The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League draws good crowds, such as...

The Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League draws good crowds, such as this one at Jean Cochran Field in Peconic. The league is supported by Major League Baseball, which uses it to develop talent. (July 20, 2011) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Every summer, a dream of baseball takes root and thrives in the rich, rural soil of the East End.

It comes with 125 college players from all over the country and touches thousands of people in Peconic, Sag Harbor, Riverhead and all the other hamlets scattered across the North and South forks.

For the players in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, it's a chance to compete with others who share their skills; to hear the solid sound of a wooden bat hitting a ball, instead of the plunk of aluminum; and to seize an opportunity, in case a major league scout is in the stands.

For the coaches and team managers it's a chance to work with promising players, and to show off the game for friends and neighbors. 

An evening at a ballfield

And, for the people who just show up to see a game and throw a dollar or two in a pot that is passed around -- admission is free -- to help cover the expense of team travel from Westhampton Beach to Peconic, or from Sag Harbor to Riverhead, it's a chance to spend a quiet evening at a ballfield where a long foul ball will fall into a vineyard, or to lean over a fence and be closer to the playing field than the pitcher is to home plate.

On a recent July night Julianne Karsten, of Southold, watched the Riverhead Tomcats defeat her hometown North Fork Ospreys, putting them a half-game behind the leading Westhampton Aviators in the competitive Hampton Division of the league. She and her husband, Russ, were at the game with several children.

"All these guys are in the Southold Little League," Julianne Karsten said, pointing to their home field, which adjoins the baseball field where the collegiate game was being played. "A month ago they were watching home runs being hit over the fence, and they knew it could be them someday."

The league is one of many supported by Major League Baseball -- which uses it to develop talent -- and scattered across the country. The metro area has three divisions: for eastern Long Island, for western Long Island and the outer boroughs, and a third covering New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The rosters consist of players selected by regional officials and those from the previous season. The league's 40-game season runs from June 4 to Aug. 3. In the final playoff Aug. 7 the Staten Island Tide beat the East End winner, the Westhampton Aviators.

"Our league is best run with 15 teams," said league commissioner Ralph Addonizio, of Oyster Bay. "I have a team probably coming into Brooklyn next year. To rent a bus can cost $1,000, and renting a baseball field can cost $800 [in the five boroughs] . . . you need housing for the youngsters who come from all over the country," he added. "It's much more difficult to find that housing in the metropolitan area than out east."

Fundraising is also a big part of running the league. The teams on the East End charge no admission but pass the hat for contributions at every game.

"Twenty-five years ago, we got twice as much [from Major League Baseball] as we get today. Now it's $30,000 . . . you can't buy bats and balls for that," Addonizio said. 

A pretty good player

League president Tom Bonekemper, of Quakertown, Pa., also looks forward to a future in which there will be 15 teams in the region.

"We're trying to put a new franchise at Hofstra [University in Hempstead]," he said. "We want to have three five-team divisions."

Every season starts the same way for Brian Hansen, manager of the North Fork Ospreys. The players -- 25 of them -- come all at once, and Hansen must have host families lined up, part-time jobs for the ones who do not have full scholarships, and work out rotations and evaluate pitching, among other duties.

One of his players this year is Ryan Brockett, 21, of Guilford, Conn. -- who won't be back because he is a college senior. "I'm one of the older guys," said the University of New Haven student.

Brockett, who plays shortstop and second base, considers himself a pretty good player -- he was twice all-conference in the Northeast-10 region and has earned several awards. But, at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, he's a little short for Major League Baseball. Still, he has a dream of moving on to the big league, and spends six hours a day on the field, playing and in practice.

"Any time you have the opportunity to showcase your talent, it's an opportunity to be seen," he said.

Still, the league couldn't operate without hosts like Janet Dickerson, of Cutchogue. She said having a college player in the house has been great for her son, Sam, 11, who has picked up some pitching tips.

"I love baseball," Dickerson said. "It's my favorite sport."

The lineup

Hampton Division

North Fork Ospreys

Riverhead Tomcats

Sag Harbor Whalers

Southampton Breakers

Westhampton Aviators

Wolff Division

Jersey Pilots

Lehigh Valley Catz

North Jersey Eagles

Quakertown Blazers

Kaiser Division

Long Island Collegians

New York Atlantics

Staten Island Tide

Season: June 4-Aug. 3

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They made it to the majors

Major-league ballplayers take years to develop their skills, and their long trip through the minor leagues is, at best, uncertain. Still, going back to Fred Cambria -- who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970 -- a long list of players from the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League have made it to the majors.

Pete Walker, who played for the New York Mets in 1995, was an ACBL player. So was Terry Bross, who played for the Mets in 1991 and Pat Kelly, who played for the Yankees in 1991.

They're part of a baseball fraternity that includes Rick Cerone, Frank Viola, Terry Mulholland, Jamie Moyer and Craig Biggio.

Among the more recent ACBL alumni who got to the big show are:

Player, team, first year in majors:

Anthony Vavaro, Seattle Mariners, 2010

Joe Martinez, San Francisco Giants, 2009

Drew Sutton, Cincinnati Reds, 2009

Reid Gorecki, Atlanta Braves, 2009

Mark DiFelice, Milwaukee Brewers, 2008

Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals, 2008

John Lannan, Washington Nationals, 2007

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