The players on the newest team to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League are determined to show off the local area’s talent.
The Long Island Road Warriors, managed by Neal Heaton, who played 12 years in the major leagues, have a 25-man roster with every player calling Long Island home. Earning their name by being the only team in the seven-team league without a true home field, the Road Warriors are in second place with a record of 23-16-1 in their first season in the league with the playoffs scheduled to begin later this week.
“It’s cool,” said shortstop Nick Grande, a 2016 Newsday All-Long Island selection, from Smithtown West High School. “I’ve played with a lot of these guys before in recent years so we’ve already developed a lot of chemistry, so it’s a lot of fun. And it’s a great opportunity being able to represent Long Island and it’s a good chance to show how good the baseball really is around here.”
Garrett Heaton, Neal’s son, plays second base for Long Island and completes the double-play tandem with Grande in summer ball and at Stony Brook University. Garrett leads the team with a .330 batting average this summer and enjoys being on a team playing so well solely made up of local players.
“It shows how Long Island baseball is really coming up,” said Garrett, from Bellport High School. “And to be playing different kids from around the country and doing well against them, it shows that Long Island baseball has come a long way.”
The Hamptons League is comprised of college players from all over country and utilize host families in areas such as Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Westhampton, but the members of the Road Warriors live at home and travel to games. They usually meet up at All-Pro Sports Academy in Bellport, Neal said, and take a bus together to their game.
Neal said despite not having a home field, it’s actually been “convenient” since the team doesn’t have to worry about preparing a field, putting the lines down, maintaining the grass, saying “we just show up and play.”
The players, despite playing travel baseball on Long Island for years, have been playing on fields they aren’t used to.
“You would think staying home for the summer and playing on Long Island, you’d be in a lot of familiar places but a lot of these fields we’ve never played on before,” Grande said. “So to be able to come out east four, five days a week and play in these nice areas and different fields is really cool.”
Besides Garrett and Grande in the lineup, strong outfield play of Sean Rausch (Longwood High School, Hofstra University), Michael Veit (Bellport High School, Fairleigh Dickinson University) and Marc Wangenstein (Connetquot High School, Albany University) has been key this season. Ray Weber (West Islip High School, Albany University), Tim Kennedy (Longwood High School, University of New Haven) and Shane McDonald (Chaminade High School, Fordham University) have excelled on the mound this summer.
And for Neal and his son, it’s been similar to just another summer on the baseball diamond. Neal said he’s been coaching Garrett since his son was 9, and when Garrett wanted to play in the Hamptons League, Neal figured it would be a good opportunity to coach him some more.
“I’ve been playing with my dad since, I can’t even remember how long,” Garrett said. “He knows so much about baseball, it’s great to be able to have a dad who played in the MLB.”