Holy Cross High School baseball coach Doug Manfredonia first met George Carroll when Carroll was a 13-year-old catcher playing with the Bayside Yankees travel team. Immediately, Manfredonia, who would coach Carroll for four years, sensed the young player’s dedication.
“Even as a 13-year-old, he was very serious about his training,” said Manfredonia.
Carroll, a Bayside native, was modestly talented, but possessed an unusual amount of drive.
“I remember that he had an average throwing arm for a ninth grader,” said Manfredonia. “By the time he was a sophomore, it was above average. As he got older, he shut down other teams’ running games.”
Carroll’s thirst for improvement, and passion for the game, are still evident. On June 8, Carroll, who recently finished his college playing career at the New York Institute of Technology, signed a free agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I had three goals,” said Carroll. “The first was to play Division I baseball. The second was to play in the Cape Cod Summer League. The third was to get a chance to play pro ball.”
When Carroll reported to the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Gulf Coast (Fla.) League, the rookie-league affiliate of the Blue Jays, last week, a new journey had begun.
“It kind of feels like another summer of summer league baseball,” said Carroll. “Except it’s not the collegiate, but the pro level.”
Alex Nikolic understands. The Holy Cross assistant baseball coach and former Queens College pitcher first started training with Carroll when Nikolic was a senior at Holy Cross and Carroll was a freshman. Carroll was a shy, yet driven young person. Nikolic has remained his batting practice pitcher and confidant.
“From the time he started playing varsity baseball as a 14-year-old all he ever said was, ‘I want to play pro baseball’,” said Nikolic.
Nikolic, Manfredonia, and Carroll would pull the net out at the Queens College gymnasium in “the dead of winter”, according to Nikolic, so that Carroll could work on his swing and Manfredonia, a former minor league player himself, could critique it.
“He would stay up late calling baseball scouts, calling summer league coaches, just to chase his dream,” said Nikolic of Carroll. “He would not quit.”
Carroll, who was signed after a pre-draft tryout in East Brunswick, N.J., this spring, arrived in Dunedin on June 11. He is used to playing with high-caliber athletes, he says. The biggest adjustment has come in terms of language differences.
“I’ve got to brush up on my Spanish,” said Carroll, who has teammates from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. “A lot of the guys have trouble with English, and you’ve got to adapt to make them feel comfortable. Being a catcher, a lot of the non-English speaking players are pitchers.”
The baseball transitions are familiar. The workload is a comfort. And while Carroll was once the taciturn kid, he is now “the voice you’ll probably hear at a party” says Nikolic. And the same, ever-striving kid.
“His passion from when he was 13 or 14 years old never settled down,” said Manfredonia.
“I’m as positive as I ever can be,” said Carroll. “Because I’ve made it this far and I’m hungry to make it to the next level, to keep progressing,”