There are catchers from North Dakota, pitchers from North Carolina, outfielders from the state of Texas and infielders from Texas State University. This summer, the East End will welcome the rich and famous to town like it always does; joining them though are more than 100 baseball players who dream of pitching or hitting in the majors. Beginning in the first week of June, they’ll go toe to toe in the second season of Hamptons Collegiate Baseball (HCB).
Modeled after the Cape Cod Baseball League, which for more than 100 years has ushered the NCAA’s best to draft day and ultimately the major leagues, HCB is a vehicle for the big league bound. The idea is simple: Recruit top-level talent from coast to coast, bring them together to play ball, showcase their abilities to Major League Baseball scouts and also to the fans, who can pull up a lawn chair or blanket and catch it all-ballgame, mascots, dizzy bat races, the works-at no cost at all.
The free entertainment aspect was part of the plan from the start, which was September 2007 when Hamptons Collegiate Baseball President Rusty Leaver placed phone calls to gauge the interest among nearby baseball folks. The country’s economic downturn just happened to follow and further amplify the excellence of the whole concept.
“It’s a return to a kinder, gentler, small-town atmosphere,” Leaver said. “It reinforces the kind of values that sometimes get lost in a society that’s based on everything at a price. What we’re putting forth will attract grandfathers and grandchildren, uncles and aunts, and brothers and sisters. It’s a true family happening.”
Their first season really put the project in motion. The flagship team, the Hampton Whalers, won their division and lost in the title game. Phil Klein of Youngstown State threw the first perfect game ever in the ACBL’s 42 years. Jerry Seinfeld threw out the first pitch in the franchise’s maiden foray to the postseason and dropped in days later to see them win the division title. Howard Stern showed his support too. Beyond the celebrities backing the project are thousands in the communities hosting the teams-Sag Harbor, Southampton, Westhampton Beach, Riverhead and the North Fork.
“If we do this the right way, it will be a home run for East End as well as Long Island baseball,” Leaver said. “The people on our advisory board care deeply about Long Island baseball and hope to inspire programs from Little League on up.”
With more teams comes more of everything else-more players, fields, front office members, host families, food, drink. Many thousand dollars have been dedicated to renovating fields on both forks, including a brand new venue built at Stony Brook Southampton. The only thing they seem to have less of is time. Leaver and his wife, Diane, have committed at least double the time to baseball as their everyday jobs-owners and operators of Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk. It’s worth every second. The baseball project is getting through its infant stages, and this summer he expects that Hamptons Collegiate Baseball will stand and it will deliver.
“We’re hoping that gradually we become part of the fabric of these communities. We want to inspire the youth of the communities and also provide a stage for some of top collegiate talent in the country to be seen by Major League scouts,” Leaver said. “Those are the goals that we’re setting and I think that we can do it.”