Baseball: Aviators post big numbers against Ospreys

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Robert Paller of North Fork slid safely into third base while Westhampton third baseman Shawn Heide covered the bag.


It may seem odd to veteran observers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League to see Eric Romano wearing a uniform other than that of the Riverhead Tomcats. Given what he has been through the past couple of years, though, Romano sounds grateful to be wearing any kind of a baseball uniform at all.

Romano has twice been hit in the head by pitches. Last summer, while playing for the Tomcats, a pitch struck him just under his batting helmet, breaking a bone on the orbital socket. Then, five games into this past college season with Franklin Pierce University (N.H.), a fastball nailed Romano on the temple, knocking him out.

Both incidents left him with concussions; the most recent one was especially severe. He was pulled out of school for the second semester and he said he didn’t leave his house for a couple of months. “I couldn’t go outside during the day because the sunlight really bothered me,” he said.

Romano, who saw a neurologist, needed to pass balance and memory tests before he could return to the baseball diamond. When one of his Franklin Pierce teammates backed out of playing for the North Fork Ospreys this summer, Romano jumped at the chance to take the spot. He received medical clearance to play only about a week and a half before joining the team. The day he arrived on the North Fork marked his first batting practice since he was injured.

Romano made his Ospreys debut Wednesday in the team’s 6-2 win over the Southampton Breakers. It was the first live pitching he had faced in four months, and he got a couple of hits.

“I feel good,” Romano said. “Actually, I was surprised. I was actually seeing it well, so I was real happy after the game.”

And he had more reason to feel good on Thursday, despite a 14-2 loss to the Westhampton Aviators. Romano went 2 for 4 and scored a run as the designated hitter.

“Eric has had two good games, swinging the bat well,” North Fork coach Bill Ianniciello said. “He’s hitting the ball, getting a few hits. He’s been aggressive at the plate.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | North Fork third baseman Dillon Bryant snatched a ground ball during Thursday's game in Westhampton.

Sometimes players aren’t the same after getting beaned by pitches. Different players react differently to that sort of thing.

“I asked him the first time if he had any tentativeness coming back, and he said he didn’t, and I didn’t see it here,” Ianniciello said. “I see good signs.”

Romano said the incidents run through his mind sometimes, “but when I’m up at the plate, I just try to block it [out] and just see the ball well.”

Romano is in his third year in the ACBL. He spent the last two with the Tomcats and was an all-star selection in 2011. He said he is happy with his new surroundings, which include Jean W. Cochran Park, the Ospreys’ home in Peconic.

“The field that we play at is gorgeous,” he said. “It’s an exciting environment to play in front of.”

Romano isn’t the only one who seems to like his playing environment. One could count Aviators catcher Mike Elefante among them.

The public-address announcer at Aviator Field in Westhampton struggled repeatedly in his efforts to correctly pronounce Elefante’s name on Thursday. Elefante was amused by the announcer’s attempts.

“He messed up a few times, but that’s alright,” Elefante said. “I gave him a hard time, just joking around. But he nailed it with the last at-bat, which was good. He had me smiling.”

Elefante’s play surely had the Aviators (3-2) smiling. He drove in five runs in the rout of Ospreys.

In a rematch of last year’s Hampton Division finals, which the Aviators won en route to their appearance in the league final, Westhampton turned its offense on to full blast. The first home runs of the season by Matt Kriss (3 for 4, four runs, two runs batted in, two walks, stolen base) and Danny Muller (3 for 5, three runs, three RBI, stolen base) highlighted Westhampton’s 15-hit attack. Muller fell a triple short of hitting for the cycle.

“I think it all starts with the pitching, believe it or not,” Westhampton’s new coach, James Lally, said. “When your starter goes out there and throws strikes, it allows hitters to not have to try to do too much, and it allows them to stay in their element.”

Joe Mortillaro set the tone for the Aviators by pitching five shutout innings for his first decision of the season. He conceded only one hit and four walks while striking out seven in his 91-pitch effort. Three pitchers followed him in relief — Tyler Foote, Conan Leon and Alex Summers.

The Ospreys (1-2) managed only three hits.

Thanks to the Aviators’ bats, the first inning took 30 minutes to complete. Westhampton opened things up with singles from its first four batters — Kriss, Mark Podlas, Chad Livingston and Elefante — for a 2-0 lead. Things continued going Westhampton’s way the rest of the game.

“You’re going to have bad days like this,” Ianniciello said. “It’s early in the year. It’s a learning experience, and we’re finding out what guys can do well. Tomorrow will be a new day.”

Romano knows it’s a long season, with 37 more games to go. After what he has experienced, he could look at the bigger picture.

Said Romano, “It feels great just to be back out here playing again.”

[email protected]