Baseball student-athletes gain valuable experience in elite collegiate summer leagues

Connor Russell pitched for the Seacoast Mavericks of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League this summer. (Photo courtesy of Connor Russell for Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- Returning starting pitchers Connor Speed and Connor Russell headline a group of Bates baseball student-athletes who competed this year in elite collegiate summer leagues in preparation for the 2018 season. 

"I always encourage our players to compete at a high level during the summer season," Bates head coach Jon Martin said. "It's about putting it together as a team with players from different backgrounds, making adjustments in your personal game, and playing hard-nosed, competitive baseball. There are so many great summer leagues, especially on the east coast; there's almost always an option for our players."  

Speed '18 (San Diego, Calif.) pitched in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the Plymouth Pilgrims. He posted a 3.33 ERA in 14 appearances, three starts, helping lead the Pilgrims to the playoffs. Speed struck out 21 batters in 27 innings pitched. The high level of competition has Speed ready for his senior year with the Bobcats.  

"In my second outing with the Pilgrims I faced a guy who would go on to get selected in the Major League Baseball draft in the 7th round," Speed said. "On my team alone there were five guys who were drafted out of high school. It seemed like every single batter you faced was an absolute stud at their respective colleges so it taught me that you can't take a single pitch off because if you do that ball will get sent 400 feet over the wall." 

Russell '18 (Cumberland, Maine) pitched in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League for the Seacoast Mavericks. He started five games, finishing the summer with a 4.15 ERA in 26 innings pitched. 

"Summer ball offers an experience that is very different than a college season," Russell said. "You play in front of crowds ranging from a a few hundred to a few thousand every night, six days a week. Every night you are at a different ballpark, hanging out in the bullpen, signing autographs for younger kids before the game, etc. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if we were a minor league team."
Another fun aspect of summer ball for the players can be the opportunity to compete against their fellow Bobcats. 
"My most memorable game of the summer is when we (the Brockton Rox) played against the Mavericks," senior Jake Shapiro (Sandy, Utah) said. "Russell started on the bump for them, and I threw in relief for us. After playing together for three years it was fun to be on the other side.
"It was even better to pull out the win," Shapiro added.
Russell has a slightly more detailed memory of the encounter.
"I had just come off three very successful outings and hadn't let up a run in my last 14 innings," Russell said. "Jake's team was leading the division and had some very talented players. He had just joined the team the week before and it was the first time we were facing each other. I imploded and gave up like four home runs over four innings while Jake just watched from the other dugout laughing.
"Not a good memorable moment, but memorable nevertheless."

It was not just the upperclassmen who got the opportunity to compete in a summer collegiate league after the 2017 Bates season wrapped up.

Sophomores Jack Arend (Newfields, N.H.) and Giovanni Torres (North Haven, Conn.) played in the Beach Collegiate League for the Murrells Inlet Longboards in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They both made the All-Star team while learning to adjust to their new environment. 

"Summer ball is an animal of its own," Torres said. "Compared to the regular college season, summer ball is a lot more laid back. You still develop that sense of family within the players on the team, however its more about getting extra reps in that the regular college season may not allow you to have. It's all about how much you can improve your skills for the next regular season." 

When it comes for preparing for the 2018 season, the work doesn't end after summer ball.

"I've been working out a ton, been eating right," Arend said. "The plan for the winter is to work on my weaknesses both defensively and offensively while getting more flexible and agile." 

Bates opens at Pomona-Pitzer on Sunday, February 18. 

"I look forward using the experience from this summer to further help my teammates achieve our goal of WINNING the NESCAC tournament," Speed said. "Go Cats!"