Thomaston Marine puts college, baseball on hold

Jon Conlon called to active duty; headed to Iraq in October
copyright Republican-American Joe Pallodino 1/10/2008

Thomaston’s Jon Conlon has himself a couple of dreams. The first was to join the Marine Corps. He did that. The 20 year old enlisted in the Marine Reserves one week after graduation from Thomaston High School in June 2006. Conlon’s other dream is to play college baseball. The former Berkshire League All-Star with the Golden Bears was on the verge of seeing that dream come true as well, as a walk-on at Western Connecticut State University.

But then something happened to his dreams. They collided, head-on, about one month ago. Conlon will put down his first baseman’s glove and pick up his automatic rifle. He has training to do but not on a baseball diamond. Conlon has been called to active duty, and he will serve in Iraq starting in October (2008). “I thought I could work college and baseball around Iraq,” stated Conlon. “But they have been telling us that we will probably be going, so I have been expecting it.”

Conlon’s baseball adventure is an improbable one. He wasn’t recruited out of high school. He started for the Bears, played for the Bethlehem Plowboys in the Tri-State League (his bottom of the ninth, 2-out, 2-run homerun propelled Bethlehem over Torrington in the 2007 semi-final playoff game to send the Plowboys into the Championship Series) and coached Little League Baseball in Thomaston. He figured that Western might be the best fit for him athletically, so he sent baseball coach John Susi an email and said he’d like to play. Susi gets hundreds of such emails each year. Rarely do walk-ons find a place on the team loaded with recruited talent. Even though the team for the spring season of 2007 was already picked, there was something about Conlon’s maturity and motivation that struck him. Sure, Susi said, stop by when workouts begin.

Conlon never did, until the fall of 2007. He walked onto the practice field and Susi was immediately impressed with his 6-1, 225 lb frame, made tough and hard by three months at Parris Island, and then eight more weeks at infantry school. “We put him over at first base and he handled himself pretty well there,” Susi recalled. “He was a little rough, but he still looked like he had something that we could work with.” Then Conlon grabbed a bat. Susi was tossing BP. He remembers the moment vividly. “His first swing, it looked like he was trying to hit one out of the Grand Canyon,” Susi said, “and he hit this rocket to the wall. It’s bang, bang, hit after hit. He was a wrecking machine.” Yeah, thought Susi, we can find a place on the roster for this kid. Conlon played with the team in the fall season, and had two doubles and a single in the first game. He made the team for the spring season, and was issued uniform No. 30. Conlon’s dream of playing college ball was about to come true.

Then he got the call last month. He would join Charlie Company out of Plainville for four months of training in California, and a seven month tour in Iraq. Conlon told his teammates before everyone broke for the Christmas break. “There were a lot of tears in the room that day,” Susi said. “We told him that his number, 30, would be here for him when he gets back. My captains said they wanted to get Jon a team jacket, and pay for it out of their own pockets.” Conlon could have stayed enrolled at Western and played this spring, but instead decided that with the weekend responsibilities with the reservists, and the looming call to duty, he’d rather put all his focus on the Marine Corps, and leave the books and games for another day. “This is something that I wanted to do,” Conlon said of his duty with the Corps. “Baseball will still be here when I get back.” So will No. 30.