With the coronavirus pandemic ending college baseball seasons early and wiping out high school ones completely, players are looking at significant breaks away from school ball.
There are more than 130 players set to participate in the new Baseball U PA Collegiate Summer League, an effort spearheaded by local college coaches and Mike Guy, owner of the title-sponsor travel ball organization.
The wooden-bat league is targeting a start date of June 23 and will play an 18-game schedule before four teams reach a postseason.
Teams will be managed by Keystone College coach Jamie Shevchik; University of Scranton coach Mike Bartoletti; Misericordia University coach Pete Egbert; East Stroudsburg University assistant Read Brown; Bucknell University assistant Chris O’Neill; and former Lackawanna College and Marywood University coach Matt Fidati.
“I was actually overwhelmed
(at the response),” Bartoletti said. “Because I thought — we always talked about it, particularly Pete, myself and Jamie, and again, it’s one of those things you don’t do it till you put it out there. It really speaks to the interest in baseball in this area.”
More than 200 players registered and about 170 qualified — they had to be on a college team or high school players who will be freshmen on their college teams in the fall. So, what was originally set up to be a four-team league grew to six teams.
“We don’t want to cut any corners with the league,” Guy said. “We want to kind of resemble and model a college summer baseball league that’s going to have a long future, as opposed to just throwing something together that’s rec and pickup.”
Games will be Tuesdays (a single, nine-inning contest) and Saturdays (a doubleheader of seven-inning games) at area fields that are yet to be determined.
To be as safe as possible, the league will adopt guidelines recently set by Little League and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among other things, that means social distancing in the dugouts, bullpens and other areas, using hand sanitizer when going on or off the field and sanitizing baseballs after each inning. It means no shared equipment, no exchanging lineup cards and no contact for celebrations. If coaches need to hold meetings, players will wear masks.
“Of course we’re going to be competitive and want to win — but (the point is) to get as many guys as much playing time as possible to allow these kids to play,” Shevchik said. “We’ve got a lot of coaches that are going to be involved, local guys, which is really cool. And yeah, I’m really excited that this thing is actually going to go.”
Former Lackawanna Trail pitcher Nate Rolka — who wrapped up his first season at the University of Delaware after just three appearances — has a new start.
“I was really excited because, for me, I had a minor shoulder issue the last two weekends we played (at Delaware) and I wasn’t able to throw at all,” Rolka said. “And now I’m back and ready to get after it again. I thought it was just good that somebody took the initiative to do that to get us back on the field.”
Rolka will be one of more than one dozen Division-I arms in this league.
“We’re in it every day and we know the caliber of players and programs that we have and the caliber of baseball at the Division III level,” Bartoletti said. “And so we just thought it was a unique opportunity to put those guys together to let them compete against the so-called ‘big boys.’ It worked out well where there’s enough balance there on that team and we think that they’ll compete.”
Shevchik, who normally would be returning to the Cape Cod League to manage the Brewster Whitecaps, instead will lead the Black team. Rolka will play on the White team for Bucknell assistant coach O’Neill, and Nick Reposa, a Misericordia player from Tunkhannock, will be on the Gray team with Coach Fidati. Tunkhannock’s David Baltrusaitis, who is committed to East Stroudsburg this fall, will play for Shevchik.
“I think we’ve got a really good mix of local guys,” Shevchik said. “We’re certainly going to be competitive. And I think if the bats can probably on pace with what our pitching is going to be like — I mean, listen, this is about the kids playing and everything else, but eventually, I’m pretty darn competitive and we’re going to want to win. We’re not going to do it at the expense of any other kids, but we’re certainly going to go out there and try to win games. We’re going to do it in the right way.
“I’m just itching to get back on the field. I mean I’m looking forward to seeing an umpire. I’m looking forward to getting thrown out of a game — you can put that in the paper.”