By Benito Vila
With eight games to go on their schedule, the post-season is a dim dream for this summer’s Sag Harbor Whalers. The defending Kaiser Division champions were 12-19 going into last night’s game against the Westhampton Aviators in local Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League action. The Aviators, at 20-11, are the division’s current co-leaders, sharing the top spot with the 21-12 Riverhead Tomcats.
The Whalers were among the league leaders July 10 before a seven-game stretch saw the team lose their manager, pitching coach, two top catchers, three starting pitchers, a reliever and the starting shortstop. Not faring well on the field and playing a bit like this summer’s New York Mets, the team dropped each of those seven contests, going from a playoff contender to also-ran in a week.
Splitting a pair of doubleheaders last weekend put the Whalers back in the win column, but like the Mets, the injuries have been too much to overcome. Gone are the guys that led the team to a strong start, putting pressure on the remaining players to do more, a disastrous scenario at any level.
In the midst of dealing with the injuries, the team learned pitching coach Jonathan Anderson had been recruited by the Dartmouth College baseball program and that manager Jason Lefkowitz was needed to fulfill a coaching commitment at Brown University.
Stepping in to right the Whaler ship have been Scott June and Jim Buckley, coaches from All-Pro Sports Academy in Bellport, the east end’s closest baseball training facility. Both June and Buckley played college ball, with Buckley moving on through the Red Sox’ minor league program as a catcher between 2002 and 2006, finishing his career at AAA Pawtucket.
Buckley knows the ACBL summer league program first-hand, having played in the 1999 season while he was attending Siena College. After the games in Mashashimuet Park last Sunday, Buckley said, “Summer-ball is supposed to be fun for these guys and the last week’s been hard on them. What Scott and I hope to do in these last few games is throw some knowledge at them; we’re not here to make major adjustments. We want them to pick up on the little things they can do to keep on improving and to understand how to make use of some of the things they see on the field from game to game.”
Buckley saw the Whalers’ win last Sunday’s first game, 3-1, on what he described as “key two-out hits” and drop the nightcap, 7-3, in “killing innings by leaving guys at third with less than two outs.”
The Whalers are scheduled to be back in the park tomorrow, hosting Riverhead in a 5 p.m. start. On Sunday, the team has its last home doubleheader of the season, the Long Island Mustangs (5-25) coming in for games at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The Whaler’s only hope for the post-season is to win those three home games and then sweep the Tuesday 2 p.m.-5 p.m. doubleheader against the Mustangs at Stony Brook Southampton. The boys would also have to continue to win out against the North Fork Ospreys in Mattituck Wednesday and against the Aviators in Westhampton next Thursday.
The Whaler’s record of late has not deterred fans from turning out to see the team, a loyal group of about forty regulars and another curious twenty-five or so coming each Sunday for the doubleheaders. And though the Kaiser Division title games and the ACBL’s championship finals against the New Jersey-based Wolff Division winner are not likely to be played in the park, it does appear the collegiate program is set to return next summer.
Local Kaiser Division organizer Rusty Leaver said last Sunday, “We’re in this for the long haul. We took an unusual business step in adding five teams at once this season but it’s working. The fan-base has come along in each of our towns and we’re attracting baseball talent, on and off the field, that’s making it even more interesting for everyone involved.”
Some of that talent includes major league scouts that are tracking Kaiser players. This past Monday scouts from the Red Sox, Devil Rays, Mets, Tigers and Phillies’ organizations held a showcase “Scout Day” at the Stony Brook Southampton field.
Players were asked to throw, run and hit, learning in the doing some of the rules of thumb the major league clubs are currently using in looking for talent. Those include: running the 60-yard dash in 7.1 seconds or under, with 6.8 seconds being “something we like”; throwing head-high lasers from right field to home and third that one-hop sharply on-target on at least seven out of ten tries; catchers going “pop-to-pop”, from home to second, in two seconds or less.
The scouts were also overheard speaking of ideal body types—looking for slim builds over six-foot two for first base and thinking of infielders under five-foot eleven as second baseman only. Generalities aside, a dozen or more Kaiser Division players, including a few Whalers, are already being “followed”, with dedication, effort and “nothing stupid on Facebook” also being factors in attracting further attention.