Myles Durney goes from Ram to Bison pitching Headfirst into recruiters' eyes
April 25, 2019 at 6:46 a.m.
D-3 collegiate baseball here he comes, miles away from the Port Chester fields where he first started playing baseball when he was just 8 years old.
Rams senior pitcher/first baseman Myles Durney will be playing baseball for Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., next year.
He will go from being a Ram pitching ace to becoming a Bison, the nickname for Nichols’ athletic teams, traditional Division 3 powers in New England Conference play.
Eye on playoffs
But first Durney will wind down his Port Chester career by trying to help lead the Rams into the playoffs for the third consecutive year under head coach Eddie Martinez.
There will be lots of clutch plays between now, then and when the regular season winds down.
But none will be more clutch than the one Durney came up with on his way to catching the collective eye of major collegiate recruiters, an eyeful that will go a long way towards denting an annual college tuition in the swanky $50,000-plus neighborhood.
Headfirst heads up
That clutch play, 12 clutch plays really, came in a place they call Headfirst.
That is the name of an elite Long Island baseball training camp as well as an outstanding collegiate showcase for recruiters looking for top-tier scholastic baseball talent. And Headfirst more than lived up to its name for Durney, a bearded, burly, 6:1, 225-pounder who throws a fast ball at around 85 miles per hour with his curve ball and slider coming in at around 73 mph.
Those numbers aren't sensational as far as lighting up the radar gun, but they can look a lot better when coupled with grit, heart, desire, determination, control, and that intangible will to win.
Durney has all that. And more.
So he plunged headfirst into the pitching opportunities he received at Headfirst.
Durney wasted no time in showing he had the right stuff during a clutch star turn that opened a lot of eyes in prime time.
Seemingly oblivious to the pressure, Durney walked out to the mound like it was center stage and wound up walking away with what he calls "a lot of looks" after surprising just about everybody but himself.
It was one of his most amazing pitching performances ever in the unforgiving crucible that amounted to a college tryout at Headfirst in Yaphank, L.I.
And no wonder.
Blows onlookers away
With at least 70 college recruiters looking on, including the head coach of Vanderbilt, one of the nation's top-ranked teams, Durney put on quite a show during his time in the Headfirst spotlight.
He faced 12 elite batters, something every pitcher at the summer showcase did.
Only not every pitcher did what Durney did in crunch time.
Durney struck out 10 of the 12 batters he faced, allowing just one hit along the way.
He walked away with at least five offers from Division 3 colleges, schools ranging from Concordia to Merrimack, SUNY Cortland to the University of Southern New Hampshire to Nichols in Dudley, Mass.
That was towards the end of the summer, giving him time to think about where he wanted to go to college, time to get even better playing ultra-competitive travel team ball with the Westchester Baseball Academy managed by his Port Chester assistant varsity baseball coach Robert (Bobby Thal) Thalheimer, one of his former Port Chester Youth Baseball League (PCYBL) mentors.
Tears of frustration
Myles has come a long way, increasing in baseball age and wisdom, since those early PCYBL days where he started playing the game at the age of 8.
He was always a fierce competitor with such a strong desire to win that he broke down crying after one of his final age group games when his 12-and-under Pirates team lost in the final inning of a Little League championship game. They lost a one-run lead to Eastchester in the final inning at Lyon Park that cost them the game.
Myles had come on in relief in that ill-fated last inning, He inherited a bases-loaded situation after the preceding Pirates pitchers had taken a walk on the wild side. They walked three consecutive batters. And looked as though they couldn't find the plate with a GPS.
With nowhere to put anyone because a walk would give up a run, Durney came in and had to throw strikes. One of those strikes caught too much of the plate and the Eastchester batter connected, bringing home the winning run.
Myles walked off the mound crying.
Better days ahead
"Don't cry, Myles," his Pirates coach said, consoling him with words that promised him there would be better days ahead.
And there were. And are.
That Pirates coach was Joe Durney, Myles's father, then the Port Chester athletic director as well as a leading PCYBL coach, now the Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Port Chester School District, an avid sports enthusiast who lives in Port Chester, comes to as many games as possible, and knows the area as well as the territory as a respected educator who has worked his way up the academic ladder through the teaching as well as coaching and administrative ranks.
So the young Durney has had a good role model.
On the up and up
Myles continued learning his baseball ABCs while working his way up from the PCYBL Pirates to a starting position on the Rams varsity as a pitcher/first baseman. He is one of the Rams Big 3 mainstays in a pitching rotation that includes All-League junior ace Chris Hudson and hard-throwing senior Bryon (Bree-own) Morel. When Myles isn't on the mound, he plays first and swings one of the Rams’ better bats, hitting in anywhere from the cleanup number four slot to the fifth power spot in the lineup.
