Web Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
a PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: pas@princeton.edu)

March 27, 2002:
Boran ’02 – the scholar-athlete

Watching the shortstop in action is inspiration

By Patrick Sullivan '02

It’s not every Princeton senior who can say that he’ll one day receive free Cleveland Indians tickets.

Then again, most seniors haven’t lived with Patrick Boran for two years, as I have. Boran is the senior from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, who plays shortstop on the baseball team, and is the only Tiger being scouted by major league teams. Fifteen of them, to be exact.

Professional scouts have followed the unassuming 6-foot, 2-inch, 200-pound pitcher-made-shortstop since high school, where as a senior, he recorded an unblemished 13-0 season. Though heavily recruited by Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley, Boran knew it wouldn’t be easy to earn a starting job on the "bump," especially with Chris Young ’02 as the other top Tiger freshman prospect (Young signed a $1.65 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates after his sophomore season). When Bradley offered to start him at shortstop, Boran readily made the move to the in-field and hasn’t looked back.

His stats tell part of the story. Last season, Boran (now the team’s captain) led the Tigers — who won the Ivy League championship and almost pulled off an amazing first-round upset at the NCAA College World Series — in seven categories: runs scored, doubles, hits, stolen bases, assists, and games played. He also claimed the second-best batting average among starters (.355) and was second on the team in fielding double plays. For his efforts he earned a second-team All-Ivy and first team All-State selections.

However, as anybody will tell you, stats don’t make the man. As the roommate and neighbor of Boran’s for two years, I’ve observed his indomitable work ethic and commitment, the never-say-die attitude he applies to both to baseball and academics.
The small, oddly shaped dorm room seems a shrine to his sport A sign on one wall in his room reads "All Baseball, All the Time." Pictures of his favorite players adorn another wall (shortstop Christian Guzman of the Minnesota Twins is his favorite), while another wall displays the two championship banners from Princeton’s back-to-back league titles in 2000 and 2001. A collection of bats lies propped in the corner.

Boran’s determination manifests itself in many ways, on and off the field. His friends jokingly refer to him as the "perfect human specimen." It’s not his obsession with working out or his negligible body fat. It’s not even his team-best 6.57-second 60 time or his old-school, flawless baseball swing that earned him this moniker. Rather, it is the attitude of competitiveness and drive with which Boran approaches every part of his day — from plugging away on his thesis to playing pick-up at the gym.

After track practice my sophomore year, I’d return to our room, regularly exhausted from a brutal workout. Often Boran would walk back from his practice with me. I’d collapse on the sofa and stare mindlessly at TV; he’d do sit-ups. During midterms, my five other roommates and I would be up late, stressing about our incomplete take-home essays. He’d be asleep, having finished his work while we took hourly breaks to play "Bond" on Nintendo.

When the seven of us played intramural basketball, Boran proved to be our team’s best player — laying aside his natural athleticism or his ability to effortlessly dunk, we’d win because he scrapped for every rebound, throwing his body around like his team was down two points in a Final Four thriller. Our offensive attack seemed ridiculous to our opponents: We’d take a shot and if it didn’t go in, chances were strong that he’d grab the rebound and clean up our mess. He became the proverbial "Garbage Collector" of our muckraker squad.

Living with Boran forced me to be more focused and committed, both to my running and my schoolwork, if only out of intense jealousy. Even before he knew that the teams scouting him actually possessed sustained interest, he gave 100-percent effort at every game and practice. During one particular game last year, he went 3-4 with a double and a two-run homerun. On defense, he performed aerial acrobatics, successfully turning a one-two double play by throwing the runner out at first with an off-balanced, mid-air throw. Laser-guided precision comes to mind. Later in the game, he committed one error, bobbing a grounder. Even from my position in the bleachers, I could tell that he was furious with himself.

After the game I asked him how he thought he’d played. "Crappy," came the abrupt reply. "There were Mets scouts in the stands today — I totally screwed up." How many players go 3-4 with a two-run home run, a double, gravity-defying catches and call their effort "crappy?" For him, one error is one too many.

For all that, Boran is no perfectionist — in fact, he’s realistic. His mindset, though focused, remains reasonable. Even with teams actively courting him — the Mets, Braves, Rockies, and most of all the Indians have consistently returned to watch him play — his baseball future is far from assured. He hopes to go in the top 25 rounds (there are 50 rounds in the annual Major League draft), but when I asked him where he hoped to go in the draft, he wouldn’t say. "I never set numerical goals," he told me. "I’ll just do the best I can."

Perhaps more so than any other sport with farm franchises, substantial differences exist between major and minor-league baseball. A talented high school basketball player with a solid physique can make it in the NBA — everybody must put the ball through the same hoop. Baseball is different. Facing a 92-m.p.h. pitch versus a 100-m.p.h.-plus rocket separates the men from the boys, which is why almost every college player drafted by MLB starts out in A-Ball or Rookie Ball and must slowly climb the ranks to Double-A and Triple-A before ever seeing the inside of a Major League ballpark. Even Chris Young ’02, a 6-foot, 10-inch pitcher with a Randy Johnson-esque fastball and a lucrative contract, must bide his time in the farm system.

When scouts talk with Boran, one of the first questions they ask is whether he is prepared to make the necessary time commitment in the minor leagues. Many professional teams hesitate to gamble on a player like Boran, fearful that an intelligent athlete with an Ivy League degree might grow frustrated with the abysmal salary and slow advance, instead choosing to scrap baseball in favor of a more lucrative profession.

Boran knows that he must continually re-prove — and improve — his baseball skills if he hopes to play in the big leagues. Personally, I have little doubt that given his bullish effort and determination, this talented shortstop one day will realize his dream.

Consider my column a direct contradiction to the naysay-ers who criticize scholar-athletes — Patrick Boran epitomizes the dedicated drive needed to compete at the highest level. His is an effort that encompasses much more than baseball.

More important, if Boran ever reads this column, he should know that I’ll one day expect to receive my Cleveland Indians tickets.

Third-base line, first row, please.

You can reach Patrick Sullivan at pas@princeton.edu.