Quitting would have been the easy thing to do.
Few would have blamed righthander Sean Furney if he had given up on baseball when he didn’t make Rhode Island’s team as a freshman. He wasn’t a highly-touted prospect out of Pilgrim High in Warwick, R.I., and people would have understood if he wanted to just focus on school, earn his communications degree and move on. But Furney couldn’t give up on his dream.
“Freshman year, I came in and I was little nervous I guess you could say in the fall, coming to a Division I program,” he said. “I really hadn’t been out of Rhode Island to play baseball that much. And I kind of got a little nervous and pressured out there, I guess you could say, and I tried to do too much. I was going to redshirt, but I knew I needed progress and needed to make myself better, so I decided to leave and go to CC Rhode Island.”
“He wasn’t ready—physically, mentally, he was not ready,” Rhode Island head coach Jim Foster said. “And he didn’t make the team. It’s that simple. I said, ‘Sean, go do what you’ve got to do and I want you back, but you’re not ready to help the team right now and you’ve got to grow up and get your stuff together.’ He did it, to his credit. A lot of kids would have quit. That’s why I love him so much. He’s even keeled, he knows when he messes up, he owns up to it and just tries to get better. He’s a really good kid and I’m proud of how far he’s come.”
Furney spent two years with the Knights and helped the team to back-to-back regional appearances as an all-region pitcher in 2011. Best of all, he improved enough to return to Rhode Island. There was never any hard feelings about his detour from pitching at the Division I level.
“I think at CCRI, I was able to get a lot of innings and a lot of innings and a lot of experience because I was a starter right away, right when I got there,” Furney said. “I got to play in Laconia and got to face high talent in the NECBL and basically Coach (Foster) told me he’d give me an opportunity, he’d leave some scholarship money for me and if I wanted to come back, I could come. And I knew I had a lot of friends here, I knew a lot of the older guys here from my freshman year. So, I really liked the place and I knew that this program was on its way up and I just wanted to be a part of it again.”
Even after two dominant years at CCRI and a strong summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, Furney needed a little bit of a boost as he pitched in Division I for the first time, last year as a junior. He started off in the bullpen, but eventually made his way into the Rams’ weekend rotation.
“Coming out of the bullpen last year, at the beginning of the season, I was a little shaky,” Furney said. “But Coach is a great pitching coach. He caught in the minors for a while and he just knew that I could be something, I just had to go out there and get it. And we fined tuned some things and worked on my mechanics a little bit. He gave me an opportunity to start in conference last year. And once I started building that confidence, I mean it was a whole new ballgame.”
By the end of the year, Furney was the team’s ace and wound up going 5-0, 3.33 with 58 strikeouts and 24 walks over 70 innings. So far this year few, if any, starters in the country have faced tougher competition than Furney. Over the team’s first three weeks, he’s matched up against three ranked opponents in Florida State (ranked No. 20 at the time), Mississippi (8) and Virginia Tech (25). Over his first three starts, he’s 0-1, 3.44 with 15 strikeouts and nine walks over 18 innings.
“This summer he got himself in great shape and he’s on the verge of getting himself a shot,” Foster said. “He’s our Friday guy, there’s a lot of people looking at him, and he’s put himself in a good position to help the team and be one of the better arms up in the Northeast and hopefully get a shot with somebody after college.”
Furney has a workhorse build at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds. His fastball sits in the 86-88 mph range, topping out at 91, but he pitches with a downward angle and the pitch has some sinking action. He has a lot of confidence in his 75-77 12-6 curveball and also mixes in an 80-81 mph changeup with fade. It was easy for Foster to stick with Furney during his juco stint because he has a long history with the pitcher.
“In Rhode Island, you can still hide some kids,” Foster said. “Not many, but a few, and I’m proud of Sean. He played (American) Legion for my dad and I’ve watched him since he was a little kid. To see him playing at the highest level of college baseball makes me real proud because I can see how far he’s come.”
As a senior, Furney hopes to get a chance at pro ball in June. But for now, he’s just trying to soak everything in and enjoy his time with the Rams as the team tries to make a run at the postseason.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Furney said. “To be in the spot I am, to be able to pitch on Fridays against teams like Ole Miss and compete with them, it’s absolutely awesome and I love every minute of it.”