By Bill Burt
---- — Dustin Hunt can now always boast that for two innings late one February, he held the Boston Red Sox scoreless.
Last week’s unofficial opening of spring training may have been nothing more than a charming formality that has the hometown team playing games against a pair of Boston-based college squads in Fort Myers, Fla.
But for Hunt, it was one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
In fact, last Wednesday, the night before the Red Sox took the field for their first time this season, the Northeastern University freshman who hails from Andover and starred at St. John’s Prep in Danvers had trouble sleeping in his hotel room.
“Our pitching coach came up to me while we were stretching (on Wednesday) and told me I was starting against the Red Sox,” the 6-foot-4 Hunt said. “I was a little stunned. And then I started to get a little nervous.”
Hunt’s start against the Sox last Thursday, Feb. 27, probably had something to do with his performance recently, which included four shutout innings against Houston Baptist a couple weekends ago. He also pitched four hard-fought innings against nationally ranked Texas A&M the week before.
The morning of the big game, Hunt and his Northeastern teammates joined the Red Sox for a pregame meal at JetBlue Park and the Huskies mingled with the pro ballplayers during batting practice. It quelled the nerves a little bit, Hunt said.
“Jonny Gomes was one of the nicest guys,” he said. “David Ortiz was great. He shook hands and posed for pictures. Dustin Pedroia, he was great, too, just talking and asking us about our team.”
Then came game time, which Hunt said was surreal.
“First off, the stadium is the best I’ve ever played in,” he said. “It was beautiful. And the place was packed. I was on the mound, warming up, and I couldn’t believe I was there.”
It got more unbelievable as the first batters took their place: Grady Sizemore, Pedroia and Ortiz.
“I got Grady to fly to left,” Hunt said. “Then Pedroia, the count went to 3-and-2, and I threw a fastball. He hit it so hard up the middle that I didn’t see it until it was in center field. And then Ortiz, the count got to 3-and-2 and I threw him a change-up, which was a little low for ball four.”
Hunt got the next two hitters — Mike Napoli (a pop-up to the catcher) and Gomes (fly out to left) — to end the first inning.
His second inning was very similar. He got Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks to hit deep fly balls before catcher Ryan Lavarnway doubled off the wall in left and Jackie Bradley Jr. walked.
Hunt ended his appearance inducing Sizemore to hit a line out to left field.
His stat line was impressive: 2 innings pitched, 2 hits, 2 walks, no runs.
“I learned going against those guys you’ve got to have all your pitches working,” said Hunt, whose fastball has hit 92 mph this winter. “A 90-mile-an-hour fastball isn’t enough. You have change-up, maybe a slider, and you have to have command of all your pitches.
“The thing I noticed was every guy worked the count,” Hunt said. “It seemed like every batter had a 3-and-2 count. I was throwing change-up on 3-and-1 and 3-and-2, because they’ll crush a fastball.”
The score was 0-0 when Hunt left the game after two innings. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead after five innings before Northeastern came back with two runs in the top of the sixth inning for a 2-1 advantage.
But the Red Sox bats exploded for four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to eventually take the win, 5-2.
“It was an amazing experience, throwing to all of those guys, some of whom I’ve rooted for my whole life,” Hunt said. “It really was cool, something I’ll never forget.”
A big commitment in Div. 1
Andover’s Dustin Hunt has received a quick lesson in commitment the last few months. It came with his baseball scholarship to Northeastern University in Boston.
Hunt said he has never been committed to anything like he is with college ball.
He has gained 18 pounds, most of it muscle, and added a few miles per hour on his fastball, which was close to 90 mph last spring.
“It’s a lot of work,” Hunt said. “It was a lot of early mornings in the weight room.
“You give something up in college to be a Division 1 athlete. You do your schoolwork and you prepare for baseball. You lose a little bit of social life. But I love it.”