SOUTHAMPTON — All eyes were on them, and it was time to perform.
Even for baseball players accustomed to being in the spotlight and playing under pressure, more than a few were unquestionably feeling some nerves as they participated in Hampton Collegiate Baseball’s second annual Scout Day. It was what the eyes of the men holding radar guns and stopwatches saw that counted most on Monday as players from the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League’s Hampton Division worked out under the watchful gaze of professional scouts.
“You always get the butterflies a little bit because you know that if you don’t make a good impression it might be your last chance, so you always want to make a good first impression, and hopefully they put your name on their watch list and they’ll see you again,” said North Fork Ospreys catcher Kurt Schlangen.
Schlangen was one of over 100 players from the Hampton Division’s five teams — the Ospreys, Riverhead Tomcats, Sag Harbor Whalers, Southampton Breakers and Westhampton Aviators — who participated in the showcase event at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus. The players were timed in the 60-yard dash, were observed fielding and throwing, and pitched and hit under game-like conditions with an umpire calling balls and strikes behind home plate.
“I’ve been in a couple of showcases,” Tomcats catcher Chase Fowler said. “They’re pretty good. You want to come out here and show what you got and try to show them everything that you have and do your best.”
Ospreys outfielder Billy Ferriter, who was the most valuable player of the league’s all-star game earlier this month, said, “It’s a great way to showcase your skills and what you can do.”
The players were put through their paces in front of 10 scouts representing the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and the Central Scouting Bureau, which files reports on behalf of all 30 Major League Baseball teams.
“I’m here because I heard a lot of good things about this league,” said Cesar Presbott, the Yankees’ area scout/supervisor. “This league is looking very organized, and I’ve seen a lot of decent kids.”
A player has to stand out in order to catch a scout’s eye, and it isn’t easy. After all, it is a long shot for a player to be picked up by a major league team. To start with, Presbott said, “For the Yankees, you got to be a great athlete.”
For scouts, finding a player who might have what it takes to make it to the big leagues is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
“I spent many years travelling all over, and to get just one major league player is not that easy,” said Presbott, who has been a scout for 35 years and discovered Julio Franco, who had a 23-year major league career with seven teams. “This is a lot of responsibility. You have to know what you’re doing because if you call your scouting director to let him know that [a player has] a chance to be a Yankee, you got to make sure that this guy belongs [with] the Yankees.”
Chasing their major league dream is what all the players share, and providing players with exposure to pro scouts is one of the ACBL’s missions.
“I think that a lot of scouts are able to go online and look at the stats and things like that, but here they’re able to see the tools that each player brings to the table,” said Brett Mauser, Hamptons Collegiate Baseball’s director of communications and recruiting. “You come here and you’re able to see guys who throw hard and show great promise.
“Everybody wants to put their best foot forward because they know this is a great opportunity.”
Tomcats outfielder Nathan Pittman said it was important for players to not allow their nerves to affect their performance. “Play it like a game, do not get too nervous out there, just show off whatever talent, whatever skills that you have,” he said.
For Schlangen, the feeling of being watched is nothing new, and that might have helped him.
“The way my coaches taught me,” he said, “play the game like someone’s always watching you, even if you’re playing town ball back in central Minnesota or if you’re playing at the University of Minnesota. You got to play the game like someone’s watching you. You got to respect the game and play hard.”