By Jerry Del Priore
After seven years as a professional baseball player, including a season stint in the independent Atlantic League, former Brooklyn Cyclone and New York Mets minor leaguer T.J. Chism decided to hang up his spikes.
Within three months, however, Chism landed the pitching coach position at Widener University—a private college in Chester, Pennsylvania, that plays Division III baseball in the MAC Commonwealth Conference.
“After seven years of traveling in minor league baseball, it was time to move on,” Chism, 29, explained. “I got super lucky (with this job). Head coach (Mike LaRosa) at Widener reached out to me and asked if I was I interested in the pitching coach job.”
In his third season of coaching at the college, Chism looks to help pitchers who don’t typically throw heat develop into solid hurlers, since most hard throwers wind up at higher levels, according to Chism
In a way, Chism said, he sees a little bit of himself in his young crop of arms: a pitcher who relied on ball placement and keeping batters guessing, instead of pure gas, in order to retire batters.
“I didn’t have the best stuff. I had to keep the hitters off balance,” Chism said of his pro pitching career, in which he posted a 14-11 record with a 2.27 ERA in 236 innings in 202 games in six years of affiliated ball with the Mets, making it as high as AA-Binghamton.
“We don’t get guys who throw high 80s. We don’t get fixated on miles per hour. We look for location, good kids, and the ability to repeat their delivery.”
That philosophy has translated into success for the Pride. During Chism’s coaching tenure at the college, Widener has been to two conference tournaments and one NCAA regional by capturing the MAC Commonwealth championship in 2016.
The Brookhaven, Pennsylvania, native excelled at D-I La Salle University. But after New York selected him in the 32nd round of the 2009 amateur MLB draft, he said had to rely on his guts and guile in order survive in the Mets’ system, which, he said, was a good thing.
“Every year I was pitching for my (baseball) life,” said the son of Kelly MacIntosh and Tom Chism, a former MLB first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. “But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I always pitched with a chip on my shoulder.”
As for his pro career, Chism lives with zero reservations, as he said he cherished every moment possible while on the diamond.
“There’s not one regret I have,” he said. “I loved every day going to the field. I can look at myself in the mirror and be proud of what I did.”
Chism offers up the same advice to his student-athletes, emphasizing enjoying their time on Widener’s baseball team and at the school, as it goes by in a flash.
“I tell them, ‘This is going to be a quick ride for you guys,’ Chism said. ‘You have to enjoy it. You never know what’s going to happen.”’
Chism said pitching is a constant learning process. He learned that from his past pro coaches, especially former St. Lucie Met (High-A) pitching coach and Cy Young Award recipient Frank Voila, and 1986 New York Mets World Series Champ Wally Backman, who guided him while at Brooklyn during the 2010 season.
Chism surrendered a whopping solo homer at a home game in Brooklyn (short-season A New York-Penn League Mets affiliate), which turned out to be the longest shot at MCU Park at the time. The next night, Backman, who is managing the independent Atlantic League’s New Britain Bees in 2018, trotted him out to the bump again, to the same hitter, no less. But this time he redeemed himself by striking him out.
It was one of Chism’s several found memories of playing in Brooklyn, which he played parts of three campaigns (2009, ’10, and ’11) in and called his favorite place to play as a pro.
“He called me into his office after the game, and said, ‘I was testing you today,’ Chism recollected. ‘I was impressed.’ He said he might have had me released after the season if I had failed, half-jokingly.”
For now, Chism is focused on his pitching coaching duties at Widener University and hopes to one day run his own college program. But he hasn’t dismissed coaching at the pro ranks in the future.
“That’s the goal,” the five-foot-ten, 190-pounder said of being a college baseball head coach. “I don’t care if it’s D-I, -II, or -II. But I’m not going to rule out pro coaching. I think I can help out at that level.”