EDITOR’S NOTE: Brennen Oxford of Oyster River, N.H., pitched his fourth consecutive no-hitter on Thursday. According to the National Federation record book, only five pitchers have thrown more — two pitchers have thrown six and five have thrown five. Among the men to have thrown six is Tom Engle, who did it in 1989 for Fairfield Union in Lancaster (Ohio). Engle was part of the ESPN broadcast team in 2009 when Patrick Shuster from Mitchell (Tampa) attempted his fifth in a row. Gannett partner Lancaster Eagle Gazette caught up with Engle then about what Shuster was experiencing and his memories of his six no-hitters. Presumably, the pressure on Oxford will only intensify.
No-hitters revive Engle’s feat
Falcons’ grad back in the baseball spotlight
by Joe Arnold, April 28, 2009
RUSHVILLE—When Tom Engle settles in to watch Patrick Schuster pitch today, he will do so as a spectator unlike any other gathered in New Port Richey, Fla.
Schuster, a senior at Mitchell High School outside of Tampa, will try for his fifth straight no-hitter when the Mustangs face Countryside today. Engle is the ESPN producer that will help lead the network’s live coverage of the event.
He’s also a member of the elite club with which Schuster is flirting.
Engle tossed six straight no-hitters as a senior at Fairfield Union in 1989. Now, 20 years after setting what was and still is a co-national record, he’ll watch with incredulity as Schuster pitches under the brightest of lights – those of Engle’s network.
“It was a lot different time back then,” Engle said of his playing days under legendary Falcons coach John Nelson.
“This kid has been getting bombarded not only by us, but by the locals. I was kind of under the radar. I came from a small town in Central Ohio. The media exposure is nothing like it is now. It’s tougher for this kid. I couldn’t imagine pitching under these circumstances.”
Engle was the New York Mets’ second selection in the 1989 free agent draft. Before reporting to the team’s farm club in Kingsport, Tenn., Engle led Fairfield Union to its fourth regional championship appearance in four years.
Nelson, whose 687 career wins rank him sixth among Ohio coaches, remembered Engle as a winner with an adequate fastball but devastating knuckle-curve.
“He showed me that pitch when he was a freshman, and my jaw dropped,” Nelson said. “(The pitch) dropped right off the table.”
Engle used the unique pitch to strike out an average of 15 batters per game in 1989, Nelson said. During his stretch of six no-hitters, which came against teams such as Amanda-Clearcreek, Bloom-Carroll and Canal Winchester, Engle simply was masterful.
“They couldn’t handle that knuckle-curve,” Nelson said. “He struck out a lot of batters with balls in the dirt. I don’t think you can get much more dominant than he was.”
Fairfield Union, three years removed from a state championship appearance during Engle’s freshman season, was ranked No. 1 the entire season, and Engle allowed fewer than 10 hits in more than 70 innings in 1989.
But any pressure Engle felt came not from the streak of no-hitters; rather it was the firing line of 15 to 20 radar guns and the attached scouts that followed the Falcons nearly every game.
“I was a pig farmer growing up, and now people were watching me play baseball,” he said. “That was intimidating. That was the biggest pressure point for me. That’s why (Schuster) has got to be on edge.”
Two Tommy John surgeries ended Engle’s baseball career in 1995, and he returned to Ohio State to earn a degree in broadcast journalism. Upon graduation, he was hired at ESPN as a production assistant. He’s worked at Bristol for the past nine years and has since been promoted to producer.
Engle produces the network’s College Football Live and has worked on College GameDay. He’s been to the past nine U.S. Opens and eight of the past nine Masters.
“If I can’t play sports, at least I get to cover them,” he said.
Nelson and Engle both agree the record of six straight no-hitters likely is safe. The attention and media crush associated with consecutive no-hitters can be stifling. But Engle, nonetheless, has given thought to the idea of his record being topped.
“People have asked me about him breaking the record,” he said. “If he throws seven, I’ll tip my hat, shake his hand and congratulate him. It would be a great accomplishment.”