(This story was first published in the March 15, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By David Miles, Sports Correspondent
Conor Joyce keeps a careful eye on his diet — the Woodstock catcher can suffer flare-ups at any time. It is not uncommon for Joyce to battle one or two spells related to his Crohn’s disease during the year and they can last for a couple of weeks at a time. Crohn’s is a condition that affects the body’s gastrointestinal tract, causing stomach pain and other symptoms — ones strong enough to keep Joyce off the field. Like late last year, when the pain was so bad, he was forced to miss the final three weeks of the baseball season, including the playoffs.
“That one hurt,” Joyce said. “I wanted to be there to help the team, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.”
He’s The ‘Candy Man’
Joyce remembers his birthday in eighth grade ruefully. He had been sick for two months and dropped almost 40 pounds in weight.
“I had a colonoscopy in the morning and they verified that I had Crohn’s,” he said. “Quite a way to celebrate a birthday.”
Joyce’s father also has Crohn’s, but has been in remission for 20 years.
“I’ve experienced it firsthand, seeing how well he has dealt with it. He’s my hero and has been a great role model for me,” he said.
There are certain things Joyce can’t eat, including fruits like blueberries and most raw green vegetables.
“I also really shouldn’t each much candy. That’s a hard one for me because I used to be known as the ‘Candy Man.’ I loved my sweets. But if I lay off them I’m better.”
Still, Joyce has never let his diagnosis derail his athletic career.
“He’s really gone through more than a kid his age should have to,” said baseball coach Jason Tarleton. “It’s impressive how well he has handled it all.”
‘Squeezes Every Last Ounce’
Tarleton is glad to have Joyce healthy to start the season, which the Wasps baseball team has started 8-0. One of the big reasons the team is undefeated is the play of Joyce.
“Conor squeezes every last ounce he has in every game,” said coach Jason Tarleton. “He cares so much and he works so hard.”
Joyce, who stands 5-foot-8 and tips the scales at maybe 135 pounds, does not let his size deter him no matter what position — or sport — he plays. Some high school catchers can be seen shying away from contact. But there was Joyce blocking the plate and applying the tag on back-toback plays against Green Mountain in the Wasps’ narrow 7-6 win earlier this season. Joyce was moved to catcher midway through last season. He had been playing outfield, but Tarleton wanted Dougie Avellino to play shortstop full-time, creating an opening behind the plate. “I guess they liked what they saw because I’m still there,” said Joyce. “It’s so important to have Dougie anchoring our infield at short.” Joyce had been a backstop in middle school and junior varsity play. “But I still felt shaky out there at first. Now I’ve grown to love it again,” he said. “You’re so involved with the entire game.” As far as pitching goes, Joyce was on the mound just a little bit last season, but he is one of Tarleton’s three key pitchers in 2013. In his latest effort at the front end of the battery, he threw a very efficient 69 pitches in a complete game 14-4 win at Green Mountain. In the Green Mountain victory, it was Avellino at shortstop and Zach Cole at third base gobbling up everything hit their way, with the Chieftain hitters often kept offbalance by Joyce’s delivery. “I just try to throw strikes and put the ball in play,” said Joyce. “I know I’ve got great support behind me.”
‘One Of The Hardest Working Players I Ever Coached’
Tarleton is not the only WUHS coach who has seen Joyce at his physical worst and his personal best. Joyce centered the second line for the Wasp hockey team again this season.
“It was my privilege to be Conor’s coach for his high school career,” said hockey coach Charlie Hancock. “He was at practice no matter how he felt. He was going through a chemo type treatment every six weeks or so and I could tell it was making him weak. I told him to take a day or so off to recover, but he always passed on the offer.
Catcher Conor Joyce gets the out at home plate in Woodstock win over Green Mountain on April 29. Rick Russell Photo
“He is one tough young man and I was proud of the way he conducted himself in whatever he did. He matured to be an assistant captain and was one of the hardest working players I ever coached.”
Joyce concluded his hockey career as the fourth leading scorer on the WUHS team his senior season. He tallied eight goals and 12 assists in 2013-2014 as Hancock’s squad moved to the upper echelon of Division II.
Joyce had two goals and two assists in the first big win of the season, a 5-1 defeat of defending state champion U-32. And as the season came to an end in a playoff loss to Northfield, there was Joyce again, assisting on the first Woodstock goal.
‘Not Let Anything Slow Me Down’
How far the baseball team advances this season remains to be seen.
“We’ve got great team chemistry this year,” said Joyce. “Our seniors have all been together since Little League and we’re working together really well.”
They’ve also got Joyce holding important positions on the diamond. He has three wins and one save on the mound. He’s throwing out runners and blocking the plate. And he’s hitting — it was his sixth inning single that broke up Leland & Gray’s Josh Donne’s no-hitter two weeks ago and keyed Woodstock’s game-winning rally.
“My mentality is to stay positive, to not let anything slow me down,” said Joyce.