By Gavin Menu
Dylan Kruel, 12, announced one evening at dinner that he was breaking an important family tradition.
“He said ‘I have an announcement to make,’” Dylan’s mother, Sandi, said. “He said ‘I will not be playing baseball. I am going to go to school to be an actor and an artist.’”
The announcement was shocking only because Dylan’s older brothers, Brandon and Nick, have baseball in their blood and because their mother, a former coach, knows—and loves—the game better than most, serving as the co-general manager of the Sag Harbor Whalers of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
The older Kruel brothers seem to be carrying the family torch just fine. If all goes according to plan, they will play college baseball simultaneously at the Division II level next year, Brandon at C.W. Post, where he’ll enter his senior year, and Nick at the University of Tampa, where he will enroll as a freshman this August.
Nick also has unfinished business at Pierson, of course, as the Whalers prepare for a run through the New York State Class C playoffs, starting June 6 with the Long Island Championship game against Nassau’s Friends Academy.
“I love playing for Pierson,” said Nick, 18, an outstanding student who will graduate near the top of his class next month. “But I’m really excited to go to the next level to see if I have what it takes.”
Nick’s specialty is the knuckleball, a rare, but effective, pitch that moves wildly through the strike zone. He only started throwing the pitch in competition two years ago, but dominated his summer travel league last year as a member of the Long Island Tigers. In 50 innings last summer, he posted a 1.9 ERA, important numbers, especially since he was injured for most of his junior year after suffering a severe ankle injury playing soccer.
“When you go to college, you usually showcase the fall of your junior year,” Sandi said. “Unfortunately Nicholas had a cast on his leg and he wasn’t able to showcase. The other problem was there was nobody to really teach him about the knuckleball.”
That was until Fred Cambria, a former big league pitcher with the San Diego Padres, came along as commissioner of the HCBL, where he worked closely with the Kruel family. Cambria had injured his arm during his playing days, so he learned to throw a knuckleball. Over the last year, Nick traveled to Islip on a regular basis to work on the pitch with Cambria, and the results this season have really started to show.
“I remember the first time Nick started pitching. I was at college and my mom told me he had become a knuckleball pitcher,” Brandon said while watching the Whalers practice at Mashashimuet Park on Monday. “I thought it was a joke at first, but then I came out and saw him pitch, and ever since then he has developed this nasty knuckleball that I can’t even explain.”
Brandon, 22, just completed his junior season as a relief pitcher at Post and will return this summer as a member of the Sag Harbor Whalers, an experience, he said, that has been one of the highlights of his career.
“Honestly, it’s probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in baseball,” he said about playing summer ball in Sag Harbor. “I come back to my hometown and I get to be a leader on and off the field with these guys.”
Brandon is home from college now so he will be able to watch Nick and his teammates charge into the postseason, where the ultimate goal is a state championship. Sandi and her husband, Kevin, rarely miss a game, and even took a flight aboard a friend’s Cessna last spring when Sandi’s work schedule made driving to Wappingers Falls for the Southeast Regional Final impossible.
And now another baseball journey will begin for the Whalers. But what about the youngest Kruel brother? Will Dylan make the trip north should the Whalers make a serious run at a state title next month?
“Anytime he comes to the game, you find him chit chatting with some girls off to the side,” Brandon said with a laugh, proving that baseball might run in the blood, but leaves room for other challenging pursuits as well.