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Welenc UM baseball Hall-of-Famer

Doug Welenc found his curve throwing a golf-sized Wiffle ball past the Siano brothers behind Dillon’s Chevrolet. “Fort Square, baby. The Sianos were my big brothers, them and my older brothers Mike and Dave. All we did was play sports.”

He was Greenfield born and bred and made all the stops from pitching for Bill Winseck’s UE 274 team at Lunt Field to beating Worcester South in the first round of the 1976 state high school playoffs. “He did what you asked,” said Greenfield High School coach Tom Suchanek. “He had good size and good location and he listened. He learned. He was a smart kid.”

His mound exploits caught the attention of Houston scout Stan Benjamin, who was a fixture on the local sports scene. The Astros took him with the first pick of the 24th round, 548 picks behind the top pick, Arizona State left-hander Floyd Bannister.

Knowing pro ball was still years away, Welenc chose to pitch for Dick Bergquist at UMass. Bergquist coached the Minutemen 21 seasons and was himself a 1999 Hall of Fame inductee. “I had offers from other schools, but Dick Bergquist and Tom Suchanek had similar coaching styles and that made the transition a lot easier. Neither was a yeller or a screamer, they were mentors. Bergquist gave me the confidence to be a college pitcher.”

Benjamin jokingly groused to Bergquist that he’d not only cost him a draft signing but was robbing him of expense money. “You got all the good players. I have to jack my car up for mileage.”

Lorden Field was like a favorite fishing hole for Benjamin, and he was such an ubiquitous presence that when an umpire was late arriving for a game, Bergquist turned to the stands and put him behind first base. “For nothing,” Bergquist remembers Benjamin squawking. “All you ever gave me was a piece of gum.”

Welenc was a mainstay of Bergquist’s starting rotation his sophomore and junior seasons, a reliable, rubber-armed 6-foot-2 right-hander who could drop a soft curve into the strike zone. “Sophomore, junior year, I was lights out. Beating Maine was always memorable. That was always a big thrill (the Black Bears were the team to beat in those years). I think I beat Boston College 1-0. ... Beating the Boston teams was always good, the Harvards, the Northeasterns ...”

While helping UMass win back-to-back conference titles, he set school records for wins, strikeouts and innings pitched. He remains the school’s all-time complete-games leader with 24. “He was named all-everything,” said Bergquist. “Together with Mike Flanagan and Gary DiSarcina, he was one of my top three all-time players. My greatest regret was I didn’t hit him his freshman year. He hit .365 his sophomore year and he was a good first baseman.”

The Astros called again after his junior year, this time in the third round and 320nd overall. “I was a little disappointed I wasn’t taken higher but the signing bonus was enough for a new car,” said Welenc, who suggested I research the 1980 list price for Toyota Corollas. I did and came up with a signing bonus figure of about $5,000.

“Rookie ball was in Sarasota. My roommate was Larry Brown; he’d been the Harvard quarterback. We had a place off Siesta Key, so that didn’t suck. The next year, I had a place across from the ocean in Daytona Beach.”

After a season of Single-A ball in Florence, South Carolina, he spent the next two years pitching Double-AA ball in Midland, Texas. “West Texas oil country,” he said. “It was football, flatlands, dry, very hot ... a very cosmopolitan city, though, even more so now.”

In the summer of 1982, he married high school sweetheart Susan Rice and they honeymooned in beautiful downtown Tulsa. Today they have three children, Brianna, Elizabeth and Douglas.

“I played with Joe Carter in Midland,” referring to the Toronto slugger whose three-run homer ended the 1993 World Series. “He was our next-door neighbor. One night in Amarillo, it’s hot and humid and the bugs were like dragonflies. Joe was a real church-going Christian, but he’s in the outfield and he’s got both hands up, waving his cap with one hand and glove with the other. He comes running in after the first inning and he was swearing, F-this and F-that and I’m not going back out there!”

Welenc was 13-10 his first year with Midland and had a 4.60 earned run average in the hitter-friendly Texas League. The following year he was 3-8 with a 6.39 ERA and knew it was time to hang ’em up. “Playing pro ball was a great part of my life. It was awesome, and anyone tells you they don’t miss it is full of beans. But when you’re having a mediocre year in Double-A, and you’re 26 competing with 19-year-olds ... It’s a hard decision.”

He’d pitched 529 innings in five seasons and was 39-26 with a 4.31 ERA. He returned to Greenfield, re-enrolled in school and became a certified public accountant.

This summer he opened a letter from UMass athletic director John McCutcheon telling him he was one of 200 candidates being considered for induction into this year’s hall of fame.

In October, on the day of the first game of the World Series, he got a call from Dick Bresciani of the Hall of Fame selection committee, telling him he was one of the six new inductees. The group will be honored in the Mullins Center at halftime of the UMass-Fordham game on Jan. 26. “I was surprised. I contribute to the scholarship fund, but let’s put it this way: I did not buy my way into this Hall of Fame.”

No indeed. He has his name in the UMass record book, and the coach to back him up. “He pitched so many great games,” said Bergquist. “He was a delight, a super person and a great teammate.”

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