The baseball season is a long and tiresome one. It's a truth no matter what level you play the sport at. The Major League Baseball season is the longest of any of the major sports and the college baseball regular season lasts from February through June, longer than any other collegiate sport. However, those five months don't even include the two months of Fall practices at school and two plus months of summer baseball that most collegiate players participate in. When all is said and done, the college baseball player is playing baseball for approximately ten months out of a given year. After a while, all that activity can begin to take a toll on the body.
Perhaps nowhere has this been proven more accurate than the last two weeks in Albany. After riding an 8-2 streak to a 14-15 record and climbing into playoff contention, the Dutchmen's progress began to cramp up. Arm injuries shut down All-Star closer Austin Chase (University of Albany) and Opening Day starter, Cameron Brewer (North Central Texas College). A foot injury sent set-up man Preston Hill (Chandler Gilbert CC) home and a shoulder injury spelled the end of utlity player Nikko Echevarria's (Nova Southeastern University) summer. A viral infection forced third basemen Taylor Drake (McNeese State) to head home, followed by a family emergency for Ryan Van Amburg (Pepperdine University), a dislocated thumb for All-Star catcher, Dain McNabb (Middle Tennessee State) and a vision problem resulting from being hit by a pitch for All-Star shortstop, Brandon Trinkwon (UC-Santa Barabara).
In fact, when the dust settled on yet another one-run defeat last night, the Dutchmen had lost eleven opening day players due to injury or early collegiate requirements. While the team has gotten admirable contributions from replacements such as Joey Boney (Loyola Marymount) and Casey Wilson (Faulkner University), the effect these departures can have on a team is immense.
"Even when players come in and fill the void performance-wise, the transition isn't always smooth," explained Assistant General Manager, Eric Samulski, who is in charge of player recruiting. "These guys have been living together for two months. When they see their roomate go home early or their bullpen partner forced to turn in the uniform because of an injury, it takes a toll. These are young men who are away from their families all year in school and then spend barely two weeks at home before leaving again for summer ball. Watching teammates come and go at the end of the season can be a hard thing to overcome, mentally."
The injury-depleted roster is a situation that affects collegiate summer baseball teams all over the country. In the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League itself, the Dutchmen are joined by Watertown and Mohawk Valley in a group of teams that have seen injuries ravage their initial roster. In fact, Mohawk Valley featured so few healthy hitters for a time that they were forced to bat pitchers until replacements were able to show up. It's an uneviable situation and one that too many teams understand first hand.
"Roster maintenance is a year-round job," explained Samulski. "You can have your roster set in April or May and be excited by the prospects, but days later you'll have to replace three spots due to injuries and various other circumstances. You feel like you're constantly scrambling." However, Samulski was quick to point out the real affect of the constant roster changes. "As tough as it is for us in the front office, we don't pretend to be the ones most affected. These kids are putting their lives on hold to make their baseball dreams come true. To watch them head back to the airport or climb into their cars early because of an injury is tough for everyone involved."
It also seems to be another consequence of the long season that all baseball players come to know. All you can do is dust yourself off and keep pushing forward. It's a lesson the Dutchmen have learned the hard way this summer.