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Though far-flung, LI players find summer baseball leagues

This is former Seaford player Andrew Cain who

This is former Seaford player Andrew Cain who now plays at New Haven. Credit: Cody Charneski

Andrew Cain has had his share of hurdles in pursuing a pro baseball career. In 2019 while playing at the University of New Haven, the two-time Newsday All-Long Island selection from Seaford needed right elbow surgery. He missed most of the spring season and all of the summer.

Then this year, as Cain began his climb back physically to being one of Long Island’s top prospects, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled college.

 As most of the collegiate summer leagues nationwide shut down, players searched for places to play. Cain, a  corner piece for New Haven, landed a contract with the New Britain (Conn.) Bees of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

Finally, a break.

“After all that I’ve gone through, I’m just so happy to be back playing,” said the 6-1, 210-pound Cain, who has three years of eligibility left at New Haven. “It’s great just to be back in the dugout with the guys, taking batting practice, playing competitively.”

Cain plays first base and bats cleanup for the Bees. He has nine doubles, a home run, 11 RBIs and a .280 average for the 8-15 Bees.

“We drive to all of our games and some are three hours away, so it’s a lot of driving,” Cain said. “Fans are allowed in New Britain but not every stadium. They don’t allow fans yet in Brockton, Massachusetts, and Nashua, New Hampshire.”

Players are required to wear masks in and out of venues and get temperature checks before they go to work. Cain, who shares a rented house in New Haven with teammates, said it’s all important for everyone’s safety.

“It’s similar to Long Island with the government guidelines and safety rules in place,” he said. “The experience has been great. I would do it again.”

New Haven coach Chris Celano is closely following Cain’s progress.

“Two years ago, we didn’t know where this would end up but he’s rewriting his own story and he’s 100 percent,” said Celano, in his 10th year at New Haven. “He wasn’t ready in 2019 and wasn’t feeling right and we made a mutual decision to redshirt him. I’ve been coaching college baseball more than 20 years and he’s at the top of the list in natural physical ability. I would not be surprised to see him play after college. He has power, speed, physical size and the best attitude.”

While many collegiate players from Long Island and Queens found places to play in the area this summer, a few opted to travel elsewhere.

TEXAS COLLEGIATE LEAGUE

A top prospect in the region is lefthander Garrett Crowley, a 6-4, 213-pounder from Fordham. The Forest Hills native had nine relief appearances with a win and a save for the Rams in the shortened 2020 season.

He is playing for the Tulsa Drillers in the Northern Division of the Texas Collegiate League, living in a hotel room a mile from the Drillers’ stadium.

“I played in the Hamptons League on Long Island last year where they use high school and town fields,” said Crowley, who will be a junior at Fordham. “This summer, we’re playing in minor league stadiums. It’s a completely different experience. The bigger crowds are exciting. Fans have embraced our league. The competition is excellent, and we draw anywhere from a thousand fans to more than 3,000 on a fireworks night.”      

Crowley has struck out 28 in 19 innings and has a 3-0 record and a 1.89 ERA. He was perfect through four innings and allowed one hit through 5 1/3 in a 5-3 win over the first-place Amarillo Sod Dogs on Wednesday night.

“It’s as close to minor-league baseball as you can have,” said Crowley, whose velocity sits between 93-95. “We play in all minor-league facilities. We stay in nice hotels.”

Crowley said the team gets temperature checks before every game or practice.

“We skipped one series against Frisco Rough Riders because they had a number of players test positive for COVID-19.” 

NORTHWOODS LEAGUE

NYIT junior Bobby Vath is playing in the Northwoods Collegiate League for the Wisconsin Woodchucks. The righthanded pitcher has three years of eligibility left after transferring from Rhode Island.

The Newfield graduate played in the Hamptons League in 2019 but this year he’s getting a chance to live with a host family and play off Long Island.

“I’ve been humbled a bit learning a lot about myself as I function on my own,” he said. “Living with a host family is different and a little awkward. You’re in someone else’s home. And I’m 16 hours away from home. It takes a lot of getting used to and the family sets the boundaries.”

When Vath hits the road, it’s mostly three-hour bus rides.

“The fields are beautiful, magnificent stadiums with clean clubhouses. The fans are great. You have to carry yourself professionally at all times. Everywhere we go, all eyes are on us, so it teaches us how to act and what we can and can’t say. The best decision in my life was to go away this summer.”

Vath is 0-3 with a 4.91 ERA for the last-place Woodchucks.

“There’s been some struggles and there’s been growth,” he said. “I’m working hard.”

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