By Gavin Menu
The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League (HCBL) motto is “Here Today, Stars Tomorrow,” and it seems, at the moment, that tomorrow looks bright for the burgeoning baseball league and its growing stable of young talent.
Seven teams are currently vying for the league title in 2013, which is the league’s sixth season, and the local Sag Harbor Whalers were right in the mix heading into Tuesday’s action with a 6-6 record.
The Whalers were in first place prior to dropping two games over the weekend, a 10-2 loss to Shelter Island on Saturday and an 8-5 setback against the Westhampton Aviators at home on Sunday in a game that was not decided until the 11th inning, where the Aviators scored three runs to upset the Whalers and their increasingly loyal home crowd.
But regardless of wins and losses, it has been a good start for both the Whalers and the league in general, which is benefiting from new and added leadership. Brendan Monaghan, an assistant coach at St. John’s University and a former minor league All-Star, is managing the Whalers while Fred Cambria, a former Major League pitcher and coach, is the league’s first ever commissioner.
In addition, this is the first year the HCBL is on its own, having broken free from the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League prior to this year. The league is now one of 12 in the country to be sanctioned by Major League Baseball, which means additional financial support and greater marketing opportunities.
Cambria on Tuesday said he was looking forward to helping President Brett Mauser and Director of Marketing Henry Bramwell build the league to greater heights, hoping the HCBL will one day be as effective as the famed Cape Cod League in getting players noticed by Major League scouts.
Cambria said reaching that goal, however, would be a long work in progress.
“Cape Cod is the ultimate league, and when college coaches assign their players to that league, it’s usually their best prospects,” Cambria said. “It takes a while to establish something like that, but we are very fortunate to have some very good coaches, and that’s the backbone of it. Brett has done a good job of recruiting good kids and good players so I think it’s just a matter of time.”
A total of 20 current and former HCBL players were taken in the Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month, including Sag Harbor’s own, Kyle McGowin, who pitched two seasons for the Whalers. The strong showing combined with more aggressive recruiting efforts by Mauser should bring more attention from college coaches and lead to improved talent on local diamonds.
“Our previous high was eight,” Mauser said when asked about the number of draft picks. “It’s great to be a part of the player’s story. Playing professionally is something that a lot of them worked toward for a long time and it’s great if we were able to play a role in that.”
The league’s executive board, which includes the co-General Managers of the Whalers, Tom Gleeson and Sandi Kruel, has continued to develop and market the league, which has led to more interest from pro scouts. That, along with one of the league’s top priorities since it was founded in 2008 — providing free, family-entertainment,— are the biggest goals for the league in general.
“The local community support has been incredible,” Gleeson said, speaking specifically about Sag Harbor. “And I think Fred coming on board is going to bring us to a whole new level.
Cambria agrees that the family-friendly atmosphere the league preaches is key to development, and that a strong fan base will only make top-tier players that much more interested in playing in the HCBL.
“I thought there was a good opportunity to bring in some good ball players and expand the league,” said Cambria, who pitched for the Pittsburg Pirates in the 1970s and played alongside three Hall of Famers in Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell. “My job is to promote the league and I think we’re in the process of making a lot of people aware of who we are and how fun it is to be at the ball game.”
Aside from Sag Harbor, Shelter Island and Westhampton, the HCBL has clubs in Southampton, Center Moriches, Riverhead and the North Fork. Each team has a roster full of strong collegiate players, some of who will have the chance to play professionally one day soon.
“It’s a year-round effort,” Mauser said. “We started recruiting for the summer back in July and August of last summer. The host families have been wonderful, the area speaks for itself, and it’s been a great experience for the players who have come out here.
“We try to raise the bar every year,” he continued, “and I think we’ve done that.”
Upcoming Baseball Camp
The Whalers will be hosting a weeklong camp from July 8 to 12 at Pierson High School, with coaches and players from the team, which includes talent from college programs such as Oklahoma State, Houston, Illinois and Xavier, on hand to instruct young baseball players in pitching, hitting, fielding, base running as well as the mental aspect of the game. The camp will run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon at Pierson High School. The fee for the camp is $150. However, for children whose families host a Sag Harbor Whaler player for the season, admission is free. For more information or to register, contact Tom Gleeson at 516-361-0998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.