By STEVE KRAH
Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.
Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.
A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.
“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball).
“We want to finish what we started.”
As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games.
His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.
At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.
Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.
Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.
“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”
The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.
Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.
“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.
“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”
Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.
He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky.
The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.
“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.
“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”
Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020.
He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.
He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.
“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.
Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis).
Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.
“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”
Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.
“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.
“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”
Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.