Sean Furney started his collegiate baseball career at the University of Rhode Island, but just a few months in, he couldn’t be sure it would end there.
The former Pilgrim standout participated in fall practice with the Rams in 2009. When practice ended, he met with head coach Jim Foster. The plan was for Furney to redshirt the 2010 season, play summer ball and focus on improving.
Furney came up with another plan. There was some risk. It wasn’t a straight shot. It was a detour.
It took him to a destination he could only dream of.
Furney left URI and pitched two seasons at CCRI. He then returned to the Rams, delivered two strong seasons and capped them off by winning Atlantic 10 Conference Pitcher of the Year honors this spring. The right-hander is also in line to get selected in this week’s Major League Baseball Draft.
It’s been quite a journey.
“Some guys are late bloomers, and I think that’s what I was,” Furney said. “The whole time, I knew I could do it. Basically, I just had to work until I got the opportunity.”
It sounds simple, but it would have been easy for doubt to creep in. It would have been easy to wonder if he belonged.
Furney had a strong career at Pilgrim and was eager to take the next step with the Rams. The redshirt plan was tough to hear. It meant – sugarcoating aside – that he wasn’t ready.
Instead of pouting, Furney embraced it and did everything he could to be ready. He thought about taking the redshirt but felt the one thing he needed more than anything else was as much work on the mound as possible.
“I needed innings,” Furney said.
He approached CCRI head coach Ken Hopkins and knew he’d get those innings with the Knights. Foster was okay with the plan, too, but there were still no guarantees. A scholarship package and a spot on a Division I baseball team are not easy things to walk away from.
But Furney believed in the plan.
“I really felt like it was just a matter of innings and experience,” he said.
Mix in a late growth spurt, and it turned out to be the perfect plan. Furney excelled in two seasons at CCRI.
“I got the innings and I think I grew a lot as a pitcher,” he said. “Maturity-wise, it was a big two years. It helped that I grew an inch and a half.”
When Furney’s time at CCRI was done, Foster was waiting with an offer.
“They actually gave me a better package to come back,” Furney said. “I had some other schools I was looking at, but I felt like URI was the school that needed me as much as I needed them.”
Finally in a Rams uniform, Furney seized the day. After struggling in a few relief appearances last season, he moved into the weekend rotation and emerged as a solid performer, finishing the year with a 3.33 ERA.
He wanted more. In the off-season, he set a goal – win the A-10 Pitcher of the Year award.
“It was a reach goal for me, but I tried to push myself to it,” Furney said.
He did it.
Furney went 7-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 98 innings pitched this season. When the Rams were in an airport on the way to the Atlantic 10 Tournament in North Carolina, they got the news.
“It took me by surprise,” Furney said. “It was a goal I had. I was happy.”
Furney was more worried about the team’s goal of making the NCAA Tournament. The Rams fell short of that, falling in the conference tournament. Still, the team finished with the second-most wins in program history.
“We heard from some of the fans of other schools at the tournament that they were relieved when we got knocked out,” Furney said. “Just to know that we got that much respect was cool.”
Furney is on track to graduate, with three classes to finish this summer. He’ll have a degree in communications and a minor in business.
But he may not be done with baseball yet.
Furney has been in contact with a number of Major League teams and is hearing that he’s likely to get drafted anywhere from the 25th to the 40th round.
“I’m just hoping to get an opportunity,” Furney said.
And whichever route he takes – even if there’s a detour or two – Furney will be out to prove he belongs.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.