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Hilton man plays role in Red Sox championship

scottteaser-215x160The lion’s share of the credit belonged to the players. They were the ones who had bashed baseballs over and off the Green Monster. They were the ones who had struck out opposing batters with the bases loaded. They were the ones who had made leaping, gazelle-like catches in the outfield and gunned down runners trying to take an extra base. They were the main reasons the Boston Red Sox won 108 games during the 2018 regular season and were celebrating a World Series championship at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last October.

Still, as Mike Ganley stood on the infield grass capturing the victory celebration on his cell phone after the final out of that Fall Classic, the one-time Hilton High School catcher couldn’t help but feel as if he and other anonymous members of the Red Sox front office also had contributed in some small way. After all, as the ballclub’s director of baseball systems, Ganley had written the software and set up the camera tracking devices that ensured Chris Sale’s slider was spinning rapidly enough to befuddle batters and that the swings of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez had the proper launch angles to propel balls into the stands.

“These are the best players in the world, and they are always looking for any competitive advantage they can find,’’ Ganley was saying recently from his Fenway Park office. “Our jobs are to provide them with information that can enable them to be the best players they can possibly be.”

A technology boom is changing the way the game is being played and managed at the highest levels, and Ganley, who holds an electrical engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is thrilled to be a part of it.

“I’ve always been interested in numbers, computers, data and technology, and I’ve always loved baseball,’’ he said. “So this really is a dream job.”

Growing up in Hilton, Ganley collected baseball cards, played board games such as Strat-O-Matic Baseball, and rooted for the Red Sox hated rivals, the New York Yankees. He loved watching Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and hoped one day to follow in his spike steps. Ganley never possessed major league skills, but he did develop into a very good player for legendary Coach Ory Mee’s highly successful Hilton teams of the late 1980s, early 1990s. He played three varsity seasons for the Cadets, starting at catcher and serving as co-captain his junior and senior seasons.

“He was a great leader, and a very heady player,’’ Mee recalled. “He knew our pitchers so well that we let him call the pitches. That’s how much we trusted his knowledge of the game.’’

Mee was ahead of the curve as far as using the analytics that are now all the rage. He assigned players to chart every pitch thrown by his and the opposition’s pitchers. He also had them compile spray charts, showing where balls were hit, and off of what type of pitches.

“It was a great way of keeping everyone in the game mentally,’’ Ganley said. “There was a purpose for everything we did—even the way we took warmups before the game. It was so crisp, so efficient. I really believe there were times when we won games in warmups because other teams saw the way we whipped the ball around and how determined we were.”

Ganley wound up playing two varsity seasons at WPI, but halted his college career after his sophomore season because of his rigorous major. He did, however, continue to play in summer rec leagues into his late 30s. After graduating, he worked as a computer programmer and engineer, primarily in the energy industry.

On the side, he founded 400Hitter, a website that provided statistics and other services to amateur baseball leagues in the Boston area, and beyond. The site was lauded by numerous baseball people, and wound up capturing the attention of the Red Sox. They contacted him about a new position they were creating in their baseball research and development department, and after a few phone and in-person interviews Ganley was offered the job.

His work is performed behind the scenes, and that’s the way he prefers it. Betts or Sales doesn’t approach him about information they need, but batting and pitching coaches occasionally do. Numerous cameras and tracking devices can determine if a pitcher’s grip or arm angle is producing enough revolutions per minute on his breaking pitches, or if a batter’s swing is elevated enough to drive the ball into the air rather than into the ground.

Statistical tendencies are tabulated. For example, this pitcher delivers this type of pitch 75 percent of the time in this situation. Or this hitter pulls the ball 80 percent of the time, necessitating a defensive shift to that side of the diamond.

Analytics can be a powerful tool for players, managers and general managers, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“It still comes down to players executing,’’ Ganley said. “There’s still a huge human element to the game, and there always will be.” In other words, he can provide the information, but he can’t swing the bat or throw the ball for them.

Ganley, 46, attends every home game, but usually leaves early because his job doesn’t require him to be there for all nine innings. The only away games he attended were in the post-season. And no road trip will ever compare to the one he took to Los Angeles last October. On his phone, he has the celebration video, plus a photo of him holding the World Series trophy.

He’ll get a chance to relive that moment during the Sox home opener on April 9 when Boston’s latest World Series banner will be unveiled and the players receive their rings. Ganley and his colleagues will receive rings, too, at a later date.

“It still seems surreal when I think back to that scene at Dodger Stadium,’’ he said. “It’s something you might fantasize about when you’re a kid, but when it becomes a reality, you can’t really put it into words.’’

It’s something he, in his own, small way, helped make happen.

Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.

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