Infield chatter interspersed with the thwack of baseballs meeting wood bats and the thump of balls landing in fielders’ gloves filled the air behind the Bridgehampton School on Monday.
That shouldn’t be unusual — it is baseball season after all.
But what is unusual is that Monday marked the first official day of practice for Bridgehampton’s new junior varsity team, the first baseball team the Killer Bees have fielded since 1980, when they were still known as the Bridgies and the lineup included basketball star and future and now retired basketball coach Carl Johnson.
The team, which includes students from the Ross School in East Hampton, will play a 20-game season in Class C, starting with a pair of games at Hampton Bays on May 11 and 12, followed by a two-game series against Pierson High School at Sag Harbor’s Mashashimuet Park on May 14 and 15.
The idea of fielding a baseball team was the brainchild of head coach Lou Liberatore, who came to Bridgehampton as a special education teacher in 2018, and immediately began molding it from among a small group of young athletes, some of whom had only a passing acquaintance with a sport once universally known as the national pastime.
“I can’t emphasize how much Lou has done in the last three years to build this program from absolute scratch,” said Bridgehampton’s athletic director and assistant baseball coach, Mike DeRosa. “It sounded crazy at the time because we didn’t have anything, but he came in with a plan.”
Mr. Liberatore comes from a strong baseball lineage. One of four brothers who all played college ball, he pitched for Malloy College, a Division II team. He served from 2015 to 2020 as the assistant varsity coach at Bayport-Blue Point, where he was mentored by coach Jim Moccio, who is the active leader in Suffolk County with more than 300 all-time wins and who has two New York State Class A titles to his credit.
“We started with a three-year plan in 2018 with camps, winter workouts and summer clinics,” he said, “all to prepare for JV this spring and varsity next spring.”
Although Mr. Liberatore is the architect, he credits his players for buying into his ideas for a disciplined, focused approach to building a team.
“The reason this team is possible is because of them and the effort and energy they have given to me over these last three years,” he told the Bridgehampton School Board last week. “They didn’t know me from a hole in a wall three years ago. My first step in being their coach was earning their respect. Once they realized I was an absolute maniac, we’ve hit the ground running and created a real positive culture.”
The nucleus of the team is a trio of co-captains: a pair of Bridgehampton sophomore lefties, Kris and Scott Vinski, and Ross freshman Milo Tompkins. Kris will divide his playing time pitching and playing center field while Scott will pitch and play first base. Milo will play catcher and provide right-handed pitching.
“It’s nice being able to wear the black and yellow of Bridgehampton and not the black and red of Pierson,” said Kris Vinski. In the past, Bridgehampton students who wanted to play baseball had to play with Sag Harbor’s team.
“It’s always been about basketball at Bridgehampton,” added Scott. “Even when they had a baseball team, it was overlooked. I don’t think anyone knows Carl Yastrzemski played here. It’s going to be nice to start up something that fell off 40 years ago.”
The team is also co-ed, with Kaylee Sanchez and Leah Meyerson, both juniors from Ross, playing outfield.
“I told them if you can help us win, you can be on the team,” said Coach Liberatore. “Since day-one, it’s been a great mesh. They get after it. They are tough, they are talented, and they are definitely going to help.”
The team is rounded out by Dylan Fitzgerald, Jack Boeshore, Naivon Mabry, and Hugo Kapon, who are all Bridgehampton sophomores; Neo Simmons and Evan Buccigross, Bridgehampton eighth-graders; Tyler Fitzgerald, a Bridgehampton seventh-grader; Yudai Morikawa and Eli Wolf, Ross sophomores; Will Husband, a Ross freshman; and Shawn Gynp, a Ross eighth-grader.
Coach Liberatore said his plan is to have his team mentally sharp and ready to play at a fast pace. “We think if we can speed up the game, we can put more pressure on the other team and possibly force them to make a mistake,” he said.
Although the team plans to play fast, it has to be patient when it comes to its home field, which at this point is anything but a field of dreams. Bridgehampton is just putting the finishing touches on a $29 million renovation project. Included in that project was a regulation-size baseball field behind the school. But work on the field was delayed, with the infield being sodded and the outfield being seeded just last week. That means all of Bridgehampton’s games will be played on the road this season. Practices are also limited, with the team putting in some light work on the fresh sod this week, but otherwise avoiding the outfield and shoehorning practice activities into other space behind the school for now.
Jenn Vinski, a member of the Bridgehampton School Board and Kris and Scott’s mother, said it was exciting to see baseball return to the school, not only for her sons but for other players who may follow in their footsteps.
Bridgehampton has always been a small school, so maintaining the numbers needed to field a team takes some doing. “He’s got a long-term plan to work with the kids when they are younger to make it sustainable,” Ms. Vinski said of Coach Liberatore.
She said she hopes the baseball field attracts kids to the school, much as the basketball courts at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center once served as a magnet for kids of an earlier generation. “I see this as more of a community opportunity than just a varsity baseball opportunity,” she said.
For his part, Coach Liberatore plans to hold baseball camps during the summer and has talked to the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League about possibly playing some games at Bridgehampton for the future to draw more community members to the school grounds.
In the meantime, he has mind set on Bridgehampton winning its share of games this season and challenging for a county title some day in the not-so-distant future. The last time Bridgehampton won a title, he points out, was back in 1957 when the team was anchored by Carl Yastrzemski, the guy Scott Vinski mentioned. After Bridgehampton, he went on to enjoy a pretty good 23-year career with the Boston Red Sox that saw him elected to both the Bridgehampton Hall of Fame and that other one — up in Cooperstown.