Donny Crossman: Here comes the heat

copyright Register-Citizen August 2, 2009
Don’t let his height (6’1”) fool you; when Donny Crossman is on the mound, he owns the inside, outside, middle, and underside of the plate. Crossman, a member of the Winsted Whalers in the Tri-State Baseball League, has been the dominant pitcher in the league for as long as beleaguered local batters care to remember. A throw back of sorts to when pitchers anchored themselves to the mound (no wimpy pitch counts or Joba rules), Crossman reminds you of a Bob Gibson/Don Drysdale type pitcher. A pitcher who stubbornly refuses to give up an inch in the pursuit of what his ultimate objective is; to get you out by any means.
Does that mean throwing inside to keep a batter off balance? You bet; just ask Tri-State League Commissioner Ed Gadomski. “Donny owns the inside part of the plate,” Gadomski said. “He is so competitive that on any given night he might strike out 15 but also hit three batters. You are never sure where the ball is going when he is on the mound, but you sure better be ready.” Ready to face a pitcher who is the only two-time Cy Young award winner (2001, 2007), and one who owns three no-hitters in Tri-State action. Get your feet set because you can’t be sure if you are going to get a high 80s to low 90s fastball or, as many have described it, one of the best changeups they have ever seen.
Crossman grew up in Winsted and has been playing baseball since he was six years old, organized ball since age nine. “I started with T-Ball then and just kept playing while I grew up,” Crossman said. “Back then there were no video games for us to play with, so when we got out of school or had a day off we just looked for a place to play baseball.” Wherever he went, Crossman made his mark, not just on the mound but in the outfield as a top notch center fielder. He attended The Gilbert School and starred on both the diamond and the hardwood on some pretty special basketball teams. As a freshman back in 1996, he recalls playing varsity baseball and throwing a one-hitter against Wolcott Tech. “It was such an honor just playing on varsity,” Crossman said. “To have thrown that kind of game is something I will always remember.”
One of his Tri-State managers, D.J. Reese, also managed one season (1997) for the Yellowjackets while Crossman was at Gilbert. That was the year this talented right-hander started to turn heads and miss bats. “Donny is the kind of pitcher who we always looked to,” Reese said. “If you needed a win, he was the guy you put out there.” The Yellowjackets dominated the Berkshire League in 1997, losing just one regular season game. Crossman sported a 5-0 mark in his second year on the varsity. No slouch in center or at the plate, Crossman batted over .500 that season, but his team endured a heartbreaking loss in the state tournament to a team they had just slaughtered the last game of the regular season. “We went 19-1 that year and beat Litchfield something like 25-1 in the last game of the year,” Crossman said. “But they came back and knocked us out in the first round of the states.” His performance would earn him All-Berkshire League honors as a sophomore and again in his junior year before an injury changed how his high school career ended.
“I also played basketball and I broke my hand in my senior year,” Crossman said, “I missed the rest of the season but what hurt even more was when I broke the same hand sliding into second two games into the baseball season.” Losing that senior year may have cost Crossman more than just a shot at a great BL season. “At the start of my senior year, I had scouts from the Cincinnati Reds talking to me,” Crossman said. “After the break they had a hard time going back to the team and asking them to take a chance on a pitcher with a broken pitching hand.” Crossman was not done, though, not by any means. He had been smart enough to sign a letter of intent to play at Central Connecticut University before the season started. “I didn’t want to have the distraction of picking a school during the season,” Crossman said. “It gave me peace of mind knowing that part of my future was settled.”
While baseball was his No. 1 sport, Crossman was a critical part of Yellowjackets teams that won two state championships in basketball. One team ran the table to a perfect 27-0 mark while the other posted a 25-2 record. “I didn’t score much,” Crossman said. “We had some great scorers on the team so all I had to do was hit the boards and play some defense. I was known as a great jumper so I tried to do my part.” His career at Central was one for the books. It started with Crossman playing in the outfield, but after his coaches determined he had the best arm on the team, the mound would be his primary domain. The Blue Devils would go to the NCAA Division I baseball tournament twice during his four-year career. Crossman traveled with his team to the Texas Regional in 2002 and then again in 2003 in the Arizona Regional, where he went up against some future big league talent each time.
“When we played Texas, Huston Street (now a closer for the Colorado Rockies) was on that team.” Crossman said. “The next year Dustin Pedroia (current Boston Red Sox second baseman) was playing for Arizona State and I struck him out when I faced him.” He pitched two scoreless innings against Arizona State then added a scoreless inning in his next game versus New Mexico. His two appearances in the tournament were impressive enough to get him a private workout with a Florida Marlins scout. ‘I had been topping off at between 90 and 93 miles per hour during the Series and they were looking to put me in rookie ball in Kansas,” Crossman said. While the offer was tempting, it had its drawbacks. First there was no signing money and rookie ball players don’t make much per month, but they do spend a great deal of time traveling with hopes of moving up. Crossman was realistic. “I had my degree in technology education from Central and a good offer to teach in Bristol. Only about 3 percent of players who start in rookie ball ever make it all the way up.”
His decision to not further his professional career on the diamond was perhaps the best thing to happen to the Winsted Whalers and Tri-State baseball in general. “I love playing in this league,” Crossman said. “When I started we had only six teams and boy did we have wars against teams like Torrington and Bethlehem.” He actually saw a bit of ‘unofficial’ time in Tri-State when he was just 16 years old. He joined for real when he was 18 and has played every year but one, when he played in the New York Collegiate Baseball League in 2002. His dominance of the league shows up in the three no-no’s, the two Cy Young Awards and the fact that he is chosen year after year as the No. 1 pick in the Stan Musial Tournament.
Each year, two Tri-State teams are picked to play in the State Tournament. Each can draft players from teams that don’t qualify. Crossman has been on the top of the team’s list for the past eight seasons. This week he was taken by the league regular season champions, Brass City. His top memory in the Musial Tournament came last year when he was drafted by Brass City and he got the chance to face a team from New York that came in with a 36-0 record. “They came in undefeated but we beat them 5-1,” Crossman said. “I threw a two-hitter against them. They went on to win nine straight games after that to go on to the Nationals but we beat them. That felt great.”
In 2009, Crossman posted a 5-3 record with 81 strikeouts in 66 innings, an off-year according to Crossman (a pretty good one to the rest of us, especially with a 2.10 ERA). At 28 years old, the thought of hanging up the spikes has not yet crossed his mind, not as long as he can help his team win. As for how he wants to be remembered when that day does come, Crossman summed up his thought process each time he took the mound. “I would like to be remembered as a guy who played his hardest every game,” Crossman said. “I took the mound trying for a no-hitter each time out.” In Tri-State baseball, they sure have some terrific players and even better people.