Whalers Head Home: Summer Ball Memories Give Way to College

Posted on 05 August 2009

By Benito Vila

Good things always end too soon. And so it was with the Sag Harbor Whalers’ season in the 2009 Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. A strong start came undone, injuries leading the team to limp into an 18-22 finish. That record left the team in fifth place, four games out of the final playoff spot.

The Whalers completed their season last Thursday, splitting a two-site doubleheader, dropping a noontime game in Riverhead to the Tomcats, 7-3, and taking the afternoon match-up in Westhampton, 5-0, over the Aviators. The afternoon game saw Whaler coach Scott June bring position players in to pitch, the regular pitching staff worn down by the make-up schedule and their availability limited by their college coaches.

Right fielder Kyle Zarotney (Central Connecticut) started and went four innings, allowing just two hits and striking out seven. Outfielder J.T. Tomes (Harvard) came on to strike out a batter in the fifth before first baseman Mike Labrozzi (Farmingdale State and Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School) relieved him.

Labrozzi, who had not pitched since the second game of the Suffolk County Class C finals in 2005, completed the shutout, setting down 14 of the 19 batters he faced. Four hits and a walk were all the Aviators could muster against Labrozzi, who used a combination of fastballs and sliders to strike out four, inducing seven fly ball outs and three groundouts.

Afterwards, Labrozzi said, “Surprisingly, I threw a lot of strikes. My slider had decent movement for not throwing one for four years. I didn’t always know exactly where it was going. I just kept throwing it and it worked out.”

Asked about the highlights of his season, Labrozzi answered, “Pitching. That and my first at-bat of the season, hitting a home run over the fence in my first at-bat in the park since high school. That was great.”

The Season As It Was

Whaler general manager Sandi Kruel, who arranged for team housing, transportation, trainers, meals and more, shared that same sentiment about that first Labrozzi at-bat. She said, “being able to watch Mike as a nine-year old, follow him through the years and know how bad he had wanted to have a fence at the park and watch his first at bat was worth a million dollars.”

In coordinating everything from workouts to haircuts and communicating with college coaches and professional scouts, Kruel describes her summer as a learning experience, noting, “Spending days with major league scouts and learning what they want and what they look for and the reality of what it takes to get to that level was very educational.”

She added, “Spending hours with this group of young men and watching them grow as players and young men was amazing. They played hard through way-too-many injuries. They made me laugh. They called me ‘mom’ and they we like my sons for eight weeks. They were a good group of kids who played hard and showed a work ethic that will help them get to the next level.”

Coach June came away from the season with a similar feeling. He felt that “Not one moment will stay with me as much as getting to know the young men. I had a great time with the players and know they all have bright futures both on and off the field.”

When pressed on who might have come away from the season high-up with the scouts, Coach June said, “Brandon Boykin (Rutgers) has the rare combination of power and speed. Stanley Fich (Stanford) has a tremendous amount of potential and it will be fun to see how he develops. Kyle Crean (Albany) is a great hitter and Ed Squeri (Dowling) can play short with anybody and the more you see him play the more you appreciate him. Kyle Zarotney has size and power. He needs more experience but he may have a future on the mound.”

For the record, Squeri led the team in hitting at .349, second in the Kaiser Division and tenth overall. Crean was third in the division at .345. Fich hit .305 and Labrozzi an even .300. Boykin batted .287 and was 14-for-14 in stolen bases. Crean led the team in RBIs with 20. Labrozzi and Fich each had 19 RBIs and also tied for the team lead in home runs at three apiece.

East Hampton grad Gardner Leaver (Rhode Island) started the season as the team’s top pitcher, but an injury limited him to a 2-0 record, 18 strikeouts and a miniscule 0.84 ERA in 21 innings. James McNamara (Anna Maria) came on to throw 41 innings, most on the club, posting a 1-3 mark despite a 1.98 ERA. Steve King (Farmingdale State, 3-2, 3.06 ERA) and Steve Faulkner (New York Tech, 3-3, 4.91 ERA) also pitched over 32 innings apiece. Patrick Shanahan (Fisher) showed some life in his pitches, striking out 36 in 28 innings, but saw things go south when he was on the mound in posting a 4.50 ERA and an 0-3 mark.

More Kruel & Playoff News

In summarizing what went into making the season a success for the players, Kruel acknowledged, “It takes a lot of work to get this off the ground and without all the local help from our host families and our local businesses, we couldn’t do it. The volunteerism that it takes is something most couldn’t imagine. Without the people that helped out like Espresso, Conca D’Oro, Dr. Petrocelli, Joe Burns and everyone who got involved, it wouldn’t happen.”

 “These kids leave their hometowns from all over the country and we as a community host them and we do it like no other. The level of baseball they play is something to see and to know that there is a real possibility that one day some of these kids are going to be in the Major Leagues is a neat thing to have witnessed.”

The Aviators took the Kaiser Division crown this week, with a 7-1 win over the North Fork Ospreys on Tuesday. Tonight they host the Wolff Division winner at 5 p.m. on Hite Field in Westhampton. The Jersey Pilots and the Lehigh Valley Catz were playing a doubleheader last night to settle who would be coming east to start the best-of-three finals.

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