When the college school year ends, most students return home to kick up their feet and prepare for the fall. College baseball players, though, can’t afford to relax, not if they’re to get where they want to go—the major leagues.
It’s a path that may be more treacherous and require more soul searching than the path to any other sport’s top level. Hamptons Collegiate Baseball (HCB), which launches its fourth season on the East End this month, is a forum in which standout performances can put players’ careers in fast-forward. Modeled after the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, from which a who’s who of major league players have graduated, the HCB summer ball program provides a platform for the country’s top collegiate talent to further their ever-developing games.
“Summer baseball is a proving ground for these players,” said HCB President Rusty Leaver. “For major league teams, it’s a window into what kind of player somebody really is, not just from a talent standpoint but also how they handle the schedule, the travel, the wood bat, all the nuances of the game.”
Leaver founded HCB, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, in 2007, and after a season with one team in Sag Harbor, it’s grown to a five-team division of Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL). Established in 1967, the ACBL has sent players like Frank Viola, Craig Biggio, Jamie Moyer and, more recently, Long Beach’s John Lannan, to the big leagues.
From June to August, the Hamptons—with teams located in Sag Harbor, Southampton, Westhampton, Riverhead and Peconic—play host to more than 100 players from more than 75 universities. That list includes national powers Texas A&M, Stanford, Southern Mississippi, UConn and more. Plenty of players have local ties, whether they’re Long Islanders or through their families. A year after Howard Johnson’s son, Glen, played for Westhampton, John Franco’s son, J.J., a 42nd round pick of the Mets in 2010 and starter at Brown University, will suit up for Sag Harbor.
Players spend the duration of their stay with families in each community, of which they become a part through free baseball clinics and the nearly all-access pass given to fans who attend games, which are also free.
“Our motivation in setting this up really derived from the sense that, given the status of the economy, there’s a need for free family entertainment, especially when you put baseball in that position,” Leaver said. “It’s a piece of Americana.”
It’s a big year for the HCB organization. After Steve McQuail of Wantagh and Uniondale’s Justin Echevarria, both HCB alumni, were taken in last year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, an even bigger crop is expected to be selected this month. It’s headlined by another Long Island product, West Islip’s Nick Tropeano. A star at Stony Brook University the past three seasons, Tropeano dominated as Echevarria’s battery mate with the ’09 Riverhead Tomcats, leading the ACBL in wins and strikeouts en route to Pitcher of the Year honors.
Nick Ahmed (UConn), Kyle Kubitza (Texas State) and Andrew Cain (UNC-Wilmington) are apt to go in the top 10 rounds as well.
Summer ball’s just a pit stop on the road to the pros, but it’s an important one. In these communities’ backyards, draft hopefuls from across the country are looking to polish their skills and catch the eye of MLB scouts. It makes for a special kind of summer.
“As we move forward and continue to provide great opportunities for these players, we’ll be on a level playing field with the top collegiate leagues in the country,” Leaver said. “As a result, we’ll see more and more of the elite talent that has the potential to become a major league player.”