By Steve Mims
There was a time when Joe Longo thought he might follow in the footsteps of his father and play college football.
“Big” Ray Longo, as Joe’s buddies nicknamed him, was a linebacker at The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Joe Longo played linebacker as well as quarterback at Holy Angels High in Richfield, Minn.
“Early in high school, I had more passion for football than baseball,” Longo said. “Later, I fell in love more with baseball and chose that sport.”
Longo’s college career is off to a hot start as the redshirt freshman is batting .354 through his first 16 games at Michigan.
The outfielder will spend his summer playing for the Springfield Drifters in the West Coast League, which features college stars using wood bats.
He was referred to the Drifters by UM assistant Tyler Graham, a former Oregon State star with deep Northwest baseball ties. Graham joined the staff under new coach Tracy Smith this season.
“Tyler said he sent guys to Springfield last year and it is a great spot with great facilities,” said Longo, who has never been to Oregon. “With that new field, he said it was a great fit.”
The Drifters will return for their second summer at Hamlin Field on June 2 to open the season against Port Angeles. The Drifters will play 57 games in 65 days, a schedule similar to the Northwoods League where Longo played for the Rochester Honkers last year.
“That was a ton of fun, a long summer,” he recalled. “Obviously you play a ton of games and get to experience the mental side of it as well. You have to be mentally tough to play in that league. It also got my body in better shape because of the long summer.”
The 6-foot-0, 215-pound Longo sat out last season under coach Erik Bakich, who left after last year for Clemson.
“He was big on guys having another birthday, so all freshmen redshirted the year before and during my year,” Longo said.
“That is the way the program was run at the time and obviously I learned a lot despite not being able to play.”
Longo worked at catcher last year, but was moved to the outfield this season.
“It saves my knees, that is the biggest thing,” Longo said. “My knees are doing fine now. I played outfield a lot in high school so there are just some things I need to fine tune.”
Longo ranks third on the Wolverines in batting average as well as home runs with two. He has nine RBIs, six runs scored and two doubles as UM is off to a 9-11 record.
“It is confidence for me,” Longo said. “I go through daily routines and mental work, so confidence has been a key so far. I believe in myself and the guys who hit in front of and behind me to get on and get me in.”