Rookie to the rotation
Brandon Shileikis bounced back from early-season struggles, hurling his way into the baseball team’s starting rotation midway through the season.
It’s a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon, a nice change from the cold New England days.
It’s also a perfect day to be on a baseball diamond, and for Brandon Shileikis it couldn’t be a better day to be on the pitcher’s mound.
It was the day Shileikis would make his second-career Division I start. The freshman, who started off the year out of the bullpen, worked his way up to get a weekend start against conference opponent Iona on April 13.
“Brandon started off in the bullpen, and he proved himself there with some great appearances,” Quinnipiac Head Coach Dan Gooley said. “He earned that opportunity to start.”
Shileikis was always a starter at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School. He said it was difficult for him to change his mindset, going from knowing when and where he would pitch to being thrown out into any situation possible for the Bobcats.
“I had a difficult time coming out of the bullpen, after being a starter all my life,” Shileikis said.
Shileikis had difficulties in relief in the beginning of the season, including an appearance against Manhattan where he let up four earned runs in just two innings.
He began to see change, however, in an outing against Niagara University on April 7. The righty made his first-career start against the Purple Eagles, going five innings, giving up six hits and two runs while fanning two batters. He received a no decision, and the Bobcats went on to win 4-3.
“That game at Niagara was when Brandon proved to us he could be a starter,” Gooley said.
A week later, Shileikis would make his second-career start against Iona. He writes on the mound the initials of his grandfather before every start, the same letters he keeps in his hat everyday. Shileikis does this in honor of his biggest fan, who passed away just a year ago.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him,” Shileikis said. “He’s the reason I’m here.”
Shileikis’ grandfather is one of his largest inspirations. When Brandon was a teenager, his grandfather set him up to train with former professional pitcher Ken Ryan.
During his time working with Ryan, Shileikis learned about preparation and pitch grips. Ryan played for four seasons with the Boston Red Sox from 1992-1995, and for four more seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1996-1999.
“I still keep in contact with Ken, I’m always emailing him to look for advice,” Shileikis said.
Along with his grandfather, Shileikis has support back home in Dighton, Mass. His mother, Terri, and his high school coach, Bill Cuthbertson, are two of the many people that he has behind him throughout his career on the diamond.
“I could count on one hand how many games my mom missed of mine when I was a kid, and my dad was always there to throw long toss or do a round of batting practice,” Shileikis said.
Cuthbertson put Shileikis on the varsity roster when he was a freshman, and Brandon didn’t disappoint. Shileikis had a successful four-year career as a Dighton-Rehoboth Falcon. He set a school record in career wins with 29, and was a two-time Boston Globe and Boston Herald All Star.
“I learned so much in high school, it definitely helped me prepare to play here at Quinnipiac,” Shileikis said.
Shileikis is now on the mound, pitching for all those people back home. The only thing he is thinking about, however, is getting the batter out at the plate. At first, he had trouble with command. In the first four innings as a Bobcat, he threw four walks, and two wild pitches.
“I didn’t have a good feel on my pitches at first, but they kept on swinging at it,” Shileikis said.
Despite the lack of control on the ball, Shileikis was still getting opposing hitters out.
“I’m not trying to strike the guys out, I’m going to give them the fastball and cause groundouts,” Shileikis said. “The fielders will help me out from there.”
At the end of game, Shileikis ended with a stat line of nine innings pitched, with no runs let up with only one hit and three walks allowed. He came out of that beautiful Sunday afternoon with his first career win.
Since that start, Shileikis has been named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week. Shileikis is not only beginning to get the opportunities from his team, but he is also getting noticed by the entire league.
For him though, it is not about the accolades.
“I got that five minutes of fame, but I’m now ready to focus on my next start and getting more wins,” Shileikis said.