The first thing you notice about John Cain, Manhattan College’s towering lefthander, is that he might be wearing the wrong uniform.
Checking in at 6-foot-10 and weighing 235 pounds, your first impression is more of power forward than power pitcher.
“I did play basketball in senior year in high school,” said Cain, a graduate student who is pursuing his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Manhattan. “But I haven’t played since.”
Basketball’s loss has been a big gain for the Jaspers baseball program as Cain is off to a sizzling start to his abbreviated Manhattan career. So far this season, the intimidating Cain has posted a 2-0 record with a 2.59 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched, while holding opponents to a meager .236 batting average.
The other thing you might need to know about Cain is that he is the son of Tim Cain, a star basketball player for Manhattan in the 1980s who also is a member of the school’s sports hall of fame. Tim Cain’s name adorns a banner in Draddy Gym, the same place John Cain and his Jaspers teammates practice — at least until the weather warms up.
And don’t think the senior Cain didn’t alert junior to that hall of fame banner.
“There was a little bit of talk about it when I first got here,” the younger Cain said, laughing. “But he doesn’t really bring it up that much anymore.”
Cain graduated from Lafayette College last year with a degree in mechanical engineering — the same major his father graduated with from Manhattan in 1985 — and chose Manhattan over other schools because of both its prestigious engineering school, and a promising baseball program.
“To be honest, I only had one year left, and I wanted to go somewhere I could get a master’s in mechanical engineering,and where I knew I could pitch,” Cain said. “I came here and talked to coach (Mike) Cole and (pitching) coach (Chris) Cody, and I love what they’re doing here. I really like their philosophy on pitching, and I knew Coach Cody could help me improve, especially coming back from Tommy John surgery. I had it right before my junior year and I missed my junior year at Lafayette. It took about 18 months to come back.”
It was that year lost to the surgery that enabled Cain to play a final season with the Jaspers. And yes, dad did a little nudging toward Manhattan when John was paring down his list of schools.
“At first, when I started looking at schools, I chose on my own,” Cain said. “But once it came down to the final two or three schools, he started to push a little bit. I don’t think he’d admit it, but he did.”
Now that he’s a Jasper, Cain looks for the kind of memorable season that eluded him in his three years playing at Lafayette.
“We had a rough couple of years,” Cain said.
The Leopards reached the Patriot League playoffs in his freshman season, but it was all down hill from there as Lafayette never sniffed the postseason again. Now Cain’s hoping to get a taste of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference postseason with the Jaspers in his final college season.
“It would mean everything to get to the MAAC tournament,” Cain said. “That’s the goal. I definitely like what I see with this team. We have some returning guys that are really good team leaders, and we have a lot of young guys that are really stepping up. We have some guys swinging the bats well, and as the year goes on, our young arms will get more comfortable and be impact players. So I’m really excited to see how this all turns out.”
Cain’s dad has seen John pitch once this season, when the Jaspers were in Florida to face Stetson. Cain tossed seven innings and allowed just two hits and a run while striking out eight to pick up the win, making it well worth the trip for dad.
“Right now it’s my sister’s basketball season, and so my parents are back flying back and forth to Nebraska,” said Cain, whose sister, Kate, is a sophomore at the University of Nebraska. “But now that my baseball season has started, I’m sure he’ll make some more games. They go wherever the kids are playing now.”
While a career in baseball is the goal after college, Cain is just taking things as they come, enjoying a game he wasn’t sure he’d get to continue playing after his surgery.
“Coming back from Tommy John surgery, it makes you realize that with each game you play, you’re lucky to have the opportunity to go out there and pitch,” Cain said. “So I really appreciate each opportunity I have to go out there a lot more.”