By Paul Gotham
At a time when the nation’s economy resembles a pendulum swinging from trough to crest, the New York Collegiate Baseball League has, on the other hand, started out on a gradual and steady increase of its stock.
Sanctioned by the NCAA and partially funded by Major League Baseball, the summer wood bat league established a new benchmark for success in 2007 when 37 former players heard their names called during the MLB draft. That number increased to 39 in 2008 and rose to 41 this past spring.
Fans looked on with pride last fall as former NYCBLer, Brad Lidge (Ithaca ’98), closed out a World Series victory for the Philadelphia Phillies. Hunter Pence (Schenectady ’02) added to the league’s status when he earned a spot in this year’s MLB All-Star game.
At the hub of this trend stands the Webster Yankees.
Dave Brust’s 2009 version of the Webster Yankees know all too well the capabilities of the NYCBL.
An early-season boom gave way to a mid-season slump, and the Webster nine finished 21-21 – missing the post-season by the slimmest of margins.
Nonetheless, Brust’s boys invested in the future.
On June 9th, the pinstripes christened their new home at Basket Road with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the Elmira Pioneers. It was a night of firsts.
Scott Brothers (Ball State) notched the first strike out at the Basket as he set down Elmira’s Chris Paul (St. Ambrose College). The Pios’ Ryan Ferguson (Temple) was the first base-runner when he worked a two-out walk in the top of the first. Nate Koontz (Ball State) rapped the first base hit, and Elmira’s Nate David (Cornell) scored the first run.
Brothers tossed six shutout innings on a chilly opening night. The right-hander who became known as ‘Big Daddy’ finished the season fanning 28 batters.
Not only did Koontz get the first hit at the friendly confines, he followed that with the first walk-off hit ten days later. Koontz slashed a two-out triple scoring Geoff Dornes (R.I.T.) from first as Webster trimmed Niagara 1-0.
Koontz’s triple provided plenty of excitement, but Brian Pullyblank (So. Illinois) hurled magic that evening. Striking out nine and walking none The ‘Caledonia Kid’ tossed the first no-hitter in team history. Pullyblank won two more games on the campaign including a complete-game 9-1 victory over Brockport on July 22nd.
Pullyblank and Brothers shared a kindred spirit. The pair joined former Yankee, Dustin Ramey (UMass-Lowell) as pinstripes making a successful recovery from Tommy John surgery. Pullyblank had the surgery 22 months prior to the start of the season while Brothers had his procedure done 14 months before opening night.
Ramey made his first rehab start with Webster last season and led the ’08 Yanks with four wins.
Webster opened this season grabbing the West division lead with a six pack of wins.
During the season-opening streak Bryant Guilmette (U Mass-Lowell) etched his mark on the season. The lefty reliever earned a pair of saves and pulled off one magic act to spark the pinstripes.
On June 10th, Guilmette entered with Webster clinging to a two-run lead at Allegany County. The Hopkinton, Massachusetts native responded striking out the three batters he faced on nine pitches. Two nights later, Guilmette took the ball with bases loaded and one out. One pitch later, he retired the side with a ground ball for a double play.
Guilmette gave an encore of that performance against Elmira. The Pios loaded the bases without a walk before Guilmette came on to induce a fly ball and double play to consecutive batters.
Shawn Bailey (SUNY Cortland) paced his hometown team with 51 hits – good for third in the league. In his third tour of duty with the home nine, Bailey also led with 13 stolen bases and 20 runs. On the defensive side, Bailey had 105 assists. Bailey joined teammates Ollie Bertrand (Monroe CC) and Michael Craig (St. JohnFisher) at the league’s annual All-Star game. Koontz along with Pullyblank, Lincoln Rassi (Toledo) and Steve Muoio (Georgia C&S) took part in the league’s Futures’ Game.
One year after earning all-league honors, local product, Muoio led the way with a .331 batting average. The Webster-Thomas grad ripped a team-high 14 doubles on the campaign.
Craig opened the season holding opponents without a run for his first 28 innings pitched. The native of Getzville, New York went 5-1 with an ERA of 1.50. He and Rassi led Webster five wins apiece.
Rassi struck out 44 and walked 13 in 43 innings of work with a 3.98 ERA.
Bertrand earned the respect of all as the best defensive catcher in the league. The pride of Quebec hit .308 and led the team with 25 walks.
Matt Jimenez (Mercyhurst) might not have led the team in wins, but two of his four came when it mattered most. With the Yankees caught in the throes of nine consecutive losses, Jimenez took the hill against scattered five hits over eight innings in a 5-1 triumph. Seven days later Webster was tied for the final playoff spot with the Allegany County Nitros. Jimenez held the Nitros to six hits and three runs in eight frames of work en route to a 4-3 victory.
When commenting on Jimenez, Brust said: “His breaking ball dances like a ping pong ball.”
Tyler Scott (Toledo) came out of the bullpen for 17 appearances. The right hander struck out 24 and walked 13 with an ERA of 2.13. Onlookers had to wonder about the octane reading on his heat because there was no doubt Scott threw gas.
Ryan Chenoweth (Ball State) led the Yanks with five triples. In his second tour of duty with Webster, Chenoweth also rapped five doubles, a home run, with 11 RBI.
Matt Jacobs (UMass-Lowell) dazzled everyone with the leather, and the native of Hudson, Massachusetts had 23 RBI to go with his 34 hits for the summer.
Chriss Soldi (UMass-Lowell) banged 18 hits including two doubles and a triple to go with 12 RBI.
Dan Jurik (St. John Fisher) tossed thirty-two and a third for Webster. The native of Vestal, New York struck out 33 and walked 12.
Mike Walraven (Hofstra) hit .273 with 9 RBI and 14 runs scored.
In his second stint with the Yankees, Geoff Dornes (R.I.T.) struck out 21 and walked 9 in 31 frames of work. Dornes also collected 14 hits and 7 RBI.
Rhett Goodmiller (Central Michigan) hit .272 with five doubles, two triples, and 11 RBI.
Fellow Chippewa, Ricky Clark, recovered from an early-season injury to help the Yanks down the stretch. After taking a pitch off the wrist, Clark returned home to Mason, Michigan for x-rays. Those tests came back negative. Clark worked to get full movement back in his forearm. He missed ten games before returning to the lineup. Clark stole nine bases and scored 13 runs on 25 hits.
Clark wasn’t the only to catch the injury bug. Dominic Catanzarite (Ball State), Jason Edwards (Toledo), Thomas Kufel (Mercyhurst), and Pat Devlin (UMass-Lowell) all missed significant parts of the season. The rash of injuries forced the Yankees to play their final ten games with just one position player on the bench.
One can only imagine how much of an impact the injuries had on the Yankees’ season. Finishing just percentage points from the playoffs, Webster was relegated to spectators as the Amsterdam Mohawks defeated the Hornell Dodgers for the league championship. Adding to the frustration is the realization that four of Webster’s losses in the final two weeks came by a single run. Each time Webster had the tying run on base in the final stanza.