NF Ospreys kick off season with first-time skipper 

When the North Fork Ospreys start their Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season Friday night, manager Vinnie Morelli will be able to relate to his team.

He turned 25 on Thursday, so he’s not much older than the players he’ll manage this summer.

“I want to help them as much as much as I can. I want to help them to be the best ballplayers,” said Morelli, whose team hosts the Shelter Island Bucks in their season opener at Cochran Park in Peconic at 7 p.m. “We’re around the same age, and I kind of have a better understanding of how to talk to some of these guys.”

Morelli, who hails from Pittsburgh, played catcher at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. He became an assistant baseball coach while pursuing his MBA degree at the school.

So he already has experience with dealing with his peers.

“I was trying to learn how to coach my ‘friends’ for the most part,” he said. “That allows me to be able to relate with them and understand how to build trust, and how to kind of motivate the guys, rather than just kind of being a hoot and hollering guy.”

Morelli will be assisted by coaches Joey Perkins and Dean Glasser.

“We are on the player development side,” Morelli said. “That’s kind of a passion we all hold. We hope to help those guys kind of get to do the best that they can be.

“We’re also going to ask them, what is something that their program wants to see them improve on?” he continued. “Maybe it’s a hitter hitting to the opposite field, or whatever the case is.” 

The HCBL is a balance between player development, and of course, winning.

“A lot of these guys are coming from programs where they competed incredibly hard,” Morelli said. “They’re coming from very top-end programs. They have that competitive edge. I don’t think that’s something that I have to worry about instilling too much in them. I think it’s a natural nature with the guys. I don’t think they’d be coming out here spending their time in the summer if they didn’t want to win a little bit, too.”

What Morelli might lack in managing experience is made up by his enthusiasm in general and passion for baseball in particular.

“I’m a high-energy guy,” he said. “I’m going to bring kind of the line that I’ve kind of been instilled in: If you’re juiceless, you’re useless. Just bring the juice for the next six weeks. We’re super excited to be able to just do it.”

Morelli, who has never been east of State College, Pa., can’t wait to experience the North Fork.

“I’ve never been to Long Island before, so it’s going to be pretty cool to be able to kind of see some different scenery … and hopefully get to see some good baseball,” he said. “To be able to come out here and see different ball players, different atmosphere, meet some different people, is what I’m most excited about.”

In addition to the Ospreys and the Bucks, the league includes the Sag Harbor Whalers, Westhampton Aviators, South Shore Clippers and Southampton Breakers. The regular season runs from June 13 to July 23, with playoffs immediately following.

The 11th HCBL all-star game will be held at Mashashimuet Park, the Whalers’ home field, on Saturday, July 13.

Fans might wind up seeing future stars or players that helped make headlines in college or in professional baseball.

For example, right-hander Ben Hoover, who pitched for the Ospreys last season, was a member of the Birmingham-Southern College squad that captured the NCAA Division III tournament in the program’s final season. The college announced in March that it was closing at the end of May. The Panthers won 16 of their final games to finish at 29-12.

Hoover played in nine Osprey games, hurling 11 1/3 innings, with a save.

Ospreys general manager Todd Newman is still looking for families to host players this summer. Interested parties can call him at 631-831-7045.

“I’ve got to get a couple more host families so I can ease the burden of families that are taking three or four,” Newman said. “I have five kids in my house.

“If we find one [host family], it’s a plus,” he said. “If we find two, it’s a double plus.”