Yale has produced some fine catchers in the last few years. Former captain Ryan Brenner ’12 started 20 games his freshman year and fast became a fixture in the starting lineup. After Brenner graduated, last year’s captain Chris Piwinski ’13 took the reins and earned first team All-Ivy honors.
Into that tradition steps the Bulldogs’ newest backstop, Robert Baldwin ’15. And so far, the Austin, Texas native has excelled, hitting .322 on the season and tying for second on the team with 14 RBI.
“He’s been incredible for us,” captain Cale Hanson ’14 said. “We lost a really great defensive catcher last year in Piwinski, and we were kind of worried about the catcher position. Bobby won the spot outright in February. We put him back there. There were still lots of questions [about how he would perform]…and he has proven everyone wrong in terms of what he’s capable of.”
Baldwin was recruited out of Westlake High School, the alma mater of current NFL quarterbacks Nick Foles and Drew Brees. While there, he earned Class 5A all-state honors and was a three-year letter winner.
When Baldwin arrived on campus, however, he found himself stuck behind Brenner and Piwinski in the catching pecking order. He saw spot action behind the plate and at first base while also providing valuable skills on the mound, making eight appearances last year and leading all Yale relievers with a 1.69 ERA.
“They’re both great guys,” Baldwin said of his predecessors. “Each one of them taught me different things about catching, and I try to combine the wisdom that both of them have imparted on me and try to show it in my game.”
After compiling just five hits in his first two seasons, Baldwin has risen to the occasion in the 2014 campaign by belting out 29 hits, 10 of which went for extra bases.
But Baldwin’s composure and defense behind the plate have also been important for the Elis’ success. He has thrown out nearly 30 percent of runners trying to steal on him, and his .980 fielding percentage is higher than both his team’s overall average and Yale’s opponents’ percentage.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at handling different pitchers,” Hanson said. “He’s very keen to what every pitcher is looking for in every situation. He’s the guy I’m most comfortable throwing to in my four years here.”
The junior has also saved his best for big games. In the Bulldogs’ 8–7 victory at then-No. 3 LSU earlier in the year, Baldwin was 2-4 with 2 RBI, including the first Eli run of the game to jump-start the rally in the fifth inning. In a doubleheader at Columbia, Baldwin went 3-6 with three doubles, and less than a week later, he provided the first run of the game as well as what would prove to be the game-winning double with two outs in the sixth inning against Princeton.
Three times this season, Baldwin has earned his way onto the Ivy League honor roll for the week, largely due to his hitting. Baldwin said that playing every day has helped him perform well.
“The last two years, I’ve been behind really, really good catchers,” Baldwin said. “I’ve been waiting for the chance, and it’s really fun going to the baseball field everyday knowing that you’ll be in the starting lineup.”
Baldwin also cited the security of being the starting catcher as helping to give him a “clarity of mind.”
The Bulldogs have already won as many games this season as they did in 2013, and Baldwin’s production has been a big part of that. His two homers lead the team, and Hanson described him as a “positive presence,” whether at-bat or on the field.
“Catcher is one of those positions, if you have a great defensive catcher, he can be your worst hitter by a mile and you won’t be upset,” Hanson said. “But he’s been really carrying us through our wins this season. He’s quietly been one of our best hitters.”
Hanson added that Baldwin has looked confident at the plate this season.
As far as goals for the rest of the year go, Baldwin says he has just one thing in mind: winning the Ivy League title.
“We have a one game lead [in the Red Rolfe division] right now,” Baldwin said. “I really want it more than anything in the world right now. That’s literally the only thing in the world I’m thinking about.”
Yale’s next game is today at 3:30 p.m. against Sacred Heart. The Bulldogs return to conference play this weekend with four home games against Harvard.