Updated Tue, Mar 25, 2014 12:56 pm
When Mitch Longo stepped foot on the campus of Ohio University for the first time as a Bobcat, he had one goal in mind for his first year as a member of the baseball team: be the starting center fielder.
On paper, the odds to be the starter were not in Longo’s favor, as the Bobcats already had a crowded outfield with several returning players such as Tyler Wells, Nick Squires, and Brice Nikithser penciled in above Longo on the depth chart.
During fall workouts, Squires and Nikithser suffered injuries that ended their season before it could even begin. The odds of Longo being in the opening day lineup were now well in his favor.
Longo kept putting in the work throughout the rest of the offseason, and was rewarded for his effort when Ohio coach Rob Smith penciled him in the ‘Cats’ opening-game lineup hitting sixth in the order, and playing center field.
“Coming in here, I always had my eyes on being the starter in center field,” Longo said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I took it and haven’t looked back since.”
Many freshmen face an adjustment period to get acclimated to the differences between high school and collegiate baseball to begin their season. However, through Ohio’s first 20 games, Longo has looked like anything but a freshman.
In the Bobcats’ opening series against the Murray State Racers, Longo led Ohio’s offense by picking up six hits in his seven at-bats, while also collecting six RBIs as Ohio went 1-1 to begin the season.
Longo currently leads the team in all of the major offensive categories, sporting a .411 batting average, two home runs, 13 RBIs, and five stolen bases, while playing in all but one of Ohio’s 20 games so far.
That type of production has left Ohio coach Rob Smith pleasantly surprised with how well Longo has adjusted to the collegiate game in such a short amount of time.
“I don’t think you ever expect a freshman to get started like this,” Smith said of Longo. “A lot of times we prefer to protect our freshmen, but he’s jumped in and played very well so far.”
On March 15, in the second game of Ohio’s doubleheader with St. Bonaventure, Longo’s season almost came to an abrupt end. As he dove for a fly ball in center field, Longo missed the ball and rolled up on his wrist, and immediately began rolling around in the outfield writhing in pain.
The crowd at Bob Wren Stadium fell silent, as people began to fear the worst: that Longo broke his wrist. It’s something that happens often in professional baseball, suffering a broken or fractured wrist while diving for a ball.
This time, Longo was lucky. X-rays showed that there was no fracture or break, and instead he was diagnosed with a sprained wrist.
Instead of missing the rest of the season, Longo missed only one game on March 18 when Ohio played Xavier.
He was back in the starting lineup when Ohio opened conference play, and picked up right where he left off, picking up five hits in the three-game series including a team-best three hits in the series finale on Sunday to raise his average back over the .400 clip.
Longo is no stranger this success, either. While at Mayfield High School, Longo carried a .540 batting average and drove in 40 runs during his junior season, helping his Mayfield team to a 23-5 record and a trip to the Division I regional semifinal. The accolades led him to being named an All-Star by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
His early performances caught the eye of many college coaches, as Longo soon held scholarship offers from the likes of Ohio, Akron, Kent State, and Eastern Michigan. Smith and the Bobcats recruited Longo hard, and once Longo visited the Athens campus and met the rest of the coaching staff and his teammates, he knew that Ohio was the school for him.
However, Longo considered Eastern Michigan until the very end, because going to EMU would mean another opportunity to play on the same team as his older brother Lee, who is an infielder on the EMU baseball team. But Longo was happy that his brother was behind his decision to play for Ohio instead.
“[Lee] was really, really supportive,” Longo said. “He has played here throughout his years at [Eastern Michigan] and said if I liked [Ohio], I would love playing here. I’m glad he didn’t force anything, or want me to go anywhere else.”
Even with all the success Longo has had throughout his high school and collegiate career so far, he remains humble and tries to avoid getting caught up in his successes for the sake of team success.
“Our number one goal from the start has been to leave out the individual accolades and go out on the field and do whatever we can to win ball games,” Longo said. “I just try to keep the blinders on and keep going forward.”