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Baseball: Tomcats’ Kelly learns to keep it loose

When the pressure is really on, it’s more important than ever to stay loose.

As contradictory as that may sound, Miles Kelly can attest to its truth.

It’s one of the lessons Kelly has learned this summer while playing for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.

“I think one of the biggest things that anybody can learn playing any sport is to keep calm and play loose,” Kelly said in an interview Wednesday afternoon before the Tomcats went on to defeat the Long Island Road Warriors, 8-4, for the first league championship in their 10-year history. “At college you see a lot of times, everybody is so intense, everybody is so nervous, everybody is so uptight that you do bad one time and it screws with your head for the rest of the game or the rest of the season even. Here it’s a little more laid-back and everybody has fun. Nobody is stressing and you can see we’re in first place.”

The HCBL has been good preparation for Kelly, a Mattituck resident who played for Shoreham-Wading River High School. The 6-3, 225-pound red-shirt sophomore for Rutgers University will be eligible to play for the Scarlet Knights in 2019. He joined the Rutgers program in January after initially enrolling at the College of Charleston. Although he has played mostly as a rightfielder for the Tomcats, he said he will play first base for Rutgers.

Over the course of his playing career, Kelly has traveled. He lived in Middle Island before moving to Mattituck following his eighth-grade school year. That was a transition for him since his preference is for bigger schools.

“It wasn’t a great fit going from a school that had a thousand kids per grade to a school that had a hundred and twenty kids per grade,” he said, “so I didn’t like it that much, but I knew a lot of kids in Shoreham and ended up moving there and ended up loving it.”

Kelly played one season for Mattituck’s junior varsity team before moving on to Shoreham midway through 10th grade. A three-year varsity starter for the Wildcats, Kelly compiled a .390 career batting average and was an all-county player. In his senior year, Shoreham won a county title. “I think the level of play at the school, it wasn’t matched anywhere else,” he said.

Kelly had also played travel ball for the East Coast Lumberjacks for three years. At one time, he was ranked as the 16th-best first baseman in New York by Perfect Game, according to his bio on scarletknights.com.

A lefthanded batter who throws with his right arm, Kelly welcomed the opportunity to play for the Tomcats this season and prepare for his college team. He said, “Coming off a red shirt, I hadn’t faced live pitching in pretty much a whole year, and I just wanted to get back in the groove of things, you know, get the swing feeling fine.”

Kelly said he struck out too often early in the season, but “through the last quarter of the season I definitely stepped it up.”

He finished the regular season with a .147 batting average, three home runs and 14 RBIs, walking six times and striking out 22 times. In the 17 games he played at first base, he made 32 putouts with one error for a .970 fielding percentage.

“Miles was one of the best power hitters on our team,” Tomcats first baseman/pitcher Chris Stefl said. “He did struggle a little bit with consistency, but I think once he figures it out, he’s going to be a great player because he’s got the most juice on our team by far, out of anyone. If he makes contact, the ball’s gone.”

Tomcats coach John Galanoudis offered fulsome praise for Kelly.

“He’s been great,” Galanoudis said. “I mean, he’s been nothing but a positive attitude with these guys. He’s just been a great guy to coach. He’ll get his long ball once in a while, but I can’t say anything more about how great he’s been just as a teammate.”

Kelly is also known for his enthusiasm for a game called “Mafia” that the Tomcats played during bus rides.

“There’s a narrator and then usually about 10 to 15 people play,” Kelly said. “The narrator will pick people to be the mafia and he’ll pick cops and he’ll pick a nurse. Everybody puts their head down. You say, ‘Mafia, head up.’ And the mafia will choose to kill somebody silently, and everybody will guess who they think the mafia is. It gets really intense. It’s a fun game.”

And it helps keep things loose.

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Photo caption: Miles Kelly of Mattituck, a former Shoreham-Wading River High School player, has learned the value of staying loose through his time playing for the Riverhead Tomcats. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)