James Bailin remembers the feeling well. The 6-foot, 195-pound, hard-throwing lefty was closing in on a Long Island-record fourth no-hitter during Division’s magical 1996 season.
He said the pressure grew as the innings wore on – “because it just does, it’s normal, it’s exciting for everyone.” The thoughts, the doubts, the possibilities that crept into his head were just an obstruction to what was most important: throw strikes, let the defense play and get the win.
“If I was to give any pitcher advice, it would be to be so mentally tough and block out all the distractions,” Bailin said. “Go out and pound the zone and understand that after you let the pitch go, it’s all completely out of your control — unless the batter hits the ball back to the mound.”
Bailin was a major contributor in the Blue Dragons’ run to the state Class B championship. The run included the 500th win for Hall of Fame coach Doug Robins and a 29-0 record. The season was highlighted by Bailin’s fourth no-hitter, a 13-0 win over Floral Park, on May 7. He struck out 16 and walked none in that performance.
“I thought to myself, don’t change a thing,” said Bailin, who now serves as the pitching coach at Chaminade High School. “The worst thing you can do in those situations is overthink the moment. The best thing you can do is keep a level head and pitch your game.”
After Shoreham-Wading River junior Aidan Crowley put his third straight complete-game no-hitter in the books Tuesday with a 6-0 win over Hauppauge, it was hard not to immediately think about Bailin, one of Long Island’s all-time greats, who played college ball at Maine and Adelphi.
Bailin, who lives with his family in Plainedge and has been an elementary school physical education teacher in the Great Neck District for 16 years, put together a season for the ages in 1996. He had an 11-0 record with 72 innings pitched, allowed only 30 hits and struck out 122 batters. And like Crowley, he was a junior.
For his senior encore season, Bailin had an 11-1 record with 90 innings pitched and 109 strikeouts. The Blue Dragons’ fantastic run ended in a 4-3 loss to Deer Park in the Long Island Class B title game. Bailin did not throw a no-hitter in his senior year but was so dominant, he earned the Diamond Award as Nassau’s best player for the second year in a row.
“Winning the county, Long Island and the state championships were the goals,” Bailin said. “It’s so hard to throw a no-hitter because everything has to go your way, and a lot of things can spoil it. I was just trying to get guys out. And usually, you’re trying to get good players out three times and that gives them a chance to figure it out.”
Bailin’s three straight no-hitters spanned 18 innings in 1996. His record fourth no-hit gem may have been his best.
His first no-hitter was an 8-0 win over Great Neck North in a game called after five innings because of darkness on April 1. He struck out 11 of the 17 batters he faced. His second no-no came in a 15-0 win over New Hyde Park in which he fanned 12 and walked four in six innings on April 11. Six days later, he no-hit Glen Cove, 10-0, with 14 strikeouts and two walks over seven innings.
“It was a total team effort, and no one should ever forget that,” Bailin said. “I never really thought about them in those moments because all I cared about is that we won.”
Bailin narrowly missed a fifth no-hitter against Westbury that year. He carried a no-hit bid into the seventh, when leadoff man Warren Johnson singled.
“It was a seeing-eye single to rightfield,” Bailin laughed. “I was so mad, I picked him off before I threw the next pitch.”
Crowley, who has thrown a Long Island-record 25 straight no-hit innings, pitches again Tuesday against Miller Place. Bailin, who had 21 straight no-hit innings, had some advice for Crowley.
“Keep a level head and go out and pitch your game,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is think about what’s already happened. Naturally, he’s going to feel that, anyway. It’s hard to throw a no-no once. Two times is unreal, but three times in a row, wow.”
Now Crowley bares down on a fourth — in a row.