'Pushed aside' at Texas, Toronto makes pitch to pros

June 12, 1992|By Tom Worgo | Tom Worgo,Contributing Writer

Brian Toronto of Annapolis watched Texas play in baseball's College World Series last week on national television from Melbourne, Fla., where he hopes to latch on with a professional team.

Toronto, 22, could have been on the field with the Longhorns, a school that has been to the College World Series 26 times.

"I had mixed emotions when I watched them on TV. I felt angry and happy," Toronto said. "I felt angry, because I wasn't there, but I was happy to see them do well. I knew it could have been me as part of the team on TV, but when something doesn't work out, you have to move on."

Toronto did move on.

The former Broadneck High and Anne Arundel Community College star left Texas in the summer of 1991 after one semester and a trying season.

"The coach [Cliff Gustafson] didn't give me an opportunity to pitch my way to the top," Toronto said. "I thought I was going to go down there and be one of the studs. I got pushed aside in the

shuffle. He had enough athletes that if he lost four pitchers, it wouldn't matter. He had two baseball teams. The coach told me I had a very limited role on the team."

After the spring semester at Texas, Toronto transferred to Francis Marion College (S.C.) to play baseball. Toronto also wanted to be closer to home to visit his ailing mother. He left Francis Marion late in November to care for his mother, who died last January.

Toronto pitched 25 innings in intersquad games that fall, without yielding a run.

"His mother was so delighted to see him when he came home," said Robert Toronto, Brian's father. "She had been pretty sick. He made the decision to be at home with his mother. He surrendered baseball and put it on the back burner."

At Texas, Toronto pitched in seven of the team's 64 games in 1991, all in relief, giving up three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. The left-handed Toronto became a part-time reliever, primarily used

games to pick off base runners and face left-handed batters.

"He became more of a role pitcher," Gustafson said. "We used him as a spot pitcher to face left-handers, and he had an excellent pickoff move. He had not been used in that role previously. If he didn't get the one hitter out, we would bring in another pitcher in. Looking back, if I would have stuck him out there to start a game, he could have been pretty effective."

Toronto's most significant performances at Texas came in two NCAA Central Regional tournament games when the Longhorns faced Long Beach State and University of Alabama at Birmingham. Against UAB, Toronto pitched two scoreless innings.

In the next contest, the results were not as good. Long Beach State was the season finale and the most crucial game. The 6-foot-0, 165-pound Toronto gave up two hits, one walk and one earned run in 2/3 inning.

PD "He [Gustafson] said 'you sit around here all year, thinking you

could pitch, and I put you in and you couldn't get people out,'" said Toronto, a 1988 graduate of Broadneck. "I never spoke to him again. I just left school."

Gustafson said, "With the year and record he had at the junior college, it was typical for someone to think [Toronto] could do the same things for us. When they see it's not easy to do, they may lose some confidence."

Things had been different for Toronto at AACC in 1990.

Toronto was named a JuCo All-American during his sophomore year and led the nation in ERA for junior colleges while going 8-1.

"I have had a couple of undefeated guys, but I didn't think they were as good as Brian," said Clayton Jacobson, AACC's fourth-year coach and part-time scout for the Orioles.

Said Toronto, "He [Jacobson] had confidence in me and it made a difference. The Texas coach didn't believe in me like Clayton. That was it in a nutshell. I decided that I couldn't take another year like that. I didn't get any indication that my role would be any different."

Toronto was also a standout at Broadneck. He still holds 17 pitching records, including career marks in wins (16), complete games (17) and strikeouts (170). In 1988, as a senior Toronto posted a 1.13 ERA, had 75 strikeouts, picked off 11 base runners and pitched a no-hitter.

This spring, Toronto arrived in Florida and went from major league camp to camp, searching for a chance. But clubs told him they needed more of an opportunity to watch him pitch, so he started playing in the Stan Musial semipro league.

"Brian is going to have to be throwing 83 or 84 mph to be draftable or signable," Jacobson said.

A scout from the Detroit Tigers will watch Toronto pitch within a week. And today Toronto will work out in front of several Cincinnati Reds scouts.

"These people are not playing in the league for the same reason that I am," Toronto said. "I want to be paid to play. I just want to be in a professional organization."

If Toronto doesn't get signed by a team this summer, he may enroll in classes at the University of Florida at Gainesville and use his remaining year of eligibility for baseball.

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