ORONO — When University of Maine baseballcoach Steve Trimper watches Sam Balzano play baseball, he’s reminded of Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury — a combination of speed, anticipation and contact hitting that’s a perfect fit for the top of the batting order.
Balzano, a recent graduate of Deering High School in Portland, showed off those skills during Friday night’s Larry K. Mahaney Senior Baseball Classic, which features the top high school standouts from Eastern and Western Maine.
But he might have been armed with an extra dose of enthusiasm, having before the game been named the the 20th recipient of the annual Dr. John W. Winkin Award symbolic of the state’s Mr. Baseball.
“It feels good, especially getting the award from coach Winkin,” said Balzano, the fourth Deering player to receive the Winkin Award following Nick Caiazzo (1993), Stu Tisdale (1999) and Ryan Flaherty (2005).
“I worked hard all season, and the season didn’t end up the way we wanted it to but this is a good end to my high school career.”
Balzano, who will join the University of Maine baseball program in the fall, was named the Southwestern Maine Activities Association’s most valuable player this spring while leading Deering to a 13-3 regular-season record before the third-seeded Rams were upset by No. 6 Marshwood of South Berwick in the Western Class A quarterfinals.
The outfielder led the SMAA in numerous offensive categories including batting average (,.531), slugging percentage (.878) and runs scored (23). He also went 5-0 on the mound with a 2.62 earned run average.
“Sammy’s got a lot of tools,” said University of Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper. “He runs well, for No. 1. He hits from the left-handed side of the plate, and he’s a heck of a center fielder. He’s a very good defensive outfielder and throws the ball extremely well so he’s going to fit right in to college baseball at the Division I level relatively quick. He’s a contact guy also, he doesn’t strike out a lot, so he’s not a guy that you have to bring along to velocity and the breaking ball because his swing is built to contact.
“He reminds me a lot of the way Jacoby Ellsbury plays, so he’s going to be a great addition to our team next year.”
Trimper sees Balzano as an immediate contributor for the reigning America East championships, particularly after the Black Bears recently lost junior center fielder Taylor Lewis, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after being selected in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball Entry Draft earlier this month.
“We’ve been looking at Sam for a few years now,” said Trimper. “He’s a prototypical leadoff guy. One reason we were so high on recruiting him was that even a year out we knew we might lose Taylor Lewis in the draft and we think he can come in and play center or left field for us right away.”
Other finalists for the Winkin Award were Kyle Bishop of Waterville, Scott Heath of Westbrook, Mekae Hyde of Lewiston, Matt MacDowell of Falmouth and Brandon Reilly of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.