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Baseball: HCBL wants an international flavor

The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League is going international. Well, at least that’s the plan.

An initiative pushed by the league’s new commissioner, Vin Colasuonno, has the HCBL looking into the active recruitment of players from abroad to bring their talents to the United States.

“MLB has expressed an interest in this moving forward,” HCBL president Henry Bramwell said. “We have several countries in Africa, Europe and the Pacific rim that have strong interest in that. It’s very exciting. They want to bring these kids out here so the scouts can see them.”

HCBL officials met with MLB International beginning in January at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis and expressed an interest in attracting foreign student-athletes attending school in the U.S., said Bramwell. “I don’t know about any other summer league doing this,” he said.

Colasuonno said he has been involved in baseball in 13 countries as a player or coach and has run baseball programs in Europe. Acquiring foreign players, he said, would “enhance the attractiveness of our league” and draw scouts while at the same time helping foreign players adjust to American life.

And there could be a financial benefit as well. “We may be able to secure more funding from Major League Baseball if we do this so it may be another revenue stream for us,” said Bramwell.

It’s currently late in the recruiting game for the upcoming season, which opens on June 1. “By December, we are at least three-quarters of the way recruited, and certainly by March 15th our rosters are released,” Bramwell said. “Right now we’ll take players as they come up and see how they fit in.”

Currently, the Shelter Island Bucks have the only player with a home address outside the country in Tyler Smith, a sophomore infielder from Cape Town, South Africa, who plays for Grand View College in Iowa.

Colasuonno said he would like to see the pilot program start small, say, with a half-dozen foreign players. “I want to be able to manage it,” he said. “The first experience has to be good for everybody. If not, then it falls apart.”

The ultimate goal, Bramwell said, would be to form an international team. “Easier said than done,” he said. “How are we going to get them out here? Are there going to be host families?”

The seven-team league has seen 11 of its former players reach the major leagues, including Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed and pitcher Zack Godley and Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Tropeano, who played for the Riverhead Tomcats. Furthermore, 105 HCBL alumni are currently playing professionally between affiliated and independent ball; 199 alumni have played professionally all time. Thirty-six Tomcats alumni have played professionally as have 23 alumni of the North Fork Opreys.

Through its history, the league has included players from 342 schools.

Colasuonno said the HCBL is similar to other college summer leagues throughout the country. An international flavor could make it different.

Bramwell made it clear that “we’re still committed to the local Long Island player. It’s still an important part of what we do.”

The defending league champion Long Island Road Warriors, for instance, are composed entirely of players who live on Long Island.

At the same time, injecting foreign players into the game could help all concerned.

“There’s talent everywhere,” Colasuonno said. “You just got to see it. It’s great for the community. It would add a little cachet.”

Considering Greenport. The HCBL is tinkering with the idea of having a presence in Greenport. To test the waters, the Long Island Road Warriors will play three of their home games at Greenport High School: July 11 and 19 against the Ospreys and July 22 versus Shelter Island.

“The league is very interested in having a team in Greenport,” Henry Bramwell said. “Logistically, it’s the perfect spot.”

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Photo caption: Former Riverhead player Paulie Russo making a throw to first base for an out. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)