Tag Archive | "Rusty Leaver"

Whalers Split Hometown Finale; Post-season Eludes Local Team

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By Benito Vila

A season that began with so much promise turned into a bit of a soaker for this summer’s Sag Harbor Whalers. After earning the Kaiser Division championship and finishing as the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League runner-up last summer in their inaugural season, a quick start this June led many to believe more acclaim was coming the Whalers’ way.

But baseball’s a funny game and things don’t often go the way they seem destined. A seven-game losing streak earlier this month took the Whalers out of the top half of the division and out of post-season play. Although a 5-1 final week put the boys back on course, they went into last night’s match-up with the North Fork Ospreys in Mattituck at 17-20, four games out of a playoff spot.

Today the Whalers close out their schedule with a day/night doubleheader on the road, taking the field against the Tomcats (21-16) in Riverhead at noon and then against the Aviators (24-15) in Westhampton at 5 p.m. Given the wet weather the past two months, it is a testament to the league’s planning and perseverance that the teams even came close to completing their 42-game schedules.

In the second game of last Sunday’s fog-enveloped doubleheader in Mashashimuet Park, Whaler public address announcer Kevin Major acknowledged Kaiser Division organizer Rusty Leaver and his wife Diane and thanked Whaler general manager Sandi Kruel. A wet crowd of fifty, a little smaller turnout than usual, applauded, grateful for the chance to see such a high level of baseball close-up.

Among the current ACBL players in the major leagues are Jamie Moyer with the Philadephia Phillies, John Lannan with the Washington Nationals and Drew Sutton with the Cincinnati Reds. Whaler players Brandon Boykin (Rutgers), Ed Squeri (Dowling), Kyle Crean (Albany), Kyle Zarotney (Central Connecticut) and Stanley Fich (Stanford) drew the most interest from scouts this summer, with other scouts set to watch their progress as they return to school.

 

The Last Home Games

 

After the first game last Sunday, an 8-6 loss to the last place Long Island Mustangs, there was little to be said in the dugout. Holding a 5-4 advantage with two outs in the visitor sixth, the Whalers saw a pair of singles give the Mustangs an 8-5 lead. Though the boys brought home a run in the home half of the sixth, it was not enough to rein in a win.

The second game saw no lingering effects from the loss, two errors and two hits putting the Whalers up 2-0 in the first. Though the Mustangs tied the score with a run in the second and another in the third, a five-run fourth put the Whalers up 7-2.

The big hits in the go-ahead rally were a double by Zarotney and a bases-clearing triple by Lou Volpe. Five-innings of one-hit pitching by Nick Lettas (High Point) gave the Whalers the time they needed to get the bats going and two innings of one-run relief by Steve King (Farmingdale State) closed out the win.

After the game, Whaler coach Scott June praised the pitching and timely hitting he saw in game two. In looking back over his last two weeks with the team (professional commitments called away the Whalers’ original coaches), Coach June said, “These boys know how to play. They play hard and there’s not a lot of instruction involved. I find myself pointing out the little things they can do [to get an advantage] more than telling them how to do it.”

A partner and instructor at All-Pro Baseball Academy in Bellport, Coach June worked with “five or six” of the Whalers while they were in high school. He said, “It’s been satisfying for me to see them playing at this level. I had Crean and [Sag Harbor’s Mike] Labrozzi when they were 14 and they’ve kept working at the game and they’ve gotten a whole lot better.”

When asked about the league, Coach June suggested that it, too, should continue to improve. “I’ve seen every team. The talent on the field is there and the fans have come out to watch in every town. Knowing what Rusty and all the people behind the teams are putting into this, it will only get better in the future.”

Coach June and the All-Pro coaches will be back in the park for their annual youth summer camp the week of August 10. They are also in Montauk the week of August 17.

The Economic Challenge to Play Ball

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It’s a struggle to operate any business in this economic climate. But starting an entire baseball league presents its own set of challenges.

Last year, Rusty Leaver, proprietor of Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk and father of a promising ball player in his own right, along with a handful of other local businessmen and women watched a dream materialize, creating a collegiate-level baseball team to compete in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. The team, based in Sag Harbor and called the Whalers in homage to the community’s history, performed beyond anyone’s expectation, undoing a season-starting, five-game losing streak and winning their division. They stumbled in the league championship, but that was hardly going to get in the way of fulfilling another dream — starting a league of their own on the East End.

Fueled by last year’s success, Leaver and others are this year launching Hamptons Collegiate Baseball, a league with five local franchises — the Sag Harbor Whalers  Southampton Breakers, Riverhead Tomcats, Westhampton Aviators and North Fork Ospreys. The Long Island Mustangs, who pay further up the Island, will round out the league. It is modeled on a similar summer league on Cape Cod, which regularly attracts scouts from professional ball clubs, and has been the training grounds for hundreds of young men who have made their way to the majors.

But the effort of putting one team together is a lot different than putting together five.

Last year, the budget to field the Whalers was about $60,000, said Leaver in an interview this week. This year, cash out of hand will probably be closer to $250,000 — with a budget of about $45,0000 – $50,000 per team. Each town or community is fundamentally its own franchise, and responsible for organizing a volunteer administration.

“This year we set a target for each community to raise about $22,000, for the ball parks, for operating overhead,” said Leaver. The balance is raised by the league, he said, and acknowledged the sum can be a challenge for some towns.

“My mission, my job, is to try to raise money in a global way for the whole league,” he said, “to try to keep the costs down for the local community.”

Tom Gleeson, one of the local organizers for The Whalers has been pounding the pavement laying the groundwork for the team here this summer. Gleeson’s main charge is finding housing for the team’s 25 players, most of who are coming from far outside the area.

Like volunteers throughout the league, Gleeson does it because he wants to help the community — and loves baseball.

“As a former college basketball coach and father of a son who played baseball, I’m happy to see the team here; it’s good, free entertainment,” said Gleeson. “And it’s great to see the free clinics the local kids get.”

Gleeson is still looking for a few rooms for the players, by the way, and can be reached at 516-361-0998.

But people like Gleeson, who said local organizers are putting together a benefit party for the Whalers aboard one of the Shelter Island ferries — donated by ferry owner Cliff Clark — are what enable the league to exist financially. It seems to be the formula for getting the local teams together: find money where you can and rely on people who want some good old fashioned hardball to help with the rest.

The league also relies on receiving in-kind contributions, from businesses who can help with landscaping and construction, for example. In Southampton the league is refurbishing a neglected diamond on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton which will be the Breakers home field.

“We’re trying to be bullish on our expectations,” said Lever adding they want their facilities to be professional quality.

With the help of four different contractors who are working at cost  — and the donation of building material by Riverhead Building Supply — they are rehabbing the college field and building new dugouts.

“The work would easily have cost $150,000 to complete,” estimated Leaver. Actual cash out of hand, however, will be more like $60,000.

“We’re basically able to cut the cost in half,” he said.

Then there, of course, a couple of “names” from the private sector who have gotten involved, including comedian Jerry Seinfeld, and publisher Mort Zuckerman, who have added cash and cachet to the league. And the public sector has also been generous. On the North Fork State Assemblyman Marc Allesi has arranged for a grant for the league, and Suffolk County was helpful last year getting the Whalers started.

The league being local has also helped shave some of the expenses off last year’s budget.

“Travel alone last year was about $15,000,” said Leaver. “With the Jitney picking up most of the local travel costs, we can take that off the budget for this year.”

It still amounts to a lot of shoe leather for those who are doing the organizing to bring good baseball to the communities.

“Is it a big challenge,” asked Leaver. “Yes. We’ve been working at this 14 to 16 hours a day.”