For some background to this post, you might want to read this. I’ll cover as many summer teams as I can between now and the start of conference play, and take a look at how some of their players are faring nationally and locally, as well as the local viewing options right here in New England this spring.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of the 800,000 people who took in a collegiate summer baseball game in New England last year. It’s no secret that New England has a very special tradition in this department, but it’s also no secret that the support generally doesn’t translate to the NCAA season. I’m here to try and convince you that it should, and also to fill you in on what some current and former Blue Sox are up to this spring.
First Off, Why College Baseball?
If you’ve enjoyed watching games during the summer, you’re going to love what’s on display in the spring. Short seasons where every pitch matters and playoff races are always tight. Win-or-go-home conference tournaments, where every day is game seven. Players who aren’t afraid to show emotion, don’t take themselves too seriously, and aren’t just playing for their next free agent deal. Underdogs dogpiling, unforgettable nights at the office, and, well, things like this. Quirky ballparks, unorthodox playing styles, comebacks, walkoffs, championships. A dirt cheap (and often free) price of admission. The ultimate prize of a College World Series trip to Omaha or Cary or Appleton. No, it’s not professional baseball, but in many ways, what makes it different makes it great.
Blue Sox Across the Nation
The Blue Sox rarely have trouble attracting national talent to the Pioneer Valley, and 2015 was no exception. The trio hailing from Oklahoma State– Caleb Eldridge, David Petrino, and Garrett McCain– helped to earn the Pokes a #8 preseason ranking from D1Baseball. McCain was the Blue Sox’ second-leading hitter last summer and somehow managed to get plunked 20 times (almost as much as the rest of the team combined) en route to being named a starter in the league’s all-star game. That comes after a freshman campaign saw him hit .319 for OSU, and so far, he’s been a regular for a team that’s looking to break through to Omaha after making the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons.
The 2015 squad also featured power-conference arms like Tennessee’s Eric Freeman and UCLA’s Scott Burke. Closer to home, Valley’s leading extra-base hit and RBI man Jake Lumley will help to lead a Canisius team that’s been pegged to win its third MAAC title in the past four years. In the same league, Hampden native and NECBL all-star Bryan Goossens should figure into the rotation of a Siena team that’ll look to spoil that.
Going off the early 2016 roster, the Blue Sox will again feature a mix of mid-major contributors and power conference players. That includes highly regarded West Virginia freshman and Holyoke native Endy Morales.
Blue Sox in New England
Besides drawing talent from around the country, Valley’s ’15 and ’16 rosters both include names familiar to New England college fans. Quinnipiac‘s Rob Pescitelli led the team in hitting (.291), and looks to contribute to a Bobcat squad looking to build on John Delaney’s stellar first year at the helm in 2015. One of the region’s other standard bearers from 2015, Rhode Island, sent lefty rotation arm Steve Moyers (an East Longmeadow native) and reliever Tyler Barss to Holyoke last season. Their Rams lost very little from a team that was one step away from the NCAA Tournament last year, and they should compete with the likes of Saint Louis and VCU for the A-10 title.
The 2015 roster also drew well from New England’s rich Division II and III scene. Easthampton native and AIC first baseman Chris Starcun led the team in home runs last summer. Merrimack righty Perry Kulaga anchored the rotation to the tune of a 5-1 record and 2.37 ERA in a staff-leading 53.0 innings. Bates‘s Connor Colombo gave the club 30.0 innings and a sub-4.00 ERA, and UMass Dartmouth‘s Aaron Chouinard made a pair of appearances after signing on late in the season.
The Blue Sox will return Starcun’s bat for 2016. They’ll also add Amherst’s Connor Quinn, a Harvard outfielder who hit .291 and played nearly every game as a freshman for the Crimson last year, and Florence’s Erik Ostberg, a Hartford catcher who was a Futures League all-star last summer. (As of March 7, he’s hitting a passable .440 as part of the best start in the Hawks’ Division I history.)
In the Area
Besides heading down to Springfield to see Starcun play for AIC (his Yellow Jackets had their best season in over a decade last year), Blue Sox fans have plenty of viewing options in the Pioneer Valley until their team takes the field at Mackenzie Stadium in early June.
Longtime head coach Mike Stone (716 career wins) leads a UMass squad that plays on campus in Amherst. Western Mass native and two-way star Mike Geannelis (.254, 17 RBI, 1.84 ERA) will help to lead the Minutemen this season. Their neighbors Amherst have established themselves as one of the best programs in Division III under seventh-year head coach Brian Hamm, making the last three NCAA Tournaments. You won’t want to miss their late-April showdown with Little Three rivals Wesleyan. Another D3, Elms, plays at the same Mackenzie Stadium the Blue Sox call home. The Blazers, a young program that’s only been around for a decade or so, came up one win shy of their first NCAA Tournament last season, and will get a rematch against defending champions Mitchell in mid-April. (They’re also off to a hot start this year, which you can read more about here.) Other D3 programs like Westfield State, Springfield, and Western New England are all in easy driving distance for Blue Sox fans.