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Shen baseball coach pulling for Anderson, Braves in World Series battle with Houston

Ian Anderson pitches at Nationals Park, September 12, 2020
All-Pro Reels/Patrick Rouin/Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels/Patr
Ian Anderson pitches at Nationals Park, September 12, 2020

The Yankees and Red Sox are history for this postseason, but Northeasterners searching for a rooting interest in the Braves-Astros World Series that starts tonight don’t have to look beyond Clifton Park, New York. That’s where Braves pitcher Ian Anderson, now 23, blossomed into the young star he is today. A year after finishing seventh in the Rookie of the Year vote, Anderson started Game 6 on Saturday as the Braves won their first pennant since 1999. Anderson’s high school coach Greg Christodulu has led the Shenendehowa program for the past decade.

WAMC's Ian Pickus spoke with Christodulu on Tuesday.

Well, it's been exciting from the first day he got called up to the major leagues. Obviously we have a strong relationship with him. But the whole experience has been unbelievable. And he's, as he did in high school, he's just allowed everyone to experience it with them and be a part of this great plan that the Braves have included him in their program.

I have to imagine it's such a difference from when he came up in 2020. That was, of course, the pandemic shortened season, and there were real limitations on fans going to games. But this year, it must be the total opposite experience, as someone who's close to it.

Yeah, I mean, Ian has said that the fan experience has really created that atmosphere that has been unbelievable. He's drawn strength from it. Obviously it's given them butterflies at times. I think the biggest part is his family's been able to get to Atlanta, his dad was out in LA for the three games in Los Angeles. And obviously having family and, you know, his dad with him and his mom with him, has been a supportive group of people for him. And it's been great for them to experience that.

You've been around youth baseball for a long time and you've coached a lot of people who were quite successful, you know, played in college and so on. When did you realize that Ian Anderson had the chance to be very special?

Well, we brought him down to Maryland in our spring scrimmage setting in the month of March his sophomore year. You got to remember, him and his brother tried out for freshman baseball as eighth graders, and they didn't make the freshman team. So they worked hard as youngsters and offseason. And Ian came down with us as a sophomore, and pitched against some Columbia team and some Maryland teams. And he started to show life on his fastball, and things that just continued to develop. Every time he came to the field, he just kept gradually getting better and better and worked hard at it.

Was there a point that you yourself thought, hey, this kid could make it to the bigs?

Well, I think, you know, we played in a lot of big games while he was here, whether it be a sectional playoff game, regionals, state championship, Final Four. And I think, you know, part of that is his development. He was put in very high pressured situations, we experienced success as a program, he obviously performed at a high level. And I think it's just part of the foundation in which he was given an opportunity to show his abilities and how he reacted under pressure. And I'm really not all that surprised how he's performing now. I mean, that young man has always rose to the occasion, prepared hard for competition and believed in what he was doing. He always threw his pitches with conviction. So you know, it's just a gradual climb up the ladder, and everything is falling into place. He's been relatively injury free in his professional career. And things have fallen into place. And sometimes that's good. That's all you need is an opportunity and he's taken full advantage of it.

Greg Christodulu
Allan Barger
Allan Barger, Shenendehowa
Greg Christodulu

Some of the people who are most successful in October high stakes playoff baseball thrive on the pressure. Is that a characteristic you've seen in him?

Well, you know, we've had some great players in our program, and Ian’s obviously he's one of the greatest and all of them have been quiet assassins. Kevin Huerter, Justin Yurchak, Branden Cogswell. They don't flaunt it. They don't bring negative attention to themselves. They're just quiet assassins who continue to rely on their preparation and believe in what they're doing they trust the coaching staffs. With all those ingredients, you can see the end result is how he is performing it at this level. So we'd like to think we had a very talented young man, we help polish and present him to, at that point, Vanderbilt as well as Major League Baseball. And the road he took is obviously the correct one.

The Astros are an incredibly potent offense. What advice would you give him about how to pitch to them?

Well, he, you know, they do a great job with the research they do have opposing batters and, you know, their hot zone and, you know, pitch location and things of that nature. And, you know, I think it always comes back to doing what you do. Well, you know, Ian's got to stay within his abilities and his confines of what his pitches do for him. And, you know, he's got a great relationship with d’Arnaud, the catcher, and, you know, he's got a great coaching staff that has prepared him well. So if he pitches in a National League ballpark in Atlanta in Game 3, if he can get them four innings, five innings and then let the bullpen take over, I think, you know, that's the goal. If he can go farther, that's great. But that means he's got to bat twice. And I don't know if they really want him to.

How has this been received in school and around your program? I have to imagine there's just a ton of excitement about this World Series.

Yeah, there really is. And you know, Coach Anderson, Bobby Anderson, Ian's dad and Ben’s he's still part of our program. He helps us out with offseason programming. And obviously, he's traveled well with the Braves when Ian has pitched, but all our guys know Ian and he's been with us in the offseason. He's helped guys. He's communicated with pitchers in our program. And, and, you know, it's exciting. It's exciting, but you put it in perspective, he's still got to go out there and compete. I would say some of the students don't know there's a Shen graduate pitching for the Atlanta Braves in the in the World Series. But, you know, you got to remember it's five, six years ago and this senior class here at Shen were probably in sixth, seventh grade, you know, the juniors and seniors. So you know, it's still exciting. A lot of the teachers, administrators are extremely locked into this thing and they want to see their Shen graduate do well.

More Braves gear around the hallways than normal this week?

Well, I definitely wear more Braves gear. You know, it's amazing that there's people still rooting for him there. We had some Dodger fans in class the other day and, you know, they rooted for the Dodgers, but they were still rooting for Ian at the same time, so yeah, there's some, some great conversations going on throughout the day and with people in the building. It's hard to believe five years ago, you know, they were in our phys ed classes: him Ben, Kevin Huerter. You know, these great guys that came through here and have excelled beyond Shenendehowa.

And just to mention for our listeners who may not know, Kevin Huerter is a star for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks who just signed a big contract.

Yes. And they were they were great leaders. You know, not only athletically, but you know, leadership in the hallways, and they included everybody in their experience. You know, a lot of young people at that time may have folded under pressure, but they seemed to really enjoy it and bring everybody along for the ride. And they still do, that's who they are. And you know, it's greatly appreciated.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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