By: Ben Elsner, Staff Writer
Stephen Strasburg, Joe Nathan, Andre Either, Andrew Bailey and Rajai Davis, who all have made a great mark on the MLB during the prime of their careers, got their start in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. The NECBL is a summer league that spans throughout the New England area, where some of the best collegiate baseball players participate in one of the most competitive, wooden-bat leagues in the country. Since 1993, college baseball players have been prolonging their season by traveling to New England to compete for the NECBL title. Founded by the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets great, George Foster, the NECBL has risen to be known as one of the top summer leagues in the country along with the likes of the Northwoods League and the Cape Cod League. When asking former General Manager and Vice President of the Plymouth Pilgrims Kevin Plant, why people should be paying attention to the NECBL, he said “There are a lot of players that may have a lot of talent but have a down year at school, so they get skipped by the Cape League or the draft” but what makes the NECBL so great is that, “they can explode and get hot” leading to scouts seeing the talents they do have.
Everyone knows of the Cape Cod League, and their success is insurmountable, but don’t sleep on the NECBL. Plant said, “The Cape Cod League is the king” but “these players get to experience all of New England…and see different ways of life which players enjoy.” Ballplayers from big D1 schools such as TCU, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, and Louisville join D2 schools such as Eckerd College, and high D3 programs such as Westfield State to form teams in the NECBL. In the NECBL, it doesn’t matter what college you go to or how good of a program you are in, its all about helping these players showcase their skills and win some ballgames. According to Plant, he “personally I didn’t want all D1 players, having a couple D2 players and D3 guys are important. They have shown me they want it more because they have more to prove”. At the start of the season, a group of players from different backgrounds, many who have never met before and some who have been league rivals, stay with host families and compete to show their talents and win a title. The success of the Cape Cod League has completely overshadowed the amazing programs in the NECBL, and it’s time for that to change.
While working for the Plymouth Pilgrims of the NECBL as an intern this past summer, it became evident how impressive these players are. With an 8-week season, the teams play a 42-game schedule ranging from early June to the beginning of August. At every game, as the teams begin batting practice, if you take a quick scan of the crowd you can see 3+ scouts taking notes and judging these ball players. Radar guns are highly common behind the NECBL plates for the scouts to properly judge whether these pitchers have “major league stuff”. Each year, each team has at least a hand full of players taken in the MLB Draft, some taken as early as first overall pick, as Steven Strasburg was in 2009. For players who don’t go to the big D1 programs, the games are indescribably important to showcase their gifts to the scouts present from major league ballclubs. During the season scouts from clubs such as the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres studied every aspect of the game. When the opportunity presented itself for me to pick one of the scouts’ brain, I learned that he watched closely to each pitch to ensure the starting pitcher was repeating his motion analogously to the pitch before. Slight shifts in the arm angle or release point of the pitcher’s arms from pitch to pitch made for scouts to question the repeatability of their pitching motion.
This past season, the Valley Blue Sox played the Ocean State Waves for the second year in a row in the NECBL Championship game. Likewise, for the second straight year, the Valley Blue Sox won the championship series 2-0. The Blue Sox roster featured players from schools such as the University of Tennessee, Southern New Hampshire University and Marist College. Although many of these players aren’t from major programs, the team featured Tyler Kapuscinski, who led the team with a .376 average, as well as Endy Morales who led the NECBL in ERA, with a ridiculous 1.13 ERA in 40 innings pitched, according to NECBL.com. The Valley Blue Sox got the job done with elite pitching and timely hitting, which has become the norm for the league.
Top notch baseball is within the reach of thousands of baseball fans from their homes within New England and it’s time that they stop being overshadowed. The NECBL is no longer the little brother to the Cape Cod League, they have grown into a fantastically competitive league that rivals any summer baseball in the country. Watch out Cape Cod League, the NECBL is coming.