Christ Conley (Canisius) has been a key cog in Jamestown's success so far in 2017 (photo credit: Travis Larner).
By Tiffany Seal, Perfect Game USA | Perfect Game Story Link
With the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in full swing the Jamestown Jammers have emerged in their second season with the league as a force to be reckoned with. Heading into week three, the Jammers have shown consistent dominance on the mound and at the plate—resulting in not only a league-leading 11-2 record, but also owning the best team ERA and batting average of the 13 clubs.
Once a former minor-league affiliate for the Pittsburg Pirates in the New York-Penn League, the Jammers transitioned to being a collegiate summer team with the Prospect League before joining the PGCBL in 2016. In their inaugural season, the team under head coach Anthony Barone complied a 29-20 record and led the league in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, walks and OBP—along with landing a spot in the playoffs.
This year, they look to capitalize on their success with the help of a few familiar faces, starting with a veteran offensive threat behind the dish in Christ Conley.
“When I built the team this past offseason, the first line of business was making sure we got Christ Conley back into Jamestown,” said Barone. “My opinion was that he was one of the top five players in the league last summer. From behind the plate as a catcher he controls the whole game, and once he signed with us, we could build the rest of the nucleus.”
The rest of the nucleus is comprised of three additional 2016 all-stars, with outfielder Skyler Valentine, right-handed pitcher Cory Blessing and utility player Ben Brookover.
“It’s awesome to be back again in Jamestown,” said Conley. “Having that comfort with the coaches, knowing the styles, and I’m not too far from home either, so my parents get to come down every weekend, it’s nice.”
Conley made a name for himself in his first season in the PGCBL both offensively and defensively, ending the season with a .306 average in 124 at-bats while calling all of his games behind the plate.
“Having Chirst back is huge because he just commands the game,” said Barone. “He works with the pitching staff so well, not only does he block the ball well, but he has a good arm. But it’s the mental part of the game that he brings everyday. He understands how I think, and we work really well together from a player/coach standpoint. His leadership and veteran presence has made a huge difference.”
Conley is heading into his senior season at Canisius College, where he is the primary catcher for the Golden Griffins and holds a .297 career batting average.
“At the beginning of my career, freshman year, I was more of an offensive catcher,” said Conley. “When I’m at school, my coach calls all the pitches. So I’ve learned from what he calls in certain counts and throws for certain batters, and how you pitch to the top of the order differently than how you pitch to the bottom of the order.”
This chance to call his own games during his summer season has also positively affected his offense.
“Going into my at-bats, I’m kind of a middle-of-the-order guy, so I’m thinking about what guys are going to throw to me, what I would throw in certain counts, and going up and competing and getting into good hitter’s counts. When I go up and compete, pitchers try and avoid throwing certain pitches in certain counts. I get into hitters' counts [where] I can rely on certain pitches that are coming at me.”
Mentality and approach are two of the mainstays within the Jamestown organization; and something players can expect to have a better understanding of come the end of summer.
“One of the biggest goals is developing individuals on and off the field,” said Barone. “It’s not always just about baseball. You want to make sure these guys grow up from a maturity standpoint. We do want to get better at baseball as well. We don’t teach a lot of mechanical stuff, my pithing coach and I teach a lot of mentality and approach, just to get better mentally and more confident going back to school.”
The model and emphasis on player development goes hand-in-hand with the overall mission of the PGCBL and Perfect Game organization. It has been set in place from the ground up by the team ownership of Roc Ventures, Mike Zimmerman and Dan Kuenzi.
“Our ownership has been so supportive of our Jamestown team and what we do here,” said Barone. “It would be nice to have an outstanding season for them. We really owe a lot of this success to our ownership group who puts us in a good position on and off the field with what they give us. It’s first class and our players get a really good experience here at Jamestown.”
The first-year success of 2016, coupled with the hot start of 2017, will lead to more opportunities and a chance for the Jammers to establish themselves among the top of the PGCBL.
“Anytime you first start recruiting a team, one of the most important things is that coaches want to send their players to a winning franchise,” said Barone. “So anytime you can win, and have a facility like we have here in Jamestown, and an ownership group like we have, it’s easy to attract high-quality players.”
Being in a league attached to the Perfect Game name does not hurt either.
“Anytime you are linked with Perfect Game, it’s a huge positive and impacts our league greatly,” said Barone. “Kids want to be associated with the Perfect Game label, and we’re grateful to be in a high-quality league that Perfect Game supports. It generates a lot of buzz around the country when you’re going to recruit.”
But for right now, the Jammers can just let the Ws in their nine-game winning streak do the talking, as they continue to stand atop both the east and west.
“This year I think we have an all-around group of guys that are great,” said Conley. “Our bullpen right now is phenomenal, we have four or five go-to-guys that we can rely on every time. Our starters have given us some great outings, and even if they don’t, offensively we come together and put up a lot of runs.”
Several of those key pieces include bullpen arms Isaac Meza, Colin Johnston, Jacob Gilhaus and Blessing; and starters Christian Young, David Lyskawa, Bradley Griggs, Kyle Backofen and Michael Ginther. All of whom have below a 2.82 ERA, with the top of the bullpen posting zeros in the ERA column.
“This year I think we have a lot of guys who are all-around baseball players and compete offensively and defensively,” said Conley. “We just come together as a team and help each other out. The win streak we’re on right now is pretty big, having some confidence as a team, and just going out there and saying, ‘hey, we’re better than these guys, we can beat them, and we’re going to ride this hot streak for a little bit.’”