2007 NEWS

2007 News > 8/8/07

BILLERICA NATIVE EARNED STARDOM THE HARD WAY: DEDICATION
By David Pevear, Lowell Sun

BILLERICA - He is not a Lefty, a Rocket or a Big Train. No flashy nickname has needlessly attached itself to baseball's newest 300-game winner. Billerica's Tom Glavine is still what fits him best. "He has reached the pinnacle," Billerica High baseball coach Jon Sidorovich says. "But he's never placed himself above Billerica. His parents are still here. His roots are still here."

Well-grounded. Blue-collar. All business.

This popular honor-roll student and baseball and hockey star from Billerica Memorial High School's Class of 1984 has become the 23rd pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games.

Two Cy Young Awards, one World Series MVP and a place in Cooperstown five years after he decides to hang up his circle change-up also are Glavine's.

His standing in Billerica remains rock-solid.

"In this day and age, with sports figures (and their bad behavior) and steroids, he's a source of pride," said Susan Crapo, 34, while walking with her son Tyler, 7, across the Billerica town common. "Somebody for kids to look up to."

On the bench outside the Mangia Mangia Italian Kitchen on Boston Road, Howard Finestone, 43, soothed 12-year-old son Alex's disappointment about not making a soccer team he had hoped to make.

"Work harder and earn what you get," father told son as they waited for their pizza to be ready. "Things aren't handed to you. Tommy Glavine obviously had to work hard. And he's made it last."

Glavine was raised well by his parents, Fred and Millie, who live on Treble Cove Road in the house Fred built in 1962. Fred Glavine poured foundations for a living. Years ago he poured the concrete for Sidorovich's home. Sidorovich noticed a kid, who was maybe 4 or 5 years old, there watching. That was the first time he saw Tom Glavine.

"Every time he's on TV, they say 'Tom Glavine from Billerica,' and the story (of what makes Glavine such a source of pride) falls into place," says Paul Barber, who was one of Glavine's youth hockey coaches. "I see Fred stop by the Dunkin' Donuts before getting ready to hit the road to watch Tommy pitch. Great people, his family."

Scott Crandall, who was a high school teammate of Glavine's and remains one of the pitcher's closest friends, still can see himself picking up Tommy for Billerica High practices and games in a 1983 Trans-Am. It seems like yesterday.

"It's so weird," Crandall says. "But how could anyone have predicted what he's done? It's amazing. But like my father says: 'Tommy comes from good stock.'"

The second time Sidorovich saw Tom Glavine was on the first day of baseball tryouts during Glavine's freshman year at Billerica High. The coach was unaware of the buzz that had swirled around Glavine since he was a Billerica National Little Leaguer. Arthur Streck, one of Glavine's Little League coaches, had told anyone who would listen that he had a feeling about this kid.

"(Streck) was telling us that this kid was going to go a long way, maybe even to the major leagues," says Billy Egan, a longtime Little League coach and administrator in town. Glavine was 10.

"We used to say to Arthur, 'Yeah right. Get real,'" Egan recalls.

Sidorovich tunes out hype and judges all freshmen for himself. "Little League is different than high school," he says in a serious tone. "Some kids mature differently."

So what was his impression when Glavine showed up at tryouts as a Billerica High freshman? "He was a pretty good ballplayer," Sidorovich says with a laugh. Not good enough, though, to be in Billerica's starting lineup for its first game of the 1981 season, a victory over Tewksbury. Sidorovich sent Glavine up to pinch-hit, though.

"Of course he got a hit," Sidorovich says. "He was in the lineup from then on."

Gary DiSarcina played with Glavine at Billerica, and later logged 12 big-league seasons. He has a greater appreciation than most for the immensity of 300 victories."

"To be 41 years old, and still getting big-league hitters out that are 22, 23 and 24 years old, that's impressive," says DiSarcina, now manager of the Lowell Spinners.

Glavine made his first impressions in high school with his bat, not his arm. Glavine batted well over .400 in each of his four seasons at Billerica, perhaps one of the greatest high-school hitters this area has seen. Dracut High coach Hank Golec once told his best pitcher, Dave Leboeuf, to throw Glavine nothing but curveballs, regardless of the game situation.

"We were in a tight game at Billerica. It was about the fifth inning, and Dave had gotten Glavine out twice, on a pop-up and a routine fly, throwing nothing but curves," Golec says. "The third time up, the count goes 3-0. He throws Glavine a fastball. When it left the bat, I thought the ball was going to hit the hockey rink." Glavine pitched, too, but was just one of three hard-throwers on a celebrated Billerica staff, along with Steve Purdy and Paul Ames.

Both were a year older. Purdy, later drafted by the Kansas City Royals, threw the hardest. DiSarcina, a future All-Star shortstop in the big leagues, played second base because most right-handed batters could not swing quickly enough to pull the ball.

"At that age, we all thought Steve Purdy was a better pitcher than Tom Glavine," says DiSarcina. "We thought Paul Ames was better. Just because of age. They were older than him. We didn't know Tommy would blossom into a Cy Young." His senior year, Glavine turned heads with an 8-1 record, striking out 113 batters in 64 innings, and throwing two no-hitters. Billerica had plenty of talented athletes. But Ames, who went on to play hockey at UMass Lowell, nevertheless saw a certain something that separated Glavine from the rest.

"He quietly went about his business until a big moment arrived. Then he came up with the big hit or the big goal at just the right time," Ames says. "You knew there was something special about him. He was confident in his abilities." Whenever DiSarcina thinks of Glavine, the Brockton game comes to mind.

It was 1983, Billerica versus Brockton at Rockland Memorial Stadium, for the state Division 1 title. Glavine, a junior, pitched nine innings before heading out to center field with the score tied 1-1. Brockton put a runner on second in the bottom of the 12th. There was a single to center field. In dwindling sunlight, Glavine charged the ball and fired a one-hop strike to catcher Jim Fielding.

"The Brockton kid was rounding third base with his hands up in the air Bernie Carbo-style," recalls Crandall, who was Billerica's right fielder. "He was thinking they'd won the game." The Brockton runner was out by 15 feet.

Crandall adds: "He was confused when he was tagged out. He couldn't believe it. He looked around. Any other center fielder and the game would have been over." Glavine then led off the top of the 13th with a single and scored the winning run on a two-out single by DiSarcina off the third-base bag.

"One of the greatest games I ever played in," DiSarcina says.

The win is as much a part of the Glavine Legend as his eight shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians while pitching for the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the 1995 World Series.

Between licks on a strawberry-flavored ice cream bar as he boarded the team bus after the Brockton game, Glavine told a reporter, "This is the No. 1 accomplishment for me so far." His old Little League coach had a feeling the accomplishments would continue piling up for this kid.