Brian Hansen may be the answer to a trivia question one day: Who managed the North Fork Ospreys when they won their first division championship in 2010?
While some might be tempted to say Shawn Epidendio, they would be wrong. The Ospreys manager left the team following the first game of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League Hampton Division finals in order to serve as the best man at a friend’s wedding. In his place, Hansen, the team’s assistant coach, served as the acting manager for the Ospreys in Games 2 and 3 of the division finals against the Riverhead Tomcats as well as the ACBL final against the Quakertown Blazers.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Hansen said. “I couldn’t wait for it to be over to get rid of that anxiety and that level of being intense. I felt good about it. It was a good experience for me. I love managing, I love coaching, but being thrown to the wolves like this is a little different.”
Hansen said he kept in touch with Epidendio through text messages and phone calls over the final three games of the playoffs, which ended when the Ospreys scored a 5-4 triumph over the Blazers for their first league championship on Sunday night at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. He said he also received help from players and his son, Matt, who coached first base.
Hansen and Epidendio, who completed their second season working together with the Ospreys, have developed a friendship. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have managerial differences.
“We do disagree on some things sometimes because I’m quick to go to the mound a lot,” said Hansen, who had a water bucket dumped over his head by David Jacob following the Ospreys’ division-title win over the Riverhead Tomcats last Thursday night. “He doesn’t like to really go to the mound because he’s more of a hitting, infield, outfield coach, but I like to go to the mound and talk it over. I like to, I guess, be in control. … I guess I’m a control freak.”
This has been an especially memorable spell for Hansen, a favorite among youngsters who often go to him for baseballs and broken bats. Not only did he have success with the Ospreys, but his team of 10-year-olds, the All-League Hitmen, clinched a playoff berth Saturday night on a walk-off hit.
Hansen had nothing but praise for the Ospreys players.
“To manage guys like this at this level is a dream come true because these guys are great players, they really are,” he said. “This is easy, really. These guys, you just put their names down and they go out and do it.”
For now, though, Hansen’s managerial record is mighty impressive. His first managing win was for a division title and his second for a league championship. He said, “I should quit while I’m ahead, right?”
KEEP ‘RAMBO’ IN MIND The Quakertown Blazers got a good taste of what it’s like for major league teams on road trips when they have little turnaround time from one game to the next. After the Blazers survived a 16-inning semifinal against the Torrington Titans on Saturday night, they had to take a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Peconic for the league final against the Ospreys.
Did the late game and travel have an affect on the Blazers?
“Physically, maybe we had a little soreness, but I didn’t see any excuses,” Blazers designated hitter Adam Kammler said. “I didn’t see any tiring from any of these guys. We battled hard. We’re a mentally tough team. We have a slogan, nothing is over, from ‘Rambo.’ We got a picture of Rambo in our dugout. We’re a team that doesn’t quit, and we’ll nip you in the bud if you’re not ready for us.”
Blazers Manager Mike Schneider said the experience of this past weekend was good for his young players. “This is a player development league,” he said, “and I think this is going to open their eyes if they want to get to that next level; this is what they’re going to have to do.”
SEASON OF UPS, DOWNS ENDS FOR TOMCATS The Tomcats could feel good that they took the Ospreys to three games in the division finals, but the end of their season stung, nonetheless.
“It [stinks] the summer’s over,” Tomcats designated hitter/pitcher Kevin Needham said. “We had a fun run.”
The Tomcats used a walk-off homer by Matt Fleishman to win Game 2, which had been suspended because of darkness and took two days to complete. When the game resumed last Thursday with the score tied at 4-4, Fleishman connected on the second pitch he saw in the bottom of the 10th inning for his dramatic solo home run. It brought the Tomcats a 5-4 triumph, their seventh walk-off win at home this year.
“It was exciting,” Fleishman said. “Going up there as a leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 10th, I knew my job was just to get on base, but fortunately I got a pitch that I thought I could drive.”
The Tomcats went 13-4 in one-run games this year.
“We just play hard to the end of all games, and we’ve just done a great job the entire year winning late in ballgames,” said Fleishman.
But the Tomcats’ knack for pulling out close games didn’t come in handy last Thursday night when they were beaten, 7-3, in the decisive third game of the division finals. That brought an end to a season in which the Tomcats entered the divisional playoffs as the third seed and finished with an overall record of 23-26.
Following Game 3, Tomcats third baseman Eric Schlitter said he was “obviously disappointed. We wanted to win. It would have been nice to go to the championship, but the Ospreys played a great game. They’ve been number one throughout the season for a reason.”
Needham called it “a great season. We had a lot of ups, a lot of downs, but we pulled together as a ballclub, and we made adjustments and we became a better ball team because of it.”
RALLY TIME The Ospreys gave themselves a big boost in Game 3 of the division finals with an impressive rally in the sixth inning. They poured it on that inning, scoring five runs on six hits and turning a 2-1 lead into a 7-1 advantage. Rocco Gondek, Andrew Harris and Brendan O’Brien started things off with successive singles. Later, Kurt Schlangen delivered a three-run homer, and that was followed with back-to-back doubles by Sebastian Grazziani and Rob Kelly.
That was the sort of production Gondek likes to see. “I haven’t seen it in a while,” he said. “It’s been a few games since we’ve been all together hitting the ball. It’s about time. We were due for it.”
Brian Hansen’s decision to move Schlangen up from sixth to second in the batting order looked like a master stroke.
“The kid’s a player,” Hansen said. “I love him in the two hole because he bunts, he hits and runs. He does whatever you ask him. He’s a great player.”