Portland native Griffin Watson made the Fairfield University baseball team as a walk-on. Now a junior, he has started 21 games at second base for the 25-0 Stags. Courtesy of Fairfield University athletics

His jersey is sized extra large, and Griffin Watson knows a small would be a better fit.

“Maybe even a medium,” he said, “that would help the arms look a little bigger.”

Griffin Watson

Even so, he’s not complaining. Wearing No. 1 and playing second base for the only unbeaten Division I college baseball program in the country was not on Watson’s radar when he attempted to join the Fairfield University team as a walk-on in the fall of 2018, a few months after his graduation from Cheverus High in Portland.

Earlier this week, Baseball America took note of Fairfield’s 25-0 record and ranked the Stags at No. 23 in the nation, ahead of Nebraska and just behind Georgia. It’s the first top-25 ranking in the history of Fairfield baseball.

“That was pretty cool to wake up to on Monday morning,” Watson, 21, said by phone from Fairfield’s campus in southern Connecticut.

A native of Portland, Watson played shortstop for Cheverus and moved behind the plate his senior year because the team needed a catcher. He also played wide receiver and safety in football. Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 155 pounds, he wasn’t exactly flooded with offers from college baseball coaches.

Fairfield, like Cheverus, is a Jesuit school. Throw in a 200-acre campus overlooking Long Island Sound and proximity to New York City and Watson was hooked. That both schools use Stags for their athletic teams was a bonus.

Fairfield’s baseball coach, Bill Currier, also has northern New England roots, having grown up in Vermont, played for UVM and coached the Catamounts for 22 seasons before the university cut baseball and softball in the wake of the 2008 recession. Watson corresponded with Currier and was invited to try out for the team.

Ed Flaherty, the longtime coach at Division III University of Southern Maine, let Currier know about Watson, who had attended USM camps. Flaherty said he didn’t know whether Watson would be Division I material, but praised his defensive abilities and said he was worth a look.

Currier looked, and liked what he saw. By late October of 2018, he offered Watson a spot on the roster.

“He works his tail off,” Currier said. “He’s a smart player and he’s going to give you his all every time he steps on the field, whether it’s in practice or in a game.”

As a freshman, Watson was Fairfield’s only non-recruited player. He saw action in 23 games, batted .193 and made only two errors. As a sophomore, he got only three at-bats in a COVID-shortened season that ended abruptly in March 2020 during the team’s southern trip with a record of 2-9.

This spring, there was no southern trip, which partially explains Fairfield’s perfect record. Still, the Stags remain unblemished against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents, playing two doubleheaders each weekend and often another during the week.

They have swept four-game series against Canisius, Iona, Rider, Monmouth and Manhattan along with a pair of Wednesday doubleheaders against Quinnipiac. After beating St. Peter’s 20-2 last week, a scheduled second game in Jersey City was declared “no contest” because St. Peter’s said it ran out of pitching.

“It’s a little unique that way, but it’s the cards we were dealt,” Currier said about the schedule’s lack of high-powered programs. “It’s not like we had a choice. The league said just conference games, four every weekend.”

The Stags are 20-0 at home, 5-0 on the road. They return to action Saturday with four weekend games against visiting Siena and have two more doubleheaders scheduled May 8-9 at Niagara, but Currier said more games may be added before the conference tournament begins May 21.

Currier has seven scholarships to divvy up among a roster of 40 players. That’s fewer than the 11.7 full rides allowed by the NCAA for the nearly 300 Division I programs, making Fairfield’s unbeaten streak all the more remarkable.

“Our main goal is to win a MAAC championship and go to (NCAA) regionals,” Watson said. “The record’s great, but we want to win the MAAC and go to the regional.”

Weight training has helped Watson put on 20 pounds since entering college. A finance major, he has started all but four games this spring, usually hits ninth in the order, has a .203 batting average and leads the team with four sacrifice bunts.

“Griff’s a battler, he comes to play,” said Currier, who described a scene from this season when Watson’s shoulder popped out of its socket on a headfirst slide into third base. Grimacing in pain, Watson nonetheless scrambled up and scored (despite losing a shoe in the process) when the ball got loose.

“He’s got a sock on one foot, a cleat on the other, his shoulder is killing him, but he sprints to the plate and he gets there,” Currier said. “He was not going to say, ‘I can’t get there.'”

Fairfield has one MAAC title, earned in 2016, which resulted in the program’s only NCAA tournament appearance. The Stags played in a regional at Texas Tech and lost twice, to Texas Tech and Dallas Baptist.

The Stags are a long shot to reach Omaha, but you’ll never hear Watson say they can’t get there.

“You can’t walk into the stadium and think the job’s going to get done,” he said. “You’ve got to grind it out every single game. It’s not going to be handed to us.”


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