Baseball: Opening day is a day unlike any other

Opening day is a special day in baseball. The pageantry, the anticipation and the high hopes teams take into the new season all contribute to a setting that is about as American as it gets. A clean slate is ready to be written on. The story it will tell is anyone’s guess.

The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League celebrated its third opening day with three games on Sunday, including a matchup between the North Fork Ospreys and the Riverhead Tomcats at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. They were the first games in an expanded 42-game regular season for the seven-team league. 

“At any level, whether it’s the majors, whether’s it’s the minors, whether it’s college, high school, Little League, when you put on the uniform for the first time in the year, it’s always a special feeling,” said Greg Diener, a league statistician.

For officials like the league president, Brett Mauser, opening day represents the culmination of off-season work involving the recruitment of players from colleges across the country. Mauser said the league has between 175 and 200 players from 27 states.

“For these players, it’s an opportunity for them to show what they can do and I know that the general managers really look forward to this day because … you see the fruits of your labor,” he said.

The Ospreys and the Tomcats, both sporting new uniforms, lined up along opposite baselines before the game while Cub Scout Pack 242 of Riverhead carried the American flag forward for the singing of the national anthem by Donna Butler of Riverhead.

Four Riverhead firefighters who rescued an unconscious man from a smoke-filled home engulfed in flames this past winter, were recognized for their heroism in a pregame ceremony. J. R. Renten, Steve Beal, Kevin Burgess and Anthony Chiaramonte then threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

And then it was time to play ball.

“It’s great to be out here again,” said Cameron Burt, a Mattituck High School graduate and Wading River resident who got the starting pitching assignment for the Ospreys, 3-1 winners. “College just ended a couple of weeks ago and we’re all chomping at the bit, ready to come back and play once again, doing what we love.”

What is special about opening day?

“It’s just the fact that you’re getting to play again,” said Jake Reinhardt, a pitcher for the Tomcats. “It’s always exciting.”

The Tomcats manager, Randy Caden, has been involved in baseball for 52 years, about 30 as a coach or manager.

“You never lose the excitement,” he said. “Once you lose that excitement, I won’t be coaching any more.”

For all that surrounds an opening day game, Tomcats pitcher Dan Jagiello said there should be no change in the approach by players to it. “It’s still playing baseball against veteran guys, the same intensity as any other game,” he said.

Mauser said the league has made progress in its short history, putting a high caliber of talent on the field, gaining the support of communities, receiving the backing of Major League Baseball and obtaining major sponsorships. “Overall, on the field and off the field, we feel very good about where we are,” he said.

“With each year we feel as though we’re taking great strides forward,” he added. “I think that the progress of the league is evident in the level of talent that has come here. It seems as though we have climbed a rung every year and we feel really great about that.”

The league has sent dozens of players into the professional ranks, including Nick Ahmed, an infielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Phil Klein, a pitcher for the Texas Rangers.

“The league is doing a good job with the talent and how it is branding itself, a lot of good things heading in the right direction,” the Ospreys manager, Bill Ianniciello, said. “It’s very advanced for a relatively young league. I’m delighted with it. I love being part of it.”

Diener said: “Every year we try to make this better and better. You have a bunch of people from across the country, from various different colleges across the country, and they’re just getting to know each other for the first time. It’s very special, and by the end of the summer, they’ll have a lot of memories that they’ll always treasure for a lifetime.”

Ryan Mahoney, an outfielder who is the Ospreys’ only returning player from last year, is counting on that. He said, “It’s going to be a fun season.”

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