Tired of watching a Mets player get hurt every game? Can’t make the trek to the Bronx to catch the Yankees? Luckily, there’s still a way for you to watch good baseball right here on the East End.
The Hamptons College Baseball League (HCBL) is a summer baseball league with seven teams on the North and South Fork with rosters made up of college baseball players from some of the most competitive programs in the country. HCBL routinely features players taken in the MLB draft and has seen six players reach the major leagues, while over 100 have gone on to play minor league baseball. The coaches primarily come from area colleges, but you can find former MLB All-Star and New York Yankee Neal Heaton in the dugout for the Long Island Road Warriors.
Rusty Leaver, former owner of the Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk, came up with the idea of starting a league in the Hamptons after watching his son pitch at the University of Rhode Island and taking in games at the Cape Cod League, the premier summer baseball league in the country.
Leaver formed a single team that played in another college baseball league with teams in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Over time, six more teams were added on the East End, and Major League Baseball encouraged HCBL to form its own league so scouts could watch all the players in one place. MLB continues to partially fund HCBL, which operates as the only non-profit college baseball league that owns all its teams.
Though Leaver sold Deep Hollow and moved to Texas, consistent leadership has continued to advance the league.
“Our mission is three-fold,” says HCBL President Henry Bramwell. “The first is to provide free family entertainment for our community. Second, to provide free clinics for the kids in the community and the third part of our mission is to improve area baseball fields.”
We all know summer housing on the East End can get expensive, which is why the league relies on host families to take in players and give them a home for the summer.
“That is the hardest thing we do,” Bramwell says. “It creates these bonds that last years beyond them playing in the league. That is the absolute essence of what we’re doing here.”
Bramwell himself opened his home to a player when he was the general manager of the Westhampton Aviators. “I hosted a player who made it to the major leagues, and when he was up at Citi Field, he invited my family to come watch the game.”
Among the over 100 host families each season, Bramwell says the majority of them have younger children that play Little League or softball.
“We’re trying to get [the players] to be role models for the younger kids that they’re living with so the younger kids can see what being a student-athlete is like in terms of the work and preparation,” Bramwell says.
The generosity of host families is essential for the league to operate. Meanwhile, local restaurants donate postgame meals and the Hampton Jitney–whose president, Geoffrey Lynch, is on HCBL’s Board of Directors–provides transportation.
The priority for HCBL is to give back to the community that has allowed it to flourish, Bramwell says. Each team is required to hold four free clinics each summer, and some teams charge for a weeklong camp to help fundraise. In addition, players must perform community service in their respective area. Meanwhile, the league itself, with the help of a New York State grant, has improved the quality of the fields it uses. They’ve added dugouts, fences and scoreboards to fields at high schools and public parks. The league also built the field at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus.
Bramwell says the league is eyeing an expansion to eight teams. “It’s not about the money, we can do that, but we need the people. We’re always on the lookout for people to help share our vision and get involved.”
Go to hamptonsbaseball.org to learn how to get involved and find where you can catch a free baseball game.