During August 2021, Garrett Callaghan transferred to the Division I baseball program at Rutgers University, leaving his former team at Ithaca College. At the time, his decision to leave was met with mixed emotions from his coaches and teammates who were supportive of him but sad to see him go.
Now, as a graduate student, Callaghan has returned to the Bombers. His comeback has brought joy and enthusiasm to his previous coaches’ and players’ faces.
Callaghan had an impressive 2021 season with the Bombers. He achieved high rankings and ended the season with a .375 batting average and a .818 slugging percentage. Out of his 33 hits, he had eight doubles, two triples and nine home runs.
It was after that season that Callaghan decided to enter the transfer portal and play in the Big Ten conference, which competes at the Division I level. He explained that he wanted to take on the challenge of playing baseball at a higher level and also to further his academic and educational goals.
“I was looking to play pro baseball for a little bit,” Callaghan said. “And then, also, the other thing that brought me there was their master’s in finance program. So just between that and really competitive baseball in the Big Ten, I don’t regret my decision. It was a great experience.”
Dave Valesente, head coach of the Ithaca College baseball team, reinforced Callaghan’s statement. He said he believed that it was a great opportunity for him both athletically and academically. Additionally, Callaghan is from Franklin Township, New Jersey, making the university close to home.
“I think it was an incredible opportunity for him to be able to go close to home and get a master’s degree and to play in one of the power five conferences,” Valesente said. “The fact that he wanted to come back here and finish his playing career, and also make advancements in the academic side of things, makes me really fortunate and excited that he was willing to and wanting to work with us.”
Callaghan was able to get a spot on the team while in the process of getting a masters degree in finance. While at Rutgers, Callaghan finished off with 17 hits, one double, two triples, two home runs and 14 RBIs. Furthermore, he started 13 out of 33 games while also coming off the bench often and pinch hitting. He expressed that while it was a lot more challenging, he was willing to put in the work and make adjustments. Moreover, he added that he had to get used to the higher skill level that the pitchers have at the Division I level.
“[The commitment is] a little bit more work and stuff,” Callaghan said. “The biggest challenge for me was the faster pitching with better off speed. But, you know, just putting in the work every day and making some adjustments. There’s a lot of things you can get away with at the D-III level that you definitely can’t get away with at the D-I level.”
Following his time at Rutgers, Callaghan began working as a real estate analyst at Pacific Star Capital, which operates in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. However, it was when his position transitioned into fully remote work that solidified Callaghan’s decision to return to South Hill.
“[The deciding factor] had a lot to do with the remote work that I got shifted to,” Callaghan said. “I was working down in Florida and then got moved completely online, completely remote, and I went home back to New Jersey for a little bit. I just got kind of bored and, you know, I saw the opportunity to go back. Coach [Valesente] was very welcoming to have me back and it’s been a great experience so far.”
Callaghan said he believes that the opportunity made him a better player, but there is still plenty of talent at the Division III level. Despite having earned his master’s degree, Callaghan is taking extramural courses at the college to boost his post-graduate experience.
“The really advanced pitching gets easier when you come down to D-III, but since I came back to Ithaca, there’s a lot of guys at this level, especially pitchers that can pitch at the Division I level, even power five,” Callaghan said. “So, that I mean, I definitely became a better player when I went over there and I’m just hoping to take what I’ve learned to do at a D-I school back here to Ithaca.”
Valesente said that, as the oldest on the team, Callaghan is like a leader to the rest of the younger players.
“He’s very mature,” Valesente said. “You know, he’s one of the older guys on the team and he’s been through a lot and certainly different atmospheres of baseball, whether it’s college, summer and multiple colleges. So having him back, you know, having him lead by example, both on the field and in the weight room, and even in the classroom is really setting a good example for our guys.”
Additionally, senior outfielder Mike Nauta said Callaghan’s experience is beneficial to the younger players.
“Having his fifth or sixth year of college baseball and all this experience, it just helps the younger guys out with teaching them more things,” Nauta said.
Nauta added that Callaghan’s veteran experience being with the Bombers has helped to further team building.
“He definitely makes the team chemistry easier to build just because he’s been here before,” Nauta said. “But every year is certainly different when it comes down to chemistry.”
As far as team culture goes, Callaghan said he believes that it remains the same as it was when he left the team.
“I think that the team culture is the exact same,” Callaghan said. “Coach has built a strong culture ever since he got here. Discipline, hard work, working together and stuff like that; Nothing along those lines has changed at all.”
Valesente said that despite Callaghan’s already decorated career across two different programs, his work on the diamond is not over quite yet.
“I think he has had a great career here, you know, coming in as a freshman and contributing right away coming from high school,” Valesente said. “Having him back, there is a little bit of unfinished business in his mind. He’s really excited and we’re excited as well.”