JOE WERKMEISTER PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats outfielder Jerry Downs connects on a two-run home run in the first inning Friday against the North Fork Ospreys.
TOMCATS 12, OSPREYS 4
At the end of his freshman season this past spring at St. Thomas University in Miami, Jerry Downs’ coach sent him packing north.
“He told me, ‘You’re going to go play summer ball somewhere,’ ” Downs said.
The 6-foot, 205-pound outfielder landed with the Riverhead Tomcats in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. One month into the season, it’s turned out to be a terrific pairing.
“I love it,” Downs said. “No regrets.”
The Tomcats have loved his bat in the middle of the lineup as well. Downs hit a two-run home run in the first inning of Friday afternoon’s 12-4 victory over the North Fork Ospreys at Cochran Park in Peconic.
It was his league-leading fourth home run of the season.
“I’m seeing good pitches and hitting the ball hard,” Downs said.
He nearly missed another home run when he rocketed a double to center field in the fourth inning. His double actually appeared to be a better struck ball than his home run, an opposite field shot to left field that was aided by a strong wind.
Downs said he was surprised the ball left the park on his home run.
“The wind helped me out there,” he said.
As Downs walked back to the dugout after touching home plate, a teammate joked with him saying, “Nice pop fly.”
A Miami native, Downs made his first ever trip to New York to play with the Tomcats. He’s gotten a chance to take in the sights all while working on improving his game before heading back to college.
“I’ve been in Times Square a few times, on the beach with the boys,” he said. “Having a good time. It’s summer.”
At St. Thomas, Downs batted .263 with a home run and 24 RBIs in 44 games during his freshman season.
In the summer league, Downs said he hopes to improve on several parts of his game.
“Try to work on my defensive skills, hit more offspeed, little fundamentals,” he said.
Riverhead coach Randy Caden said Downs has shown he can hit with a lot of power.
“You got to be careful with him,” Caden said.
The Tomcats have quickly developed a deep lineup that can produce runs from top to bottom. The Tomcats added two more home runs Friday when designated hitter Josh Mason and catcher Charley Gould hit back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning.
“This team, you can’t make too many mistakes with,” Caden said. “They’re staying focused and having fun.”
When Mason returned to the dugout following his two-run homer, his teammates gave him the silent treatment, pretending as if nothing had happened.
“That was his first one of the year so we decided to do it,” Downs said.
The Tomcats scored five runs in the third inning to take a 7-1 lead and the Ospreys never got any closer.
Joseph Kuzia, a 6-foot-4 righty from St. John’s University, started for the Tomcats and earned the win pitching 5 1/3 innings.
Kuzia made his first start and got his first extended pitching outing of the summer season.
Early in the game Caden made a trip to the mound to tell Kuzia to quit relying so much on his fastball.
“I said I don’t care if you give up 100 runs,” Caden said. “Work on your change-up and other pitches. Then you see how he pitched great.”
The summer league mostly is an opportunity for players to improve on their games. The only tricky part, sometimes the players aren’t quite sure what those specific things are, Caden said.
“You get some rookies and they’re not sure what they should be doing,” Caden said. “So you say, this is for you. The league is for you.”
North Fork center fielder Nick Heath had a big day at the plate against the Tomcats going 5-for-5. Hid second was one of the more peculiar hits in baseball. With runners on first and second, Heath bounced a ball back to Kuzia. Thinking he needed to turn a double play, Kuzia turned to throw toward third, then looked at second before simply holding onto the ball while Heath ran safely to first.
The Tomcats, only needing one out, got out of the inning unscathed, so they could laugh about it afterward.
“You’ll see something new in baseball every day,” Caden said.