Extra Point: A baseball fan? Check out the Hamptons League

Riverhead Tomcats outfielder Andrew Plunkett slides into third as North Fork Osprey Penn Murfee tries to apply the tag. (Credit: Bill Landon)
Riverhead Tomcats outfielder Andrew Plunkett slides into third as North Fork Osprey Penn Murfee tries to apply the tag. (Credit: Bill Landon)

The “Oh, wow” moment happens every year.

Around the middle of June, when the high school sports season winds down, I shift gears toward the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League to help fill the sports pages along with high school summer leagues, features and columns. Inevitably, when I head down to the field for the first time each summer, I know I’m about to watch college players, several of whom come from big-time programs.

Yet I’m still taken aback.

When you watch high school baseball so much in the months leading up to the Hamptons League, your eyes become trained to see the game at a certain speed. That’s no knock on the high school kids.

But it only takes a few pitches at a Hamptons League game to know: These aren’t high school kids; they’re legit ballplayers.

Now in its seventh season, the Hamptons League has become quite the treat for sports fans on the East End interested in seeing high-quality baseball. The shame of it is that it doesn’t seem like all that many people are interested. Most games I’ve covered are sparsely attended.

Considering the price tag for admission — zero dollars — it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours on a summer evening.

College summer leagues have a long history in baseball as a springboard for players in the offseason. The famed Cape Cod League, which the Hamptons League is modeled after in some ways, has been operating for more than 100 years. As league president Brett Mauser noted, during the MLB draft broadcast, announcers frequently reference a player’s statistics during the Cape Cod League. While the Hamptons League just had its first former player reach the big leagues in Nick Ahmed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, there were more than 250 Cape Cod League alumni in the major leagues at some point in 2013 alone, according to the league’s website.

So yes, the Hamptons League won’t be overtaking the Cape any time soon, but the level of play is nonetheless impressive. More than 50 former players have been drafted into MLB so far. And in the past two years, there have been 19 in each year.

The best bet for the Hamptons League to get an elite prospect is after his freshman season in college. The top prospects coming off their sophomore and junior seasons are generally bound for a summer league like the Cape, hoping to gain greater exposure by MLB scouts.

On Tuesday, fans in Calverton got to see Stephen Woods, a Half Hollow Hills East graduate who has all the potential to reach the big leagues one day. A right-handed pitcher, he was a sixth-round draft pick out of high school who decided to attend SUNY/Albany. In his start Tuesday against the Riverhead Tomcats, he showed off an overpowering fastball and nasty curveball. He struck out eight in just four innings.

Not bad for free entertainment.

For any baseball fans out there who don’t want to trek out to Citi Field or Yankee Stadium on a weekday, consider heading down to a Hamptons League game.

You just might be watching a future big leaguer.

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