BANGOR, Maine — Pat Thibodeau had always loved to play baseball.
But when that love dwindled after his sophomore year (2011) as a reserve outfielder for the University of Maine, he decided to hang up his spikes.
“I lost my feeling for the game. I didn’t know what I was playing for. You were playing for yourself at Maine and I’m not like that,” said the Caribou native, who concentrated on his studies a year ago.
He said that the fiercely competitive nature of Division I athletics and the constant struggle to earn playing time takes its toll and diminishes the fun. It forces a player into a necessary self-absorbed mentality as he strives to prove he deserves to be in the lineup.
Last summer, Thibodeau was playing in a slow-pitch softball tournament with former Caribou High School teammates in Bangor and they wound up facing Husson University baseball coach Jason Harvey’s team.
Harvey asked Thibodeau if he would be interested in transferring to Husson and dusting off his spikes.
“I had already known about him. We chatted at the softball tournament and eventually sat down and had a conversation,” said Harvey.
Thibodeau had an internship at Northern Physical Therapy in Presque Isle and was interested in the profession. He knew Husson offered a physical therapy major. He also missed playing baseball.
So he transferred to Husson, played fall baseball and rediscovered his love of the sport.
“They all welcomed me. Everybody gets along. I’ve got a group of best friends. It was fun. I was playing the game the way I wanted to play it,” said the 22-year-old Thibodeau.
He said there is still a strong, competitive desire to win games and to continue skill development but the environment isn’t as businesslike.
Thibodeau made an immediate impact in the fall with his talent and leadership skills.
After just four weeks with his new teammates, they selected him as a co-captain.
“That says it all,” said Harvey. “He really emerged as a leader from the first day. He had a lot of energy and he plays hard all the time, no matter the situation. He has a lot of experience and he brings a maturity which is especially important with a young team like we have.
“He has been tremendous for us,” added Harvey.
“I enjoy mentoring. I just want to help the guys,” said Thibodeau.
Thibodeau had been a recruited (nonscholarship) walk-on and put up solid numbers in his two seasons at Maine.
In 2010, he hit .306 in 36 at-bats with three doubles, six RBIs and four stolen bases in five attempts. He appeared in 35 games and started seven of them. He handled 20 chances without an error.
The next year, he hit .286 with two doubles and five RBIs in 42 at-bats. He also drew 10 walks and had an on-base percentage of .434. He made one error in 25 chances.
His two seasons at Maine were valuable, he said.
“I had always wanted to go to Maine. I learned different parts of the game and I learned how to deal with adversity,” said Thibodeau, who has passed that message on to his new teammates.
He told them that they had to keep working hard regardless of their situation and learn how to handle adversity.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” he said.
Maine coach Steve Trimper praised Thibodeau, who caught his eye when he attended a Maine baseball camp when he was a senior.
“He ran the bases well and I told him I’d love to have him come and try to make our roster. And he did,” said Trimper.
Thibodeau evolved into a “good role player for us,” Trimper added. “He’s a great kid. He really worked his butt off. He’s a great athlete who can run. He was a good lefthanded hitter and a pretty good outfielder.”
Thibodeau is off to an excellent start with the Eagles and will also see some pitching duty.
He is hitting .395 with three doubles, a team-high two triples and five RBIs. He leads the team in runs scored with eight and is second in hits (17), on-base percentage (.422) and slugging percentage (.558). He is tied for second in doubles. He has stolen three bases without being caught and has struck out only three times in 43 at-bats.
“I’m happy for him,” said Trimper. “I knew he’d have a chance to play more and be more successful.”
Husson senior center fielder Shawn Smith of Winterport, the other co-captain, said Thibodeau has been a valuable addition through his work ethic, mentality and skills.
Thibodeau said he was too anxious on the spring trip to Florida but he has been more selective as a hitter since they’ve returned.
“I have to be picky,” he said.
“He’s a gap hitter who will go deep into a count. I think 65 to 70 percent of his hits have gone to the opposite field,” said Harvey.
Thibodeau said that he has gotten accustomed to pitchers throwing him away (over the outside corner of the plate) so he has learned to adjust and hit the ball where it is pitched rather than try to pull it.
He has two years of eligibility remaining and has a simple goal.
“I just want to help the guys [be successful],” he said.