There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of the crack of a baseball bat striking the ball, or the sight of a pitcher winding up to throw the baseball to the batter. Yes, baseball is a true American tradition that goes back to even before the Civil War. In the Hamptons it has always been a popular sport with many farm boys tossing the ball around on the open land. Some local boys have made it into the Major Leagues, such as Hall of Famer Carl Yastremski of Bridgehampton, A.J Pierzynski of Bridgehampton, who currently is catcher for the Chicago White Sox and made his debut with the Minnesota Twins (1998-2003). Wade Rowden (Riverhead) played from 1984 to 1988 for the Cincinnati Reds then one year with the Chicago Cubs and the Baltimore Orioles. Paul Gibson (of Southampton) pitched from 1988 to 1996, first for the Detroit Tigers, then The Mets and Yankees. East Hamptonite Ross Gload is still active, and has played for the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox, Cubs, and Phillies.
For area baseball fans, there is the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, which was founded in 2007 by longtime Montauk resident Rusty Leaver. Initially, the organization had one franchise—Hampton Whalers. Now it is a five-team division, also known as the Hampton Division, which is part of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, consisting of the Sag Harbor Whalers, Southampton Breakers, Westhampton Aviators, North Fork Ospreys, and Riverhead Tomcats
This local league has produced some major league draft choices. In 2009, Riverhead Tomcats right-hander Nick Tropeano (Stony Brook University) led the ACBL in wins and strikeouts on his way to earning Pitcher of the Year honors. He will now get the chance to prove himself at the professional level having been drafted in the fifth round (160th overall) by the Astros, becoming the third Hamptons Collegiate Baseball alum to be taken in this year’s draft. The others are Andrew Cain of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, who became the first player in the history of the North Fork Ospreys to be drafted, going in the 12th round (371st overall) to the Milwaukee Brewers, and Riverhead Tomcats Justin Echevarria, a 40th-round selection by the Padres last year.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who played a huge role in launching the league, said, “The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball league is attempting to duplicate the success of the Cape Cod League.”
Having attended a few games myself, I agree with Thiele’s assessment that “the collegiate league provides an inexpensive form of entertainment for local families and visitors, alike.” He goes on to explain, “It’s a throwback to the days when Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor had town teams, yielding the likes of Carl Yastremski. Proof that there is a lot more to the Hamptons than just the rich and famous. Further, it is good quality baseball with some of the best college players in the country. It provides these future stars the opportunity to display and develop their talent in a great place.”
I asked about the wonderful field that the Southampton Breakers use on the campus of SUNY Southampton and he said, “The state’s role has been to provide one of the venues for games at the college in Southampton. In addition, former Assemblyman Marc Alessi and I were able to obtain some start-up money for the league at a time when funds were needed to make capital improvements for the ball fields in order to get started.” At the field dedication in July 2009, Stony Brook Southampton’s then dean, Mary C. Pearl, said, “I was pleased when Rusty [Leaver] told me that not only are we going to have a wonderfully improved field for our sports and baseball clinics for our students, but it’s all going to be done in the spirit of our campus, which is to say only organic materials are going to be used as fertilizer in the grass. Every effort is going to be made to make sure that this field is maintained in an environmentally respectful manner.”
And three years later I can say it has been, with a major league standard mound and bullpen area. The grass is superb and there is no admission charge. For scheduled games visit www.hamptonsbaseball.org and go see some of tomorrow’s stars today for free.
By the way, I must mention that Fred Thiele, who was a left-handed pitcher for Southampton College back in the day, said, “I’m a big baseball fan. METS.” [/expand]