From the NECBL and Don Leypoldt
Players flock to the NECBL to learn. In the summer of 1997, pitcher Scott Chiasson (rhymes with “Jason”) realized an important lesson while twirling for the League’s Eastern Tides.
“(I learned) that I wasn’t that good yet!” Chiasson laughed. “I still had a lot to learn, I knew that. I hadn’t been pitching very long and I was up against guys who were better than me.”
As a freshman at Division III powerhouse Eastern Connecticut State (ECSU), Chiasson, a Norwich, CT native, exclusively played shortstop. As a sophomore, Chiasson continued to play short while also pitching. With the arrival of infielder Nick Tempesta, a Massachusetts State Player of the Year who’d eventually be drafted by the Blue Jays, Chiasson could move full time to pitching, a transition he started in that 1997 summer.
The 6’3” righty got plenty of experience for the Tides- he was second in the NECBL in appearances and was one of just two pitchers that summer to throw a complete game while also saving at least four games. Chiasson was still learning how to command his pitches, but he held hitters to a .206 average against.
“It’s a little bit of a reality check,” Chiasson noted on going from Division III to the NECBL. “ECSU is very competitive, especially in conference but when you face highly touted prospects, all of a sudden guys have a little quicker bat speed, a little quicker hands and more power. The hand-eye coordination as you get better prospects…its incredible. Guys make contact and it changes quickly.”
But Chiasson was also changing. His sophomore year had given him confidence entering a special junior 1998 campaign. “(ECSU) made me the closer and all of a sudden, I got stronger. I worked hard all season long tossing and came in ready to pitch,” he recalled. “The funny thing was, I came in my first game and gave up a walk-off grand slam! So it didn’t start out that great, but after that it worked out pretty well.”
“Pretty well” is Chiasson’s way of downplaying the national championship that he and his ECSU teammates won. Chiasson personally set school records with appearances, led the staff in ERA and most importantly, won three and saved five post-season games. ECSU inducted him into their Hall of Fame this October, the first member of that national title team to be so honored.
“I think the biggest thing was the chemistry. A lot of us got along very well,” is how Chiasson explained the ingredients behind a national champion. “We didn’t have any holes. Every position was full. With a lot of teams, you have some weak spots but we didn’t have any weak spots. We had Nick Tempesta come in as a freshman, they converted me to a full-time pitcher, and that changed our team. He filled in very well, hitting .400 or something like that, and he brought good defense. I think my playing shortstop was the only hole we had!” But moving Chiasson to pitcher gave ECSU a weapon on the mound.
The Royals selected Chiasson in the fifth round of the 1998 draft. He started during his first two full seasons in the Minors and put up good numbers. But in 2001 Chiasson, now property of the Cubs via the Rule 5 Draft, converted back to reliever where he had had so much success in college.
“The move from the bullpen to the rotation was pretty difficult,” Chiasson admitted. “It takes a lot more as a pitcher. You need to be a pitcher, and not a thrower. That’s a big change. You need three good pitches. You have to learn how to pitch and how to condition yourself. It takes a special individual to go out and do it. Not a whole lot of guys succeed with it.
“Moving back to a reliever was very easy. You go out there for one inning and let it all hang out. That was my mentality and it fit me perfectly. I had two pitches that I could dominate with, and that was all I needed to throw.”
Chiasson continued, “When I was a starter and had a bad game, it ate me up for five days. I wanted to get out there so badly to change the opinions of people who think ‘This guy isn’t that good.’ As a reliever, when you blow a game but the next day you get the same opportunity against the same team, you have something to prove. You think ‘You may have beat me last time but you’re not going to beat me again.’ That’s the mentality that you have to have.”
Between AA and AAA in 2001, Chiasson had a 1.84 ERA, saved 34 games and appeared in Major League Baseball’s Futures Game. It earned him a call-up to the Cubs, where he debuted at a strange time in American history: just eight days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“It was,” Chiasson paused, “it was different. We had a lot of ceremonies. And not only that, the morning of my first game, I was in the emergency room with strep throat. They gave me all of these drugs to get me back and I didn’t get to the field until 20 minutes before the game started. We were up 10-0 at Cincinnati and they said ‘Can you pitch today?’ I said ‘Absolutely!’ I think I was more in awe than anything.” Chiasson promptly threw a perfect debut inning, fanning two Reds.
“I didn’t really realize I was in the Big Leagues until my first game in Chicago where they had 40,000 people for a day game,” Chiasson remembered. “They put me in a tie game and I thought “Wow, this is a little different.’ In Cincinnati, there were probably only 10,000 people and in big Riverfront Stadium, it was quiet….It was a big difference.”
Chiasson, who became the third NECBL alumnus to make the Big Leagues, pitched in parts of two seasons for the Cubs. He had Tommy John surgery in 2002, which detoured his career, but did not end it. Although Chiasson last pitched in the Majors in ’02, he would go on to play nine more seasons in AAA or its equivalent. Interestingly, one of his offseason bullpen catchers was current Mystic Schooner General Manager Dennis Long.
In 2007, Chiasson pitched for the Yokohama BayStars of the Japanese Central League. It was the first of five seasons where the Nutmegger would be a baseball expatriate.
“The pitching in Japan is probably a little better (than in Mexico),” Chiasson observed. “They’re more polished and practice a lot more than Mexico does. But they’re smaller guys. Their mentality is hit your spots and flirt with the edges. There aren’t a lot of power pitchers over there. It’s more like split-fingers and sinkers.”
From 2008 to 2011, Chiasson suited up for Quintana Roo of the Mexican League. Playing in Cancun, Chiasson saved 84 games in his three full seasons in Mexico, never posting an ERA higher than 2.67.
“Mexico was very similar to American baseball. They like to hit,” Chiasson relayed. “They don’t like to sacrifice bunt a whole lot. In Japan, they’ll bunt with one out to get a guy over to second. It’s a completely different brand of baseball with a different mentality. There aren’t a lot of power hitters. They try to slap the ball around and put it in play. In Mexico, it’s more like the U.S. where they try to hit line drives in the gap.
“Mexico has some good arms. I think you’re going to see more guys come out of there. They definitely have some athletes and I think a few guys who can pitch get overlooked. Their conditioning down there isn’t as good as up here. But they have raw talent and the right guy with the right mentality like Joakim Soria, who kept himself in shape, is a great pitcher. That’s the key with those guys. If they can keep in shape then they can play.”
Off the field, the five seasons abroad provided Chiasson with some unforgettable experiences. “Japan was pretty tough on the family,” he noted. “It was hard to learn Japanese. They have a translator, but it was difficult to navigate through there. I had to take a train everywhere since I had no car. Mexico was easy. You learn Spanish pretty quickly and they put us up in a real nice place which the family liked- an ocean front condo. We had four Americans on the team and a few of the Mexican guys always spoke fluent English. They were great teammates- very easy to get along with.”
Chiasson, who last pitched in 2011, is now retired from baseball and back home on the Shoreline with his wife and three children. As someone who can call Willimantic, Wrigley, Cancun and Japan his offices, Chiasson is a reminder that- with the right combination of desire and talent- in baseball, the world truly is your oyster.
Scott Chiasson’s Advice to NECBL Players: “The big thing is that if you want it, you have to fight for it. You’ll have a lot of ups and downs in terms of injuries, or ability or results. But things change in a hurry. I thought I was out of baseball twice. I had an injury and thought it was all over…and then I pitched another three years. Then I had another injury, again thought it was all over, but pitched another three years. If you want it bad enough, you just have to keep trying. You never know when the next break is going to come.”