Just over a year ago here on The Baltimore Wire, we featured an article on 2014 North Hagerstown High School graduate Mark Grunberg. Destined for the Towson University baseball team, he had the unusual high school experience of being a top-notch kicker on the football team as well as a regular on the Hub’s soccer team.
Now a year later, we caught up again with Grunberg to talk about his freshman year at Towson—a season marked by good success and selection to the Colonial Athletic Association’s all-freshman team.
“I knew I could play at that level and I was confident I could play, but I think a lot of people doubted me,” Grunberg said. At 5’8” and 165 pounds, there is a lot inside the smaller-than-usual package for a Division 1 outfielder, including effective switch-hitting splits.
“The pitching was a bit tough to get used to at first. I saw guys throwing upper 80s and even mid-90s. It was consistently good … never saw a guy below 85, and even if they threw at 85 they had a lot of funky stuff to mess with you. It was a new experience, but I thought I was ready for it.”
Ready indeed. As the season progressed, Grunberg became Towson’s leadoff hitter. He is only the third Tiger ever to have recorded 60+ hits in his freshman season.
Grunberg’s final average was .328, with two homers, eight doubles, 29 RBIs, 27 walks and nine stolen bases. He twice registered nine-game hitting streaks.
In a rebuilding and retooling year, the Tigers finished at 17-35-2, going 9-15 in the CAA. Towson plays a worthy schedule, including the best teams in the country … literally … playing against NCAA National Champion, the University of Virginia.
“We played the national champions UVA and they were phenomenal… such a sound team. We played them once in the fall and once in the spring.”
Grunberg was a late pinch-hitter in the spring game (won by UVA 8-0), but he experienced quite an introduction to collegiate baseball when playing UVA in the fall…
“My first at-bat for Towson was in the fall against Nathan Kirby, a big lefty who threw 97; and that was an eye-opener! I hit the ball the first time against him, and then he struck me out on a good slider.”
Kirby was on the mound when UVA beat Vanderbilt 4-2 in the finals. He pitched the final two innings in relief, striking out five batters. Kirby was the #40 overall selection in the draft by the Milwaukee Brewers in Competitive Balance Round A.
When asked about other pitchers he faced that stood out, Grunberg mentioned Taylor Clarke from the College of Charleston, saying “I hit a foul homer off him!” … before getting a base hit. Clarke (who began his collegiate career at Towson) was 13-1 with a 1.73 ERA. He was the first pick in the third round of the draft (76th overall) by the Diamondbacks.
Reflecting on the need, even in collegiate baseball, to be making continuous adjustments, Grunberg could tell that other teams were putting together some scouting reports on him.
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“As the season went on, each team gets scouting reports, and they find out how to pitch you and field against you. By late in the year, they knew I was hitting the ball up the middle a lot, and I would see the middle infielders move closer to the bag at second, and I had a number of hits taken away by that.”
There is always something more to work on in the game of baseball, and Grunberg mentioned a few areas for focused attention.
“I do need to focus on getting my best pitch… working on pitch selection. I have to not swing on pitches out of the zone. If it’s a 1-0 count, not chase the curve ball out of the zone.”
“And I want to work more on stolen bases, because I have the speed and need to use it more aggressively. The coach says we’re going to be more aggressive and push the catcher to make a play.”
An additional experience for Grunberg over the summer was playing for the Rockville Express in the Cal Ripken League, hitting with wooden bats and having fun in a more relaxed baseball environment.
“I think I’m more experienced now and more prepared and feel I’m ready hopefully to just continue to progress. I love the team and love the school, and it was a great experience; and I can’t wait to get back to playing again.”