Around mid-May, with just about a month before the start of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League season, league president Sandi Kruel was ready to throw in the towel.
Working with a hard-working but limited crew behind her, and having to deal with a number of issues, such as finding housing for nearly 200 collegiate baseball players coming in from across the country, the Sag Harbor native nearly threw her hands up with all of it.
Hearing that the prestigious Cape Cod League was a full-go for this summer, Kruel decided to do one last thing and call its commissioner, Eric Zmuda, and ask him how he was getting it done.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Kruel recalled saying to Zmuda.
Zmuda responded, “This is the same woman who walked into the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball conference and took control of that room? And you’re doubting yourself?”
That was all the push Kruel needed.
It certainly wasn’t easy — likely the toughest offseason Kruel has ever had to deal with in the league’s 13-plus year existence — but this past Tuesday, June 15, it all came together, as the league’s six teams played in their first games in 23 months after having last season cancelled due to the pandemic.
Kruel thanked everyone within the league for their continued support, particularly Dawn Schlegel of Emil Norsic & Son, whom she worked closely with throughout.
“It was not pretty but we made it happen, and it’s been wonderful see it come to fruition,” Kruel said. “Just the sheer joy of seeing those kids finally get on the field and how grateful they are made it all worth it. And all of my GMs of all my teams who stayed on the phone with me on some late nights, we did it as a group, we made it happen.
“When it comes to kids, never count me out,” she added.
For many of the players, this summer represents the first time they are playing live ball after having their 2020 seasons wiped out because of COVID. Many of the incoming freshmen never got to play this season because of redshirted seniors who got another year of eligibility for not playing last season, so for the players who graduated high school in 2019, this is really the first time they are playing some meaningful baseball.
The Sag Harbor Whalers (2-1) wound up winning their opening day game, 5-1, over the North Fork Ospreys (0-3) at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, while the South Shore Clippers (1-2) defeated the reigning champion Westhampton Aviators (2-1), 16-4, at Westhampton Beach Elementary School, and the Southampton Breakers (3-0) defeated the Riverhead Tomcats (1-2), 11-2, at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. The Shelter Island Bucks are not playing this season due to the lack of available housing.
Maybe more important than the final results was the fact that all three games had good crowds, meaning the league’s mission of providing free family entertainment has returned.
“Opening day around the league, I have to say, everybody went off without a hitch,” Kruel said. “Riverhead had a packed field. Sag Harbor had its usual great crowd and it was great in Westhampton as well.
“I’ve gone to three baseball games in two days and just to be able to see the kids on the field, it’s so rewarding to hear how happy and how excited everyone was. It was amazing,” she added. “I have to say, the pitching has just been phenomenal. It’s obvious the kids are putting in the work. They all have certainly really risen to the challenge.”
For up-to-date scores, standings, stats, game locations and other league info, go to hamptonsbaseball.org.