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Long Island baseball talent finds a home at Hofstra

MacArthur pitcher Adam Heidenfelder delivers to home plate

MacArthur pitcher Adam Heidenfelder delivers to home plate during the first inning of a game against Port Washington. (April 29, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Hey, you wanna play?

Adam Heidenfelder called up Jesse Russo. Steven Foster called Mat Annunziata. The latter two both called Chris Weiss.

All for a chance to play together in their own backyard. For four years, that is.

Far from a sandlot game, Heidenfelder, Russo, Foster, Annunziata and Weiss -- some of the top baseball prospects on Long Island -- have eschewed bigger-name college baseball programs to play for coach John Russo's Hofstra team next year.

Each had his own reasons but one constant remained: They talked to each other beforehand and agreed -- one of the things drawing them to Hofstra was each other.

"When I went on a visit in December, they really made me feel at home," said Heidenfelder, the 6-5, 250-pound MacArthur ace who won the Diamond Award, given to the best pitcher in Nassau, as a junior.

The difficulty of the Colonial Athletic Association had a part, "because I pride myself on going up against the best and beating them, but I also can't wait to play with this team, with these guys . . . with Jesse Russo [of Clarke]. We have a really good friendship."

The homegrown talent means that the Pride has one of the strongest recruiting classes in recent memory, something that hasn't escaped their future coach's notice.

"I'm super-excited with these guys coming in," Russo said. "The one thing they have is the opportunity to play as freshmen and four or five could be in the starting lineup or pitching, and playing that early in your career is invaluable."

Of the Suffolk contingent, Weiss, the pitcher/infielder from Longwood, was the first to commit to Hofstra. He loved how close it was to home, he said, and when Annunziata and Foster were considering joining the team, they called him.

"I'm looking forward to trying to get my position on the team and having a good time with my friends that I've been playing with my whole life," Weiss said. "I think it's awesome, honestly."

Annunziata, the Eastport-South Manor slugger who originally committed to Winthrop, also was courted by Miami and Duke. After making the trip to South Carolina and seeing all the local talent they had, he realized that he too felt the need to be back home. Soon after, he de-committed, "and I saw Hofstra was a great fit," he said. He's going to be allowed to room with Foster, "who's my best friend. He's like a second family . . . and playing with him was definitely a part of it."

As for the team, "if we play how we know how to play, we could shock a few people."

Foster's father, Gene, said that before his son's recent surge, he didn't think of him as a Division I candidate. But the Sachem North centerfielder proved himself to be a whip-fast lefthanded leadoff hitter with power to all fields and wowed spectators at the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament last year. After that, he attended a Stony Brook University showcase, "and he was the best one in the camp," Gene Foster said. "I never thought this could happen . . . and we met coach Russo and Hofstra threw a number at him and I was blown away."

Gene Foster said he plans to attend their opener at UCLA and every home game after that. He'll be doing it with "the Annunziatas and the Weisses and the Heidenfelders," he said.

"Mat's been in my house since he was in diapers," Gene Foster said. "They're like family. Watching is going to be amazing."

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