Baseball has been a significant part of Neil Forsythe’s life for his entire life. Forsythe is spending this spring away from the game as he cares for his mother, Cherryl, who is suffering from a long-term illness.
The California High School graduate, who played baseball at Rollins College and then Oklahoma State University, had most recently been the pitching coach for the California High School baseball team.
Forsythe, 45, admits a spring without the sport has left a void. But he wouldn’t be anywhere other than by his mother’s side.
“I enjoyed coaching,” Forsythe said. “We had a five-year run where we won two WPIAL championships and four section titles. It was a lot of fun. “I felt the need to step away this year, to be with my mom and to take care of her. My parents were always there for me.”
His late father, Ron, pitched in the minor leagues and was a member of the California University faculty and the pitching coach for the Vulcans’ baseball team.
He made a huge impact on his son, Neil, who grew to love baseball at an early age. However, Neil Forsythe didn’t focus solely on baseball.
He was a quarterback and safety for the Trojans. While California didn’t find a lot of team success in those seasons, Forsythe impressed enough to catch the fancy of some college football teams.
He received offers to play football at Buffalo, which was initiating a Division I program, and Temple. His pitching prowess also was noticed by coaches from college programs and area professional scouts.
Forsythe, who is 6-5, had to weigh all his options, and also consider the elbow injury he had suffered in football.
“When I was in high school, we didn’t win as many games as I thought we would, whether it be football, basketball or baseball,” Forsythe said. “It was different then; a lot of teams were really good and pretty formidable. My senior year we went 5-5 in football and our baseball team didn’t make the playoffs.
“I had to make a decision between football and baseball.”
Buffalo wanted Forsythe to play defensive end.
He visited West Virginia University and the University of Indiana for baseball. He also weighed offers from Oklahoma State and Florida.
Ultimately, he picked Rollins College to play baseball. The NCAA Division II school, in Winter Park, Florida, provided Forsythe with the opportunity to play against some high-level programs and play under some notable coaches.
“It was a tough decision,” Forsythe said. “At that time, Rollins was playing more than 20 games against Division I competition. The team had two former major leaguers on staff and coming from a small town in the North, I was tired of playing baseball in the snow. I wanted to go South.”
Forsythe had forged his pitching reputation at California and solidified it by making the American Legion team, from the Western part of the state. The game, in Hershey, brought out plenty of scouts.
“Back then, that is where you got seen,” Forsythe said. “The West game was played at Three Rivers Stadium and the state game in Hershey.
“That was before travel ball, and websites. People actually came to games to scout.”
Forsythe was dogged many years with elbow and arm injuries that started in a high school football game during his junior year when he made a tackle and his elbow hit the face of his opponent.
Two chips came off his bone and a doctor confirmed the injury.
Forsythe ended up with one of the chips lodging under his ulnar nerve and the other on the ulnar ligament.
It ultimately led to surgery of his ulnar nerve and Tommy John Surgery.
“My dad told me I had a million-dollar arm and not to play football,” Forsythe said.
At Rollins, Forsythe earned the closer’s role and was part of a team that advanced to an NCAA regional. He took the loss in both games. Rollins played in the regional and after the season, Forsythe had the ulnar nerve surgery.
After rehabbing for more than half a year, Forsythe went back to Rollins and while pitching a simulated game popped his ulnar collateral ligament, which led to the Tommy John Surgery.
“Dr. James Andrew performed the surgery,” he said. “I rehabbed it for 14 months.”
Forsythe missed the season at Rollins, where the team ended up being ranked No. 1 in the country.
“I was sick not to be part of that,” Forsythe said.
When he returned to Rollins, a coaching change had been made and the team had a bad season.
“I came back throwing harder than before,” he said. “But I only pitched about 20 innings.”
Forsythe got the chance to pitch in the prestigious Cape Code summer league and found success there.
He decided to “shop himself around.”
After contacting the coach at Oklahoma State, he ended up in the Cowboys’ starting rotation.
“I didn’t pitch too well at Oklahoma State,” Forsythe lamented.
He was, however, a part of the Cowboys’ team in 1996 that played in the College World Series and Forsythe did get a win and a save in the Big 8 Conference tournament. In fact, his win was the last victory in Big 8 Conference history. The conference became the Big 12 the next season.
He didn’t pitch in the regional or CWS.
“I did get to warm up at the World Series,” he chuckled.
“The talent there (Oklahoma State) was pretty ridiculous.”
Forsythe did make the All-Academic Big 12 Conference team in 1997 then signed to play independent, minor-league baseball.
He played three seasons of independent baseball and enjoyed his final two seasons, going 2-1 with a 2.63 earned run average (ERA) and six saves in combining play for Waterbury and Elmira. The following season, Forsythe went 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA for Elmira.
“I was plagued at Oklahoma State and independent ball with shoulder trouble and then elbow problems again,” he explained.
He tore his labrum and rotator cuff. Forsythe tried to return with the Duluth Dukes but was released in spring training. His baseball days were over. After six surgeries, Forsythe had enough.
“I have exorcised all those demons,” he said. “There have been a lot of, ‘What ifs.’ I was fortunate, after all the high school and legion stuff, I got phone calls from the (Houston) Astros and (Boston) Red Sox before the draft. They asked what it would take to sign me. I was getting an $80,000 scholarship (from ollins). My dad said to ask for $100,000. One scout said, ‘You think you are worth $100,000?’
“Asking for that probably hurt me being drafted. I had put too high of a price tag on myself. But I did have the chance to play against all the best programs in the country and play in the Cape Code league and independent ball. I saw a lot of this country and Canada, and you make friends for a lifetime.”
Forsythe resides in California with his wife, Maria Rossi, and he works for Centerville Clinic as part of a hospital program at Bentworth High School.
Forsythe said he would certainly consider a return to coaching baseball.
“If the right situation came along, I would coach again,” Forsythe said. “But I would want to do it the right way. I would want to start with conditioning and lifting weights in the fall.
“I also think kids need to know they can and should play all the sports they want to play. The thought that a young man in high school has to specialize is bull. You either have physical gifts or you have some and also work really hard.”
John Sacco writes a bi-weekly column for the Observer-Reporter about local sports history.