It’s a good question, Bryan Lambert admits: Which sport is his favorite, baseball or basketball?
Lambert played both at Edward Little High School and then went on to play both at Brandeis University. On Saturday, he will be inducted into the Brandeis athletics hall of fame.
Lambert usually returns to the Brandeis campus in Waltham, Massachusetts, for homecoming, which coincides with the hall of fame ceremony. He has seen basketball and baseball players who played around the same time as him be inducted into the hall of fame. He thought there was a chance that he might one day earn the same honor.
“It’s one of those things that, I can’t lie, I certainly had thought about from time to time,” Lambert said recently. “It’s something I had on my mind as a possibility.”
That keen foresight didn’t fully prepare him for the day it actually happened.
“When I got the call, I was much more excited about it than I thought I was going to be,” he said.
A news release announcing Lambert joining the hall of fame touted the 2000 EL graduate as one of the “last great two-sport student-athletes at Brandeis.”
He ranks eighth in the basketball program’s history with 1,500 points, and is sixth on the career rebounds list with 775. He received All-University Athletic Association honors each of his four seasons playing hoops for the Judges. He also earned a spot on the UAA Silver Anniversary team.
On the diamond, Lambert is Brandeis’ single-season (12) and career (19) saves leader. His 12 saves as a senior in 2005 were the most in NCAA Division III that season.
Most of his career was spent as a relief pitcher, but four games into his senior season, he became a slugging first baseman as well.
“Without any notice, Coach (Pete) Varney said, ‘Lambert, I think you should take BP with the hitters,’” Lambert said. “I just said, ‘OK.’
“Twenty minutes later, when he posted the lineup, I was batting eighth and playing first base.”
Lambert hadn’t swung a bat or played the field since he was a freshman. He got a hit in his first game. However, of his two new roles, Lambert said hitting was a more difficult adjustment than playing in the field.
“Seeing live pitching is a unique thing,” he said. “There were a lot of strikeouts, a lot of weak liners back to the pitcher.”
But, he adds, “I started to get in a groove at the end of the season.”
Lambert ended up leading the Judges in home runs with seven and batted, he said, .315. He also maintained the job of being the team’s closer. He’d play first base and then move to the mound when needed.
At Brandeis, Lambert was part of a baseball program that was a powerhouse under Varney — a former Major Leaguer who is also well-know for catching the tying two-point conversion for the Harvard football team in the closing seconds of the legendary 29-29 tie with Yale in 1968.
The basketball program, not so much. But Lambert left it better than he found it. His senior season, 2004-05, the Judges went 14-11, their first winning season in a decade. The program proceeded to reel off 10 straight winning campaigns, and in 2008 and 2010 made the Division III Elite Eight.
”You could see the light at the end of the tunnel my junior year,” Lambert said. “That was a highlight, just being there to see the beginning of that.”
OK, so which sport does Lambert like more? First, it’s important to know what happened next.
After graduating from Brandeis — he majored in American Studies and Philosophy — Lambert played three years of professional baseball in the Washington Nationals’ organization.
“I grew to love basketball more than anything, and I don’t’ know why,” Lambert said. “I think the three years of pro ball burned me out a little bit, seeing business side of it.
“When I came back to Boston, all I did was play basketball, year-round until last year when my ankle gave out on me.
“I want to say the last time I threw a baseball was 2009.”
That doesn’t mean Lambert didn’t enjoy playing professional baseball.
“It was great,” he said. “I don’t look at it now with anything but fond memories.
“I got to travel around the country. I got to meet a lot of great people; I still have friends playing in the Major Leagues. Not many people get to see sports for the business that it is, beyond just the love of playing the game. Which isn’t a judgment on it, it’s just an observation.”
Lambert had offers to play professional basketball in Portugal and Spain, but he turned them down to sign with the Nationals.
“I said, ‘I can stay here and have chance to play in highest league in the world,’” Lambert said.
He said the organization gave him an opportunity to prove himself in his second season while at Class-A Savannah, when he was switched from closer to starter.
“At the end of the day, I just didn’t perform at the level I needed to when my opportunity arose,” he said.
He advanced up to Advanced-A Patomac the following season. During spring training, he sprained his MCL. The injury healed and he was back in action within five weeks, but Lambert said his arm probably wasn’t ready, and his performance suffered. When the Nationals were looking for space for their newest draftees, Lambert was one of the casualties.
“I got fired,” he said with a laugh. “The only job I’ve ever been fired from.”
Ultimately, though, it was Lambert’s decision to end his professional baseball career.
“I had an opportunity to kick around or sign (somewhere else),” he said. “But I really felt at that time that it was time to move on.”
He returned to Boston. That fall, 2007, he met a senior partner at Jim Mooradian and Associates, an insurance brokerage firm, and started working there right away. He’s still there nine years later, except now he is a partner at the firm.
Lambert’s parents, Bryan and Stephanie, moved away in 2012, but his grandfather, Ted Lambert, is still in Auburn, and the younger Bryan Lambert returns to visit his grandpa and often takes in an Edward Little game.
“I don’t get back enough,” he said.
“I loved growing up in Auburn. It was such a great place and very influential on how I was even able to have a chance to play college sports, play professionally.”
He then lists names of coaches he had going back to Little League baseball — his team was a few games away from the Little League World Series — and football.
“Just a lot of great people that were really invested,” he said.
Lambert’s high school sports career concluded with the Red Eddies’ basketball team going undefeated.
Then it came time to choose a college. He had to decide not only where he wanted to go, but which sport or sports to play. There were Division I schools that wanted him for baseball.
His dad gave him some important advice.
“He said, ‘Make a list, do you want to play one sport? Do you want to be close to home or travel? Use your athletics to get into an academic school that you wouldn’t otherwise get into,’” Lambert said.
“Brandeis became the ultimate decision based on coaches.”
It worked out, not only athletically, but also personally. He met his future wife, Joanna, at Brandeis. They have two kids, Hannah (3) and Teddy (1).
The 35-year-old admits that when he returns to Brandeis, it “feels like a completely different lifetime.”
This weekend, he will celebrate that previous lifetime, and he’s looking forward to it.
“My grandfather will be able to be there and share it with me,” Lambert said. “He was such an important part of my athletic career.
“Other than that, maybe I’m getting old; you don’t have much to look back on but your memories.”