Dan Franchi was a man without a plan.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the end of the 2020 college baseball season in March, Franchi — a redshirt senior outfielder at Binghamton University — like many other Long Island college players, went home.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Franchi, a former standout at Center Moriches. “No one knew what was going on with all the uncertainty of the pandemic.”
Like most talented collegiate players, Franchi played in wooden-bat leagues in the summer, including the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) and locally in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
But when those leagues, including the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League and the NECBL, started cancelling their seasons, Franchi and others like him wondered about their future in baseball.
“At least for me I thought, ‘I’m done with baseball,’ ” said Franchi, 23.
But he wasn’t.
The Blue Chip Collegiate Baseball League (BCCBL) is one of two collegiate, wooden-bat leagues on Long Island this summer. The other is the LI Boys of Summer Perfect Game Collegiate League (LIBSPGCL). Each 12-team league plays a 24-game schedule through mid-August, then a postseason. The BCCBL draws about 320 players from programs such as Hofstra, Stony Brook, St. John’s, Fordham, Boston College and Maryland, among others. The other league has approximately 300 players.
A small group of area players left Long Island for summer baseball. Only a handful of collegiate baseball leagues played this summer including the Northwoods League of the Midwest, the Futures League of New England, the Texas Collegiate League, and the Metro Scout (or Summer) Collegiate League (of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas).
Many LI players are playing in the two local leagues.
“The level of play this year is better than ever,” said BCCBL commissioner Eric Weiner, who stressed to players and coaches the importance of being safe and to follow local guidelines at PAL Stadium in Holtsville, Mitchel Athletic Complex and Cantiague Park in Hicksville.
“It’s working,” he said. “We continue to hope for the best.”
Both leagues follow state and local guidelines in terms of social distancing and safety rules to protect players, coaches, umpires and fans. A few of the adaptations include: an umpire calling pitches from behind the pitcher’s mound instead of behind home plate; when a ball goes out of play, the defensive team (not the umpire) gives the pitcher a new ball; teams are asked to keep a maximum of five players in the dugout (other players sit in bleachers, or seats outside the dugout).
Players in both leagues were required to sign a COVID-19-related health waiver.
“When I first spoke to the team,” Long Island Nor’easters coach Pat Shortt said, “I told them, ‘Your first priority is to follow the [safety] rules to protect yourselves and your families.’ ”
“I really didn’t think [a summer league] was going to happen,” Nor’easters pitcher Nic Luc said. “I thought I would just be working out on my own, but obviously it’s great that it did.”
Luc, who will be a senior at Adelphi, is one of the hardest throwers in the BCCBL, and has been clocked as high as 94 mph.
Perhaps the BCCBL’s best pitching staff belongs to the first-place HDMH Navy squad (14-0). Three pitchers have 4-0 records, including current Hofstra and former Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK standout Mark Faello (33 strikeouts in 17 innings with a 0.00 ERA), Brian Morrisey (of Commack and Stony Brook University, 23 strikeouts in 13.2 innings with a save) and Kyle O’Neill (West Islip and Felician).
Franchi is the leadoff hitter and catalyst for the Navy team. He is third in the league with a .472 batting average and leads the BCCBL in hits (17), stolen bases (17) and runs scored (23) after Wednesday’s games.
Recent Roosevelt grad and Stony Brook freshman Idris Carter — who a local scout called a “future pro prospect” — leads the BCCBL with four home runs for the second-place Long Island Titans-White (11-1).
Meanwhile, the LIB Neptunes (10-2-2) lead the LIBPGCL behind Anderson University’s and St. Francis Prep alumnus Nick Vella (.420 batting average, 4 homers) and Tufts University and Oceanside product Brendan McFall (2-0 with a 0.24 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 18 innings).
“It’s just awesome being back on a field,” Franchi said. “It didn’t matter where it was, or what it was, it’s great to be out playing again.”
While players aren’t sure if they’ll be able to play on the collegiate level due to COVID-19, they’re appreciating the chance to play this summer.
“This is a really good opportunity for a lot of guys,” said Nor’easters and former Farmingdale and current St. Louis University outfielder George Sutherland, who is hitting .400. “Because some of the other [summer] leagues shut down, the competition level here has amped up. Plus, we get to play and be around our families, and give the local people something to come out and enjoy.”