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Baseball: Melendez takes winding road to Riverhead

The North Fork Ospreys didn’t reach the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League playoffs, but one of the Ospreys did. It’s part of Markus Melendez’s strange but enjoyable baseball summer.

Melendez, a senior catcher for Mitchell College in Connecticut, started out the summer with the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. After a couple of weeks, his temporary contract with the Schooners expired. Melendez headed to Centereach to spend the summer with his father when he was asked if he wanted to play for the Ospreys, who needed a catcher.

Just like that, he was an Osprey.

Fast forward to July 22. The Ospreys were to play their final regular-season game that night against the Tomcats. The game was suspended after three innings because of rain. As Melendez was packing up his gear, he received a text message from Tomcats assistant coach Niko Bedell, inquiring if he would be interested in joining the Riverhead club for the playoffs. One of the Tomcats’ catchers, Ben Jackson, had to go home, leaving the team with only one catcher, Trevor Fagan.

Melendez’s reaction?

“At first I was like, ‘That’s awesome! Thank you so much for the opportunity. Is that allowed?’ ”

Good question. That had to be checked, but the league quickly gave its approval.

Interestingly, the suspended Tomcats-Ospreys game resumed on July 23. Melendez played his last game for the Ospreys against the Tomcats, the team he, and others, knew he would officially be joining later that day.

“I’m playing against Riverhead, and they know at this point that I’m going to join their team, so I go up for my first at-bat as an Osprey and [the Tomcats are] cheering for me,” he said. “… It was a surreal experience.”

Later that day, Melendez played his first game with the Tomcats in their final regular-season game against the Shelter Island Bucks.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better last-minute sub,” Tomcats coach John Galanoudis said. “He’s a hard worker. He understands the game. It was a very smooth transition. I remember when we went over signs for the first time. It was like that,” he added, snapping his fingers.

Entering Game 3 of the league finals against the Long Island Road Warriors Wednesday, Melendez had put up a .236 batting average with three homers and 11 RBIs in 25 combined games for the Ospreys and Tomcats.

Melendez’s new teammates roared their approval Friday when, wearing a borrowed helmet from Eduardo Malinowski, he blasted a two-run homer in an 11-5 loss to the Sag Harbor Whalers in Game 2 of the semifinals at Mashashimuet Park.

“Thank you, North Fork,” Galanoudis said after the game. “Markus coming aboard has been a huge help for us.”

For Melendez, the decision not to pack his bags for home after the regular season wasn’t much of a choice at all.

“This is possibly my last summer of playing ball, and I just couldn’t see myself hanging them up,” the 5-10, 175-pounder from Storrs, Conn, said. “I loved every minute with the Ospreys, but at the same time, I’m really enjoying my time as a Tomcat. These guys are really cool. They’ve taken me in like I’ve been here all summer. I can’t thank them enough.”

Perhaps the feeling is mutual.

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Photo caption: Markus Melendez has caught on with Riverhead, the third team he has played for this summer. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)