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Spending the Summer on the Diamond

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Photo: cjwillis_5

 

College Baseball is a year-round sport. The Quinnipiac Bobcats came just shy of the MAAC playoffs in 2024. Nine Bobcats decided to drop the metal bats and pick up wooden ones for the 2024 summer leagues.

For baseball players in New England, players can join three popular leagues to compete in the summer. The first is the highly coveted Cape Cod League, which attracts players from the most elite NCAA programs like the ACC and SEC. The second is the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), which comprises 13 teams across the six states. The last is the Futures League, which features eight teams and over 150 alumni drafted by MLB teams. 

This summer, six Bobcats are playing in the NECBL: CJ Willis, Jack Kabel, Andrew Rubayo, Matt Alduino, Mason Ulsh and Johnny Knox, a grad transfer from Nichols College. In the Futures League, Kyle Garbowski, Ray McNaught and junior Alex Irizarry, a Maryland transfer, are all looking to make an impact on their summer squads.

Most of the Bobcats, including pitcher Andrew Rubayo, say facing tougher competition from different conferences was the main draw to playing in the NECBL and Futures League.

“For me, probably wanting to have the really good competition, knowing that a lot of guys in here at these bigger schools are potentially getting drafted…” Rubayo said. “I wanted to see how good I am compared to the rest of the country and I feel like I’ve been holding up so far.”

Senior outfielder CJ Willis is in his third straight year playing summer ball. In 2022, he played in the Futures League with the Norwich Sea Unicorns with Jared Zimbardo and Sean Swenson. Zimbardo and Swenson would become future teammates with Willis at Quinnipiac in 2024. Last summer, Willis left the Futures League for the NECBL, where he played for the Valley Blue Sox. This summer, he remains in the NECBL playing for the Sanford Mainers. For Willis, facing tougher pitching has brought him back year after year.

“I think the arms are a lot better here than in a regular MAAC play and in the fall for sure,” Willis explained. “Seeing SEC guys, Power Five guys is really cool. Having guys on the team that are from there… it’s awesome to watch them work.”

Willis’ impact was immediate with the Mainers, hitting for the cycle on June 8 and ranking third in the entire NECBL with a .384 batting average as of July 7.

The NECBL has a rich history, with venues like Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut which is over  100 years old. 

For senior pitcher Jack Kabel, learning about that history caught his ear.

“Babe Ruth was a Blue,” Kabel said. “So that was definitely great in terms of advertising for them. This field is awesome. It’s a graveyard. No balls will leave here. And yeah, like really emphasizing the Babe Ruth aspect.”

Kabel was confident about how he would fare against the Great Bambino.

“I’d probably take him deep,” Kabel said. “Muzzy Field, Babe Ruth hit some bombs… I could take him yabo.”

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Summer ball barely leaves any time off for players. There is a difference in the atmosphere behind the game that junior pitcher Matt Alduino recognizes.

“Summer ball, I’d say is when you’re just kind of playing baseball to play for fun,” Alduino explained. “And then once you get to school for the fall and the spring, it’s all about work and working hard and earning your spot on the team because nothing’s guaranteed.”

Aside from the need to play against tougher competition and the impact of baseball royalty, for some players, past connections to the teams brought them in. Sophomore infielder Kyle Garbowski has a family connection to the Futures Leagues’ Westfield Starfires.

“My brother played for them a couple of years ago,” Garbowski said. “So I’ve heard good things about them. He liked it and enjoyed it. And I mean, other than that, it was just kind of like by chance.”

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At Quinnipiac, players have the entire fall and winter to get to know each other and form chemistry before taking the field in the spring. In the summer leagues, some players barely have a few days to get to know one another before playing. Being vocal is a strategy Kabel used to overcome this challenge.

“Just catching up with people… asking them where they go to school, how their years were, see if you can relate on anything,” Kabel said. “Conference play, any teams you’ve played against throughout the year, a lot of kids on the team we’ve run into throughout this year and I’ve run into in my previous years as well. So it’s a lot of catching up on stuff like that.”

With Willis in the NECBL alongside Kabel, Rubayo, Alduino and Ulsh, there’s a chance down the road that Quinnipiac teammates could square off against each other. Willis likes his chances against Jack Kabel and his college teammates.

“I’m probably going to take him deep just like I did when we played Division III together,” Willis said. “So if we face Mason Ulsh down in Newport, I’ll probably just punch right to him or throw it away.”

Alduino, however, isn’t backing down from a challenge.

“I already have his number,” Alduino said. “I’ve K’d him quite a few times in inner squads and he knows it. He was happy that I didn’t go on that trip and face him last week. It’s just fun to compete against guys on your team and show them what we got.”

Alduino and the rest of the summer league Bobcats now shift their attention to the Summer League playoffs that start around the first week of August. They’ll then return home to Hamden to compete for a 2025 MAAC title.

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About the Contributor
Ben Rickevicius
Ben Rickevicius, Executive Producer: Sports Paws
Ben Rickevicius is an Executive Producer for Sports Paws from East Granby, CT. He is going into his sophomore year of college. He is a Journalism major in the 3+1 program. He will be graduating with his Bachelors in 2025, and his Masters in 2026. Prior to producing for Sports Paws, Ben was an Associate Producer for Bobcat Breakdown his freshman year. He also is a beat reporter for the Quinnipiac Baseball team. In addition to his work in Q30, he is also involved with QBSN as a broadcaster and photographer.

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