Fulfilling a lifelong dream

THE NEXT LEVEL: In an ongoing summer series, we’ll catch up  with recent graduates as they prepare for their collegiate athletic careers

  • Tony Graziano, seen during his senior year at Wilton-Lyndeborough in 2012, will pitch for Franklin Pierce University next season after spending last year at Bridgton Academy in Maine for a post-grad year.
  • wlc boys baseball v derryfield
  • wlc boys baseball v derryfield
  • Former WLC ace Tony Graziano is looking to make an immediate impact on the Franklin Pierce pitching staff next spring.
  • Graziano earned Division IV first-team all-state honors as a senior at WLC in 2012 after throwing a no-hitter in the season opener and posting a 1.45 earned run average with 72 strikeouts.

When Tony Graziano was growing up, he knew baseball would be a big part of his life.

Even as a child, he immediately fell in love with the game and it quickly became his dream to pursue a baseball career.

And despite the fact that the interest from college programs shown during his senior year at Wilton-Lyndeborough did not pan out to any enticing offers, Graziano never gave up his dream.

He always wanted to play college baseball and had goals of one day being drafted by a Major League club. So not long after graduating from WLC in June 2012, Graziano decided to attend Bridgton Academy in Maine for a post-grad year. He knew it was the best way to continue playing and could only help his chances of once again catching the eyes of a college program.

“I figured I could get a little bigger and throw a little harder,” said Graziano.

In the fall, Graziano made a trip to a Franklin Pierce University in Rindge to throw for the coaching staff and before he left campus it was clear that the interest was mutual. Two weeks later, Graziano committed to pitch for the Ravens next season.

“It was so exciting and just a big weight lifted off my shoulders knowing where my next four years would be,” said Graziano.

It was a good fit for the former Warriors’ ace. FPU is close to home, so his family and friends can watch him play, and he will be pitching for one of the best Division II programs in the Northeast.

When Graziano was in high school, he pitched at Franklin Pierce for his summer showcase team and instantly fell in love with the mound at Dr. Arthur and Martha Pappas Field. He had always seen FPU as a dream destination, but coming out of high school it wasn’t a possibility.

But during his year at Bridgton, FPU baseball coach Jayson King saw a lefty like Graziano as a nice future piece of the program.

“We feel like he’s not even close to where he’s going to be,” said King. “We thought about where he could be in a year and what he’s projected to be and we liked what we saw.”

When Graziano was at WLC, he threw anywhere from 75-78 miles per hour. During his senior season he dealt with some arm issues and it wasn’t until after the season that it was determined that he had a slipped biceps tendon in his left arm.

After a simple procedure and a couple weeks off, Graziano resumed his offseason throwing program and immediately saw the difference. He started throwing in the mid 80’s, but then had to learn how to handle the increased velocity.

And at Bridgton, Graziano got the direction that he needed. Not only was he taught how to harness his fastball, but his curveball improved and he learned how to throw a slider.

“Everybody up a Bridgton Academy knew what they were doing and really helped me out,” said Graziano. “They taught me how to throw a slider and it’s my best pitch now.”

A lefty with three quality pitches is something King could use as he tries to rebuild his pitching staff from the team that won the NCAA Division II East Region title and advanced to the College World Series.

“He’s a lefty and we knew we needed some lefties for next year,” said King.

Graziano is well aware of the turnover involved with the Ravens’ pitching staff after three starters were drafted and three more pitchers graduated. He says he’s prepared to work as hard as possible to be in a position to see time on the mound next spring.

“I’m just trying to get as many innings as possible,” said Graziano. “They had [three] pitchers drafted so there should be a lot of innings available. Now everything is up to me.”

King is also hopeful that Graziano arrives on campus ready to compete for a spot, either as a starter or from the bullpen.

When King watched Graziano throw last fall, he saw a young lefty with a lot of promise. And with 17 years of head coaching experience at the collegiate level, King knows it is not about where Graziano is now, but what the future may hold.

“He’s a guy we have high hopes for and hopefully he can give us quality innings as a freshman,” said King.

Since King took over at FPU, he has led the Ravens to six D-II World Series appearances and had 25 players drafted, two things that drew Graziano to the school.

“I know Coach King is one of the best at pitcher development and that’s a big reason I wanted to go there,” said Graziano. “And I feel I have a lot more room to grow.”

He wanted to go to a program that had a chance to compete for a national championship and one day help him have his name called during the MLB first-year player draft.

“That’s my goal. That’s been my goal since I was young,” said Graziano of being drafted. “That’s what pushes me every day.”

While Graziano has a long ways to go before he really starts thinking about being drafted, it is a long term dream that he is prepared to do just about anything to help become a reality.

A year ago, Graziano was not sure what his baseball future would hold. Now, the next four years of his life are set.

But Graziano is not satisfied with just making it to FPU.

No, he plans on being a big part of the tradition filled program and one day realizing the next part of his baseball dream.

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