The summer collegiate baseball landscape, limited to only the most elite players two decades ago, has exploded with leagues springing up all over the country.
The Cape Cod League, starting in 1885, and mostly southern and western leagues under the banner of the National Baseball Congress (founded in 1934) were the only summer options for the college baseball player looking to improve his lot against top-notch competition.
The others were relegated to adult leagues where lovers of the game could continue to compete after their scholastic and collegiate days had ended.
“You played in the Twilight Leagues,” said Sacred Heart University baseball coach Nick Giaquinto. “When I was in college, I played in the Senior City League in Bridgeport, which is still going strong. They had a lot of former college players and some up-and-coming high school guys.
“Once in a while, we’ll have a guy play in the Twilight League if he has to work or be at home for the summer.”
But the preference is the summer collegiate leagues, some stronger and more geographically diverse than others.
The New England Collegiate Baseball League was founded in 1993 when a host of state baseball lifers, including former Eastern Connecticut State University coach Bill Holowaty, former Quinnipiac coach Dan Gooley, Reds and Mets slugger George Foster and the late ESPN executive Loren Mathews pooled their resources.
The league had a firm Connecticut base with teams in Danbury, Bristol, Willimantic and Middletown. The Danbury Westerners and the Mystic Schooners are the lone state teams remaining, with the league having spread to cities like Keene, N.H., Newport, R.I., North Adams, Mass, Montpelier, Vt., and Sanford, Maine.
With state opportunities diminishing, Simsbury’s Tim Vincent joined with Southington High coach Charlie Lembo and Kevin Chase of Glastonbury in 2009 to start the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League. The six-team circuit (Southington, Simsbury, Glastonbury, Manchester, West Hartford and Tobacco Valley) continues to hold its own.
Severino excels in Keene
Pitcher/first baseman Dominic Severino graduated from Cheshire High in 2011 and went on to play at Central Connecticut State University, where he will be a senior next year. Severino, a 6’2, 220-pound right-hander, was 3-4 with a 3.96 ERA in nine games (5 starts) last season. He batted .292 with two homers and 23 RBI in 49 games.
With the NECBL’s Keene Swamp Bats, he’s started four games (1-1, 1.40 ERA, 25 2/3 innings, 15 strikeouts). When the offense foundered, he was asked to play the field and has responded by hitting .267 with eight RBI in nine games. Severino is focused on a possible professional career, but will the diversity hurt or help him?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” he said. “There are a lot of pitchers who are just pitchers so they throw, get their five days off and go though their routine. I have to do all of that and play first.
“Sometimes my arm is not fully rested but I love doing it. I love the game. I’ve been playing two ways my whole life. I like offense but I like pitching, and being in control of the game.
“I think it’s a help, like in trying to help my team win.”
Severino appreciates the opportunity to play in the NECBL because it enhances his visibility.
“I played in the NECBL last year and I think it’s one of the top leagues in the country,” he said. “I’ve been to Cape games but the NECBL is up there. In facing one through nine [in the batting order] every game, each hitter is like a three-to-five guy in college. Day in and day out when you hit, every pitcher can pitch. Kids are here from all over the country.
“It’s kind of a blessing. Not a lot of kids have the opportunity to play in front of 1,000 to 1,500 fans every night. The atmosphere is great. I don’t take a day of it for granted because you never know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Sheehan grads in NECBL
Also in the NECBL, 6’6 right-hander Brian Murphy is with the Danbury Westerners after starting 10 games for the University of Hartford (2-4, 4.40 ERA). Another former Sheehan hurler Jimmy Davitt, a junior at Bryant, is with the New Bedford BaySox.
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League, founded in 2011, counts the Torrington Titans among its charter members. Six locals players dot the Titans’ roster: LHP Mike Bonaiuto (Maloney, Fairfield University); RHP Kyle Dube (Southington, St. Paul-Bristol, Fairfield U.); LHP Glenn Marrus (Meriden, Xavier, Post University); RHP Justin Robarge (Southington, University of Hartford); RHP Brett Susi (Southington, Central Connecticut State University); C Tim Budd (Cheshire, Eastern Connecticut State University).
Elsewhere, Wallingford catcher Tim Bickford from the University of Bridgeport is with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. Bickford, who played in the Wallingford Twilight League last summer, was a member of Sheehan’s 2010 state champion team.
Right-hander Mick Terzi of Wallingford, a Notre Dame-West Haven graduate now at Post University, is pitching out of the bullpen for the North Shore Navigators. The Navigators play at a vintage New England ballpark, Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass.
Cheshire catcher Connor David, heading into his senior year at UConn, is with the Worcester Bravehearts.
One local player — Cheshire outfielder Matt Burns of Southern Connecticut State University — plays with the Adirondack Trail Blazers of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in New York State. Burns, a redshirt sophomore this spring, led SCSU in batting (.359), hits (60), runs (38) and stolen bases (20). The Trail Blazers play their home games in Boonville, N.Y., just north of Utica.
Tomorrow, Ken Lipshez relates behind-the-scenes history from the founding of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, including the story of a Wallingford baseball man whose experience in the league has become a foundation for a productive life.