McDonald leads Weston to victories
Michael McDonald has left behind a legacy at Weston that will not soon be forgotten before graduating in June. Not be to mistaken for the singer with the same name, McDonald was a standout Trojan athlete who was a two-sport star, three-season captain, and eight-season varsity team member. After being baseball captain for two seasons and swimming captain for one, he was named to the Connecticut Post's All-Area Team in both sports as a senior. He will be attending Oberlin College in the fall, putting on the Yeomen's crimson and gold for both the swimming and baseball teams.
Since he was 5, McDonald has been competitively involved with both sports. They were his first two athletic endeavors, and his love for T-ball early on quickly grew into a strong passion for baseball.
Things started to change for McDonald around the time he turned 10. At that point, he started playing up in Little League with older ballplayers, who he later rejoined on the high school's varsity team. "When I moved up to the big field I was always playing on teams where I was the youngest player," he recalls.
Baseball has been luring in McDonald since such a young age because of its competitive nature, along with the feeling he gets when he hits a home run, makes a great play or strikes a batter out. Though he realizes that many people think baseball is boring because of the amount of waiting between innings and how much failure is inherent in the game, McDonald says, "there is nothing better than the feeling you get when it's you that everyone is looking at."
Before beginning high school ball, McDonald played on a Little League team based in New York. "I loved that team," he says. "And I got to experience competition that I would not have found in Weston."
Once he outgrew Little League and started playing Babe Ruth on the bigger fields, he joined a Danbury team after a quick stop with another New York team. He got to experience tournament play against higher-level athletes, which helped prepare him for the Junior American Legion league when he started high school. Rejoining his Weston peers on this team was essential to help form bonds on the field that grew throughout his years alongside his Trojan teammates. In addition, he played with his cousin in a Las Vegas tournament at one point against great competition, including many athletes who later got drafted.
During his freshman year of baseball, McDonald regularly started at shortstop for the varsity team. He was captain for both his junior and senior years, in which he led his team to bounce back this year to a 16-8 record after a disappointing 2009 season. This spring, the Trojans made both the SWC and Class M tournaments and won two postseason games in the same season for the first time ever.
The Trojans' staff ace this year, McDonald pitched to a 5-4 record, with a 3.32 ERA and 41 strikeouts and only 12 walks in more than 50 innings. At the plate, he led the team with six home runs, 33 hits, and 26 RBI. He batted .375 with a .404 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging percentage in earning All-SWC and All-State accolades this year, All-SWC All-Patriot Division honors in 2008 and 2009 and he was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.
McDonald has been pushed to be the best baseball player he could be because of the commitment of the Weston coaches. Trojan head coach Frank Fedeli (recently named Baseball Coach of the Year by the Connecticut Post) worked the team through a tough 2009 season, and McDonald is glad that "He was always there for us, pushing us to bounce back this year with the school's best record."
No moment, however, meant as much to McDonald as much as a home game the Trojans played this May against Bunnell. It was the 11th inning, and the game had been tied at 6-6 since the sixth inning. He came to the plate, and promptly ended the game with a walkoff home run to straightaway center field. "It was an amazing feeling," he says.
"My baseball career has really helped teach me about leadership and working with others," McDonald says. "I played a key leadership role for the high school team and learned that you have to work your way to the top and cannot expect anything."
Because he showed respect for the older players and coaches and the hard work he put in during his younger years, he earned respect as he got older and earned the captainship.
As captain, McDonald appreciated how the other athletes looked up to him and respected him as their leader. "It was a little harder to earn the baseball team's respect as a junior [since some of his teammates were older than him] but I learned a lot that year and it definitely helped me the next year as captain of swimming and baseball."
As a swimmer, McDonald has met just as much success, having only gotten better since winning Weston's Most Improved Sophomore award in 2008. His team finished with an 8-3 record this year en route to placing fourth in the SWC and winning Class S, and he was named the Trojans' MVP. In States he won the 200-yard freestyle by over three seconds with a time of 1:47.19, he was second in the 500 free (4:56.35), and was a member of the first-place 400-yard freestyle relay team. He was one of only six Weston swimmers to compete in State Opens this year, after being one of four to do so in 2009. The Trojans won States twice in the last three years, over which time McDonald earned All-State recognition each year.
After being a captain for three seasons of sports, McDonald has become one of the best leaders Weston has recently seen, and was honored this year with the SWC Leadership Award. He discovered that leading by example is the best way to earn respect of one's team, and that success comes most easily when there is cohesion in a group.
"For baseball, I worked to bring the team together as a whole so we could play as a unit instead of nine individuals on a field," he says. Meanwhile in the pool, he would always put in extra time and was one of the hardest workers on the team...and not just to improve his own times. "I worked to make the team realize that [it isn't] all about stats and who has the better team, it has to do with cheering your teammates on and getting the team to work as a unit to win meets."
Looking back on it all now, McDonald thinks that what really matters is that "As a whole, I had a lot of fun in both swimming and baseball throughout high school. Of course it would have been less enjoyable if the teams and myself hadn't done so well, but if I had not enjoyed competing like I do I wouldn't have pursued both sports for so long."
Not only had McDonald excelled as an athlete at Weston, but he stood out in the classroom as a member of the National Honor Society and the Principal's Honor Roll. He was also named to the SWC's All-Conference Academic Team in every season of baseball and during his junior and senior years of swimming, and he won the WHS Mathematics and the Booster's Club Scholar Athlete Awards this spring. In college, he will likely major in biology and hopes to go to medical school.
This is why, when choosing which colleges to look at, he originally narrowed his list of options down to the small schools with high-quality academics that were recruiting him. During visits and overnights at each school, he met their coaches, interviewed with admissions, and spent time with the baseball players.
"At Oberlin, it was baseball coach Adrian Abrahamowicz who sold it for me," says McDonald. "He has been extremely helpful and I am excited to be playing under him for the next four years."
While the team had only an 18-19 record last year, McDonald looks forward to being a part of a renaissance to get the Yeomen back to being competitive. In addition, he hopes to help coach Mark Fino's swim team improve upon its seventh-place finish in the North Coast Athletic Conference from this past year.
After being actively recruited by coaches for swimming and baseball, Michael McDonald looks forward to continuing with them both. However, both coaches do know that baseball will be his priority. He definitely plans to play ball all four years and will decide about swimming after freshman year. Since it is a two-season sport and goes more or less from September until February, it will make for a busy schedule alongside baseball and academics. "However," he says, "I love swimming, and if I can I would love to stay with swimming all four years of college as well."