For baseball players who started playing the game at a young age, their trajectory in the sport goes something like this: they develop an understanding of and love for the game through Little League; ascend to the varsity ranks in high school; and, for a lucky few, snag four extra years of competitive playing time in college. Upon graduation, they reach a crossroads where they must choose to either hang up their bat and mitt for good, or make the transition to recreational softball leagues.
For many former players, neither of those options is satisfying, and they choose to forge a different path. That’s true for Sag Harbor resident Jim Kinnier and Water Mill resident Peter Barylski, who have remained dedicated to playing America’s pastime in the form they prefer — with hardballs, wooden bats, longer basepaths and overhand pitching.
Both Kinnier and Barylski have spent many hours in their cars to maintain their connection to baseball, traveling up to Nassau County for several years to compete in men’s baseball leagues where games are played at Eisenhower Park and Mitchel Field, a drive of two hours each way. This summer, they will try to recreate some of that magic closer to home, with the inception of the Hamptons Adult Hardball League.
The long term goal is to create a league large enough to sustain several teams, for men age 30 and over, with games played at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor and possibly other area locations, during the course of a regular season that would run for several weeks during the summer months and conclude with a playoff schedule. Kinnier said he even has lofty hopes that one day there might be enough players to separate the league into age groups for 30 to 45, and 45 and older.
The first step, of course, is to see if there is enough interest to get the league off the ground. To that end, Hamptons Adult Hardball will host open baseball sessions on four consecutive Sundays this spring — starting on April 18 and concluding on May 9 — from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Mashashimuet Park, at no cost. Anyone interested in playing hardball — women age 30 and over are welcome as well — is encouraged to come down. Barylski said that depending on player response, they will either run a full league format or a series of pick-up games for the inaugural season this summer.
Kinnier acknowledged that the league still has plenty of obstacles to clear in order to make their vision a reality. “These are all our hopes and plans,” he said. “A lot will depend on how many people show up.”
He also acknowledged that securing field space could potentially be an issue as well, with Pierson varsity sports teams taking precedence at the park, and the presence of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League also making it complicated.
Despite the obstacles, both Kinnier and Barylski are committed to trying to make it work, driven by their love of the sport and desire to continue playing as long as they can.
“I’ve had a great time playing [in Nassau County], but I just can’t take the drive anymore,” Kinnier, 57, said.
Barylski, 57, played Little League as a child and then had a 20-year layoff from the sport before being lured back in his 30s, when he was asked to fill in as an outfielder for just one game in another hardball league. Two games later, he said he “lied” his way onto the pitcher’s mound, relying on confidence and backyard wiffleball hurling skills to make his way through the game. He’s been pitching ever since.
Kinnier and Barylski have clear ideas about what they’d like the league to become — and what they don’t want it to turn into.
“The idea is to play as hard and competitive as we can, but wake up and still be able to go to work in the morning,” Kinnier said. “We want it to be serious, but not where guys end up hurting each other.”
Kinnier was adamant he did not want Hamptons Adult Hardball to become “a beer league,” but also said he is aware that a hyper-competitive atmosphere would not suit anyone, especially because most, if not all, potential players would be coming to the sport having not played competitive baseball for several years. Kinnier said they have been engaged in reaching out to the community in several ways, posting flyers at area schools and police and fire departments, and also reaching out to leaders in the Black and Hispanic communities in hopes of making the league as representative of the larger East End community as possible.
The league will not be profit driven, and because of that the cost to join won’t be as high. While leagues in Nassau can charge as much as $350 per player for a season, Kinnier estimated the cost per player for Hamptons Adult Hardball would be between $100 and $200, depending on what they can secure in terms of sponsorship and equipment donations. The registration fee would cover the cost of uniforms and umpires. The league will also be fully insured, Kinnier said.
Starting a new league from scratch isn’t easy, but for Kinnier and Barylski, it’s worth the effort because of their desire to play the sport in the form they love most. Kinnier has played in local men’s modified softball leagues, and said that while he had fun, he felt a stronger pull to baseball for several reasons.
“In those softball leagues, whoever had the best pitcher always won,” he said, commenting on the fact that the mechanics of softball pitching enable a pitcher to compete in game after game, without needing to rest the arm, unlike baseball. “With baseball, there’s a lot more strategy and there’s just something about playing on 90-foot basepaths that’s appealing to me,” Kinnier said.
That enduring appeal is what has kept both Barylski and Kinnier committed to the sport long after most have settled for living on the fumes of nostalgia.
“We want to do something that will be good for the community, and build it up for the future, that’s what our hope is,” Kinnier said. “I’m 57 but I can still catch, and I want to catch until I can’t anymore. It’s just a lot of fun.”
For more information and to register to play, visit hamptonsadulthardball.com.