Michigan baseball is 27 outs away from making history. The Wolverines lead No. 2 Vanderbilt by a game in the Championship series of the College World Series in Omaha after a 7-4 victory Monday night. It would be the first national championship for the program since 1962, as well as the first team from the Big Ten to win since 1966.
With over a half-century of weight on their shoulders, Michigan catcher Joe Donovan has a different weight on his heart. His brother Charlie would have been a senior on this year’s team, but the former Gatorade Player of the Year died in 2015 due to complications from mononucleosis (per Tony Paul of the Detroit News).
Charlie was a talent on the diamond, playing shortstop well enough to be drafted in the 30th round of the MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He instead chose to commit to play for Michigan. As Steve Kornacki of MGoBlue writes:
He could run like a deer, throw a baseball 96 mph, catch everything in his wide range at shortstop, and hit for power as well as average.
Donovan was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois at Westmont High, in the west Chicago suburbs, and was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. He had a 4.36 grade-point average and volunteered in homeless shelters and youth sports programs, too.
According to USA Today Sports, Charlie hit .484 as a senior with seven homers, 33 RBI, 64 runs and 42 stolen bases.
Joe Donovan Thinks About Charlie “Multiple Times a Day”
Charlie was born Dec. 12, 1996, to Jim and Karen Donovan, three years before younger brother Joe. They grew up in Clarendon Hills (Ill.), which sits an hour west of Chicago. Joe describes his relationship with his brother as “almost like a twin” per the Detroit News.
“We spent so much time together, whether it was playing Wiffle Ball in the front yard, or basketball in the driveway, Frisbee, golf,” Joe said. “We had an understanding of each other. I describe to some people, it was almost like a twin. I didn’t have to hear him say anything. I could see it, sense what he was going through.
“I could look at him, give him a half-smirk, and he’d know exactly what I was thinking.”
After Michigan ousted top-overall seed UCLA in the Super Regional, Joe admitted that he was talking to Charlie at various points during the series.
“You know, obviously, I’ll think about him multiple, multiple times a day, just when I’m at school, or at home, just doing anything, but especially more in the baseball sense,” Joe said. “Sometimes when I’m working on my swing, I’ll think about stuff we would talk about, approaches we had. … Or here, in the tournament, as it’s been going on, it’s been a lot of, ‘Hey, Charlie, can you let the wind blow out a little more, help me catch one on the barrel, Charlie. In that second UCLA game (a 12-inning, 5-4 loss), I remember asking him, ‘Please help us out, please let us win this.”
Michigan head coach Erik Bakich, though Charlie never hit the field for the Wolverines, included him during Senior Day at Ray Fisher Stadium.
“I felt like Charlie’s been here the whole time,” Bakich said to Kornacki. “During Ako’s freshman year, on his dorm room, the door always read: ‘Ako Thomas, Charlie Donovan.’ Ako had that walk-off hit against Michigan State (as a freshman) and we felt Charlie was with him. It’s always felt like Charlie’s had these moments when he’s been here and showed himself. The first two years, a lot of times it was through Ako, and the last two years it’s been through Joe.
“So, it was only right he was part of senior day as well.”
His impact isn’t just felt on this Michigan program or the Donovans, but for the Chicago baseball community. The Charlie Donovan Memorial “Passion for the Game” Award is offered by the Chicago Scouts Association to a player who demonstrates “passion for their craft within the game or business of baseball.”
Michigan gets their first chance to clinch the national championship Tuesday night at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN. A third game would be played on Wednesday at the same time.