St. Thomas baseball players make point in loss to Miami

 

Special to The Miami Herald

There’s Adam Duarte, nicknamed “Weenie” because he’s 5-3 and 145 pounds, and Nick Perez, a 5-5, 160-pounder who has been dubbed “Lobster Claws” because of the way he fields.

Then there’s Ashley Bulluck, who answers to “Big Show” for obvious reasons — he’s 6-9 and 320 pounds, which is more weight than Duarte and Perez combined.

What do these characters have in common?

They’re key members of the St. Thomas University baseball team (17-5 through 22 games), an NAIA program that gets little attention locally and almost none nationally.

Still, these guys can play, which was demonstrated last week when they were beating the Miami Hurricanes 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning.

St. Thomas ultimately lost that game 5-4, but the Bobcats had proven their point.

“I know we can hang with them,” said Bulluck, a senior right-handed reliever who pitched two scoreless innings against Miami. “I don’t think NAIA is any less than Division I.”

Many fans would probably argue that last point, but what is not in dispute is that Bulluck took a circuitous route to get here. He was a starting right tackle for South Broward High’s football team and nearly had a scholarship to the University of South Florida

That offer was rescinded, he said, when the Bulls got a commitment from a Florida State transfer.

Bulluck decided to play baseball instead and signed with Division I Fairleigh Dickinson.

“I was their [No. 2] pitcher until the head coach got fired,” said Bulluck, who transferred to a junior college (Palm Beach State) before coming to St. Thomas.

Duarte and Perez, meanwhile, have only played for the Bobcats, and they are the first two hitters in the lineup.

They are two of nine Bobcats players 5-9 or shorter. In contrast, the Hurricanes have no players 5-9 or shorter on their roster.

The Bobcats nearly signed a 5-0 infielder for next season, but Chiqui Cabrera, who stars for St. Brendan and had committed to St. Thomas, reopened his recruitment after getting Division I offers.

On the Bobcats’ current roster, Duarte, a freshman, plays center field. Perez, a sophomore, moved from center to second base to accommodate Duarte.

“Nick is such a good teammate,” Duarte said. “He accepted the move.”

Duarte, who won three state titles at Archbishop McCarthy, went 1 for 3 against the Hurricanes, a game that had sentimental value to him.

“I grew up going to UM games with my dad until he passed away when I was 12,” said Duarte, whose father, Sam, died of a heart attack at 42. “Of course we wanted to win, but we played big. We competed with them.”

Perez, who played his high school ball at Tampa Catholic, is off to a great start, hitting .350 through 20 games, all starts. He leads the team with eight doubles and 23 runs scored.

He said he has developed a special bond with Duarte.

“We can see eye to eye,” Perez said. “It feels good that people look at us as example of little guys who can play. You don’t have to be 6-5 to play this game.”

Perez said he doesn’t even think about his height — except when Bulluck gets on the mound.

“If I have to go talk to him,” Perez said, “it’s like looking up at the clouds.”

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