cooper Beckwith, junior, Hopkins Academy
Ryan Belina, senior, Smith Academy
Jack Boyle, junior, Hampshire
Eathon Bryant, senior, Frontier
Logan Carpenter, freshman, South Hadley
Evan Ferguson, sophomore, Belchertown
Miles Ferreira, senior, Frontier
Ben Foley, senior, South Hadley
Daniel Gauvin, senior, Granby
Derek Gould, junior, Belchertown
Matt Hockman, junior, Amherst
Memphis Huertas, freshman, South Hadley
Braedan Lamirande, senior, Holyoke
James Lavallee Jr., sophomore, Smith Vocational
Charlie May, senior, Amherst
Tyler McDonald, senior, Belchertown
Luke McGrath, sophomore, Northampton
Cayden Payne, senior, Smith Vocational
Yomar Rodriguez, senior, Holyoke
Jonathan Santiago, senior, Granby
Dalton Savoy, junior, Gateway
Caleb Steineger, senior, Northampton
Mikey Thompson, junior, Hampshire
Matt Vassalo, freshman, Amherst
Al West, sophomore, Hopkins Academy
Josh Chateauneuf, senior, Granby
Theo D’Angelis-Page, freshman, Gateway
Wyatt Edes, junior, Frontier
Patrick French, senior, Granby
Logan Graves, senior, Smith Academy
Yuuki Ishida, junior, Hopkins Academy
Darwin Jimenez, sophomore, Holyoke
Harry LaFlamme, freshman, Smith Academy
Joey Mankowski, senior, Belchertown
Zach Phakos, sophomore, Hampshire
Arey Rubinstein, junior, Amherst
Thatcher Rudnik, sophomore, Amherst
Jacob Sicard, sophomore, Hampshire
Ben Sledzieski, senior, Northampton
Pablo Tapion, junior, Holyoke
John Viola, junior, South Hadley