by Ed Morrone
Last season, the La Salle baseball program did something it had never accomplished in its rich history: the team won its second consecutive Catholic League crown, no small feat given how much of a buzz saw that league can be on a daily basis.
Now, with eyes set on a dynastic three-peat, the Explorers will lean heavily on two seniors to write a final unprecedented chapter in their own book of school history.
First, there is Ryan Sheahan, a former utility player who will compete for a starting spot in the La Salle outfield, as well as for some innings on the mound as a right-handed pitcher. Sheahan’s story is especially compelling once you learn he was born blind in his right eye, a result of microphthalmia, a developmental disorder that causes anatomic malformations.
The only thing is, you’d never know it unless someone pointed it out. Sheahen, a Doylestown native, is just as capable of doing anything on the baseball field as someone with two functioning eyes, and he doesn’t let his condition bring him down. If anything, it’s served as an eternal motivator.
“I believe God put me on this Earth to inspire others,” Sheahan said after a recent La Salle practice. “Ever since I was born, it’s been my motivation. I’ve gone out there and swung the bat and thrown the ball around for the last 18 years. I’m used to it, and it’s just a part of who I am. It’s just all that I’ve known, and my constant motivation to be better.”
La Salle head coach Kyle Werman marvels at Sheahan’s perseverance and said, like others, he originally had no idea that one of his players was blind in one eye.
“I learned about it as kind of a, ‘If you happen to be on my right, I might not see you there,’” Werman recalled. “He’d be the last person to ever use it as a crutch. It’s a testament to the adaptation of the human body to be able to learn as an athlete without the use of two eyes. Depth perception is so critical in this game, so it’s a testament to his dedication.”
Standing alongside Sheahan was fellow right-handed pitcher Colin McVeigh. As the only returning three-year starter, McVeigh is the most experienced player left in a program that has won consecutive championships. La Salle doesn’t name team captains, but if they did, Werman said McVeigh would indisputably be that person. He is someone everyone on the team respects and looks to for guidance, and now, after serving as the Explorers’ number two pitcher a year ago, McVeigh ascends into the role of staff ace.
After starting in last year’s Catholic League championship win over Cardinal O’Hara and giving his team five strong innings, McVeigh, a Lansdale native, is ready for all of that responsibility to fall on his shoulders.
“As our number two pitcher last year, I got a taste of some big games and I feel that I’m ready,” said McVeigh, who is committed to play college baseball at Fairfield. “I’ve had a big velocity jump, and my arm feels great. It’s my responsibility to lead this team and keep these guys in check when the coaches aren’t watching. I’ll hold them accountable and make sure they’re doing their work, and yeah, I want to be that guy who does that but also steps up himself on game day.”
McVeigh doesn’t classify himself as a traditional power pitcher, even if his fastball does have some life to it these days. When he is at his best, he’s mixing in his off-speed pitches, most notably a slider and changeup, to keep opposing hitters off balance.
While McVeigh’s role is already known, where Sheahan ends up will be an interesting subplot to follow. There are three open outfield jobs to be claimed, as well as innings on the mound. Maybe he ascends to both, or maybe it doesn’t work out and he plays the same type of role as he did before. No matter what role he plays between the lines, Werman knows his team is in good shape with two exceptional leaders at the helm.
“Colin knows what the expectations are, and we all have the confidence he can handle that,” Werman said. “And Ryan, everything he does is legit. He is always focused and engaged, and whatever his role ends up being, he is going to elevate the guys around him. These guys are team leaders we can trust and look to and know their hearts are all in. That’s why we think so highly of them: they don’t raise them much better than these guys.”
Other names to look out for that Sheahan and McVeigh both singled out were catcher Justin Igoe (Saint Joseph’s commit), shortstop Charlie Yanoshik (Tulane), pitchers Tom McLaughlin (Franklin & Marshall) and Kevin Kell, Jack Heineman (Scranton) and Jake Whitlinger.
The team, which lost in the state playoffs in the first round and the semifinals the year before, wants a third straight league title before embarking on another postseason trip to accomplish something even more special before this senior class moves on to the next step.
“Last year was the first time La Salle won back-to-back titles,” Sheahan said. “It’s incredibly hard to do, much less win a state title. It’s all I’ve ever known. It’s my love and passion, and I want to go out there and have fun one last time with my guys. I love our chances, and I’m ready to enjoy one last ride.”
“If everyone buys in, because that’s been the theme these last two years,” he said. “I’m excited, but I also feel butterflies in my stomach knowing this is the last year I’ll ever play with all of these guys. Everyone has worked their butts off and are fitting into their roles early on. For us, there are and will be no days off.”