Durney has had his share of shining moments for the Rams along the way, from picking up a gritty pitching win against Clarkstown South to open the season last year, including getting the walk-off base hit that won the game, to out-pitching Rye Brook ace Chris Bucci while racking up 10 strikeouts during a 3-0 season-opening shutout win this year.
But what catches an experienced eye about Myles is the maturity and team spirit he brings to the Rams.
So, for example, during a recent game when Clarkstown South (CS) was threatening to blow the game wide open against Hudson, the pitcher shook off signs from catcher Joe (Joe Rye) Rinello, once, twice, then nodded, got the pitch he wanted to throw and blew a third strike by the CS hitter. "Way to go, be confident in your stuff, know what you want to throw, throw it and get the job done," Durney shouted encouragingly. Hudson walked off the mound smiling.
Later, when CS scored three unearned runs against Morel, who inherited a bases-loaded situation as a relief pitcher, the reliever did almost everything asked of him. Almost. Bryon got ground balls hit to the left and right side that could have been double play balls. Only they went through as costly errors, but Durney wouldn't let Morel get down on himself.
"Keep throwing strikes, keep throwing out pitches, keep throwing out balls, you're looking good, you're doing your job, you're going to get the outs," Durney kept saying confidently, using variations of those phrases until Morel finally got out of the jam.
Pluses and minuses
The Rams lost that game. But they came away looking at the positives while hopefully learning from their mistakes.
When someone complimented Durney on his senior leadership afterwards, he deflected the praise. "That's what our coaches teach, they stress team play, from the first pre-season clinics, to the showcases, to the regular season play," he said. "That's what Coach Martinez stresses, that's what Coach Thalheimer stressed at the WBA and keeps on stressing now, that's what we were taught from the PCYBL on up."
That attitude has led up to Durney’s weighing various D-3 collegiate playing opportunities.
Concordia, for example, offered the equivalent of a full athletic scholarship worth around $46,260 per year for room, board and tuition (RBT) with a chance to play in Bronxville, at a campus close to home, the college where Martinez, his Rams coach, starred for four years, making the All-Region team twice. So Concordia was tempting, but in the end Durney liked Nichols (annual RBT around $51,400 per year) and its business and pre-law courses more.
'Merit money' counts
While Nichols didn't offer an athletic scholarship, they did offer what is called "merit money" that was in the same ballpark as what Concordia offered for an athletic scholarship because Durney has a scholastic average in the 90s and scored around 1350 on the SATs. Those are quite impressive academic stats and strong indicators of overall collegiate success on and off the playing field.
That information didn't come from Myles, who is modest to the point of almost being reluctant to talk about himself, preferring instead to talk about his team and his teammates. But it does come from a reliable source.
While money and distance count, of course, Myles is less concerned about the geographical mileage and RBT differential than the academic course content he wants for his long run education. So, while he is looking forward to playing with the Bisons, right now he is more concerned about the Rams making a strong run in the playoffs before his high school career winds down without that ever happening.
Rye and Alabama
As Myles talked to this writer and the conversation was winding down, promising Rams junior catcher Joe Rinello walked by. He caught the drift of the conversation. "I'm committing to the University of Alabama," Rinello said deadpan in passing, referring to the Red Tide D-1 athletic juggernaut.
"I assume you're kidding," this reporter said. "But I never assume anything."
"I'm kidding," Joe Rye said, exiting laughing.
But deep down, he wasn't. Because that is the example Durney has set, his example illustrates that college can be in the picture for players willing to invest in their future by hitting the books as hard as they hit the ball. It is part of Durney's value to the Rams. He has shown that if you work hard, study hard, play hard, good things can happen. And athletic and academic prowess will be rewarded by colleges looking for athletes who bring something special to their program.
Odds are good
So the odds are good that Rinello will be recruited. He is that good as a headsy, solid-hitting catcher who calls a good game and has a strong arm that makes rival base stealers think twice before trying to run on him. Durney has shown that colleges take note of a player's special qualities and the opportunities are out there stretching all the way from the Alabamas to the Nichols and beyond.
Concordia grad Eddie Martinez and Bobby Thal (who went on from the Rams to play for Iona) preach that gospel as dedicated Ram coaches stressing that “you gotta believe” approach to baseball and life, an approach that led them both to college baseball careers while keeping them in the game they love right up until this day.
By example, his and theirs, Durney has shown that approach can lead Rams to a college baseball career. And players like Rinello and pitcher Chris Hudson are listening. Seeing is believing. Durney makes them believe. And they still have a year to go to make that happen with their own version of Headfirst on the horizon. But first they want to make it in the here and now by being part of a Rams team trying to make the playoffs. With aces like Durney and Hudson pitching to Rinello, they have a fighting chance. And after that the future will take care of itself.