NASHUA – If you’re going to play against Derek Finlay in anything – from baseball to football to cards to, heck, maybe a simple game of Monopoly, proceed with caution.
You’ve been warned. The kid literally hates to lose, doesn’t accept it even as a word in the English dictionary.
“I can’t lose in anything,” Finlay said. “People look at it like ‘Oh, he’s a jerk’. But I can’t help it. A game of Uno, I compete. You gotta win. Gotta win in
And he’s walked away from the table.
Those who have played with him or coached him over the years already know that. Last November Nashua High School football coach Chad Zibolis had to worry about Finlay as much as Bedford’s defense in an emotionally crushing 7-0 playoff loss.
Finlay had hurt his knee in the first half and things hitting crunch time for the Titans. Finlay had gone in once, but then aggravated the injury, and tried to go back in again when the Titans were inside the 5 yard line threatening to score. But the coaching staff had to do keep him off the field.
“That kid will do anything to win a football game,” Zibolis said right after the game. “We had to take his helmet away.”
“They said I couldn’t go in,” Finlay said. “We were on the 2. I think I just popped my knee, and it was fine after, and I would have been fine. But then I went back in (early second half) and that was when the LCL went out.”
And it burns in Finlay’s mind ever since,especially after Bedford went on to win the Division I title he craved for himself and his teammates.
“It’s been really hard getting over the football season,” said Finlay, who will likely be starting at shortstop for Nashua’s James E. Coffey Post when the New Hampshire American Legion Senior Tournament begins next Friday at Holman Stadium. “Last night at 2 a.m. I found myself watching the North-BG game. I think football will always be there, but you can’t beat a good day of baseball.”
Finlay who also played basketball for the Titans until a shoulder surgery kept him off the court this past winter, had to choose something. Baseball got the nod, and as a result he’ll be playing that sport this upcoming school year at the University of Albany.
But first, there’s that elusive championship he’ll be trying for.
“He’s been a five year guy for us, in the program since he was in eighth grade,” Coffey Post manager Tim Lunn said. “He knows what we’re about and has been a big part of kind of helping the program get to where it is.”
Finlay has always enjoyed Legion ball, as it gives him a different perspective on the game.
“It’s always good to play with the guys you’ve been going against the whole year,” Finlay said.
“Those are your rivals – BG, South kids. It’s really fun playing with your rivals.”
Finlay was a varsity regular in baseball for the Titans as a sophomore, often leading off and playing center field. But in the fall of his junior year, he blossomed as an all-around athlete when he won the Titans starting QB job, succeeding the graduated generational player Curtis Harris-Lopez at the position.
“It’s a big spot,” Finlay said. “Obviously, you’re the guy on the offense, you have to take care of everything, everything is really on you. You have to look out for your offensive line, look out for your slot guys, you have to look out for everyone.
“It kind of makes you a lot more mature and gives you a good connection with your coaches.”
But he was a two-year starter, dangerous runner and his passing game developed as North had other playmakers who could catch it and turn receptions into yards and points.
He was a role player in basketball, and he said that it was “debatably my favorite sport because I don’t take it that seriously, I just go out there and play defense, have a good time.”
But again, frustration. Finlay wasn’t able to play, but would be on the bench with the team all season, a team that had title aspirations but was dealt a harsh blow of losing arguably its best player, Trevor Labrecque to a torn ACL.
“We had a very good team this year. It was tough, we had a great group of guys. We had a good year my junior year (lost in semis), but this was going to be year we were going to compete (for a title).
“Same thing happened in football. I went out, and we lost, and Trevor goes down. We had Jayden (point guard Montgomery), but that dual threat was something nobody could stop.”
Finlay indeed has found out the hard way that injuries are part of sports.
“You’ve just got to think short term,” he said. “You can’t think all the way in the future. You have to think one step at a time. At the beginning, I couldn’t even walk with my knee. Then it’s ‘I’m excited to walk again.’ Then I’m excited to jog. I’m excited to walk up stairs. Just small steps is where you’ve got to get to.”
There was another step Finlay had to take – shoulder surgery. It was an annoying injury that occurred when he dove back into first base his junior season, and it popped out seven times during his senior football season and surgery was recommended. That more than the knee kept him out of basketball and he had miss the early part of this past baseball season, getting back on the field to throw but he couldn’t hit for most of April so he was DH’d for.
“It’s awesome to have Derek in any capacity that we get him,” North baseball coach Zach Harris said at the time. “Obviously, he’s one of the top guys in the state. We needed him.”
Thus the summer is an extension of his senior year, in a way. “I mean, I played the field the whole year, but what’s baseball if you can’t hit?” he said.
His real first game back in full swing? The Battle of Bridge, in which he went 2 for 3 with a triple, double, sac bunt and five RBIs in an 8-2 win over arch rival Nashua South.
“Coming back in that game and doing what I did was awesome,” Finlay said.
Finlay started playing baseball when he was very young, but took a break when he was around 11 or 12 because he wanted to try lacrosse.
“(Baseball) was too slow for me,” he said. “I was young, had a lot of energy. So I started playing lacrosse. But then I got back into baseball.”
But then the day before the local Cal Ripken season began, one of his friend’s fathers suggested he should try baseball again. He went to a game the next day, fell in love with it again, and stuck with it the rest of the spring and summer.
And now it’s paved the way for college. He chose Ualbany, he says, because of the coaching of Great Danes head coach Jon Mueller and his staff.
“The day I went there and met the coaches, they were great guys,” he said. “So I felt that what I want to do the next four years, I want to do with those guys.”
He liked the campus, and the fact that it’s a Division I, big school.
“That’s what I was looking for,” Finlay said. “Big school, lot of people, 17,000 kids. Good campus, good coaching staff, lot of people.”
Finlay switched to shortstop from center field after Lunn moved him to that spot one summer. And that’s where he’s been since. “It’s like being a quarterback,” he said.
Finlay says he hopes UAlbany will place him with the Nashua Silver Knights next summer, but that’s a year ago. Even further down the road, he would love to play baseball beyond college, but, as he says, “You’ve got to always have a backup plan.”
“Real estate,” he said. “I (sell) shoes now, but I want to go to the next level and sell houses instead.”
Whatever Finlay is selling on the baseball field, you can figure his teammates and coaches are buying. And heaven help anyone around him if he loses a sale to a competitor.