A quick scan of the Greenport High School baseball players loosening up their arms by playing catch is all one needs to notice the most obvious change in the Porters from last season: There are more of them.
Last year the Porters played mostly with only nine or 10 players, leading them to nickname themselves the “Notorious Nine.” With the start of preseason practice this week, the Porters are looking at about 20 players, quite a jump, although tempered a bit by the fact that they are not fielding a junior varsity team this season.
“Last year we were the Notorious Nine,” Greenport senior Matt Drinkwater said. “Now we’re the Twinkling Twenty.”
Not only do the Porters have more manpower (and more pitching arms), but they have a new coach. Mike Sage, 39, who coached the junior varsity team the last three years, takes over from Chris Golden. Golden had coached the team the last three years, during which it went 15-39. That includes a 4-10 run last year.
Sage is hardly a stranger to Greenport. He attended the school (Class of 1993) and played for the Porters. Now, he said, he is excited that his first varsity coaching job is at his alma mater.
Being a varsity coach, he said, is different than running a junior varsity team. “It’s a different vibe, a different feeling,” he said, adding, “It’s the big time now.”
He continued, “You want to do the school proud and you want to get the sport back on the map here.”
While baseballs popped into mitts in the high school gym at the start of Tuesday’s practice, Sage spoke about what he asks of his players.
“We just hope we can go out there and put a good product on the field,” he said. “I want them to have a passion for the game. I understand that they have a lot of things going on, but try to have a passion for the game when they’re out here playing, try to do the school proud, try to do their parents and the community proud. Go out there and compete. Leave it on the field. Act like gentlemen. Laugh, have fun, get serious when it’s time to get serious.”
Timmy Stevens, a senior catcher, played for Sage as a freshman when he bounced between the varsity and the junior varsity teams. Stevens described Sage as “very relaxed, fun. He cares a lot about the program, just wants to build it. He’s just a great coach.”
Sage likes the flexibility the added depth gives him. He pointed out that it looks like the team will be able to hold nine-on-nine scrimmages. “We couldn’t even do that with two squads last year,” he said.
The Porters can count on the experience of players like the Drinkwater twins, John and Matt, as well as Stevens, Neville Reece, David Krumenacker and Jake Skrezec. Greenport’s junior varsity team played about two-thirds of its season last year before folding because players numbers had dwindled. A couple of players from that junior varsity team, Keegan Syron and Tyler Kruszeski, got a little taste of varsity baseball, though.
“I think this could be the strongest team that we’ve played on since we’ve been in Greenport,” Matt Drinkwater said. “I think we could really make a dent in the league this year. We got a lot more experience and a lot of skill and a lot of talent and a lot of arms, which is always a good thing.”
John Drinkwater said, “I’m just excited to see where the season goes.” He said the team has spirit, remarking, “I think these guys on this team really want to make something out of it, and I think we will.”