Around the Horn With Crusader Baseball
Each week throughout the summer of 2019, Holy Cross will check in with student-athletes from the baseball team who are competing in collegiate summer leagues across the country.
Inning Nine | July 31, 2019 | New England Collegiate Baseball League – Ocean State Waves (C.J. McKennitt)
After stints earlier this summer with the Worcester Bravehearts and Lexington Blue Sox, rising sophomore C.J. McKennitt is finishing his summer season with the Ocean State Waves of the NECBL; in the NECBL, he has had the chance to play with pitcher Liam Dvorak and against pitcher Kyle Johnson and Zach Buck of the New Bedford Bay Sox. In eight appearances and 9.2 innings in relief, McKennitt has struck out 14 batters and earned two saves.
Overall, how has your first summer ball experience been?
McKennitt: My first summer ball experience has been a lot of fun. I have gotten to meet a lot of new kids from different parts of the country and have had the chance to compete with some really good players.
What have been your biggest goals this summer, and how have you met them so far?
McKennitt: My goal for this summer was to show up every day and have fun while continuing to compete and get better at baseball, and I have met that goal by just playing loose and continuing to try and improve from outing to outing.
How has it been adjusting to a couple different team atmospheres in a short period of time?
McKennitt: It has been pretty easy adjusting to different team atmospheres. The common goal in summer ball is to play at a high level, so it is pretty easy to get along with the guys no matter what the team.
McKennitt: It has been a lot of fun playing with and against some of my Holy Cross teammates. It is great to be able to hang out with teammates from school in the summer while also competing with and against them.
Two West Coast-based Crusaders have played close to their hometowns during Summer 2019. Seattle native and rising junior infielder Peter Dudunakis has competed for the Northwest Honkers, who play their home games in Edmonds, Washington; rising sophomore right-handed pitcher Connor Crotty, from San Juan Capistrano, California, plays for the OC Legends in the Sunset League, visiting fields across Southern California. The two reflected on their summers spent in familiar territory.
How has the season gone so far? What is the playing environment like?
Dudunakis: The season has been a great experience. It’s been fun to play against some great competition found in the Pacific Northwest. Our team clicked right away, and I owe our success to our great team chemistry. Depending on the town or the weather, our games range from playing in front of 50 people to a few thousand. Regardless of the crowd size or weather, it’s fun playing baseball in Seattle after being out East for the past two years.
Crotty: Overall, the season has gone well for my team and I. We were able to qualify for the playoffs, which start this week. It’s been an exciting season for me because it’s my first time playing in over 18 months. The playing environment has been super competitive and it has been a blast playing with and against great players from Southern California and around the country.
What has it been like playing so close to home? What are some things you’ve been able to do when not playing?
Dudunakis: Playing at home has been the absolute best. I’ve been living at home, so I can hang with my siblings and eat my mom’s home-cooked meals every night. I’ve been training with my old coaches and trainers, so this reunion in a comfortable environment has helped me rediscover the same success that I had in high school. When not playing ball, I can still hang with all of my hometown friends that I grew up with. I can enjoy some of the activities I have been unable to do the past few years – it’s almost like playing in high school again.
Crotty: It has been very beneficial being able to play close to home. I have been able to reconnect with my family and friends, as well as eating super well and getting lots of sleep. When I’m not playing or working out, I have been able to go to the beach a lot and spend time with my baseball friends from high school.
What have been your biggest goals for this summer, and how have you met those?
Dudunakis: Coming into the summer, all I wanted to do was get as many at bats and game reps as I could while staying healthy at the same time. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play good baseball and get plenty of at-bats.
Crotty: My biggest goals for the summer were to get my arm healthy and get my body in good shape, and I have been able to exceed these goals. Each week my arm has felt stronger than the week before and everything has started to slowly come together. I have been lifting four days a week with my strength and conditioning coach, which has transformed my body and made me into an entirely different athlete. On top of that, I have been eating super healthy and I went on a dairy-free diet to get my body healthy. This has put me in a great position entering the fall.
What has been your favorite memory from this summer so far?
Dudunakis: My best memory of the summer is having my entire family and friends in the stands supporting me, as it’s hard for them to always follow me when I’m back East.
Crotty: By far, my favorite memory of the summer was starting my first game in over 18 months. It was an unbelievable experience because it felt like all the work I put into the rehab from Tommy John surgery had finally paid off, and I could finally begin to train and lift as a healthy pitcher. The steps I have made even from that start have been significant and I plan on continuing to make jumps throughout the year.
Inning Seven | July 17, 2019 | Cal Ripken League – FCA Braves (Nick Escoto)
Rising sophomore right-handed pitcher Nick Escoto, a native of Vienna, Virginia, has spent his summer close to home in the Cal Ripken League with the FCA Braves, who play their home games in nearby Lorton, Virginia. He has made nine relief appearances for the Braves, who have won six of their last 10 games as they make a late-season surge.
How has the summer gone so far, and what is the competition like in the Cal Ripken League?
Escoto: The summer has gone well so far. It’s been awesome getting to meet and hang out with players from all over the country who come from different schools and backgrounds. The competition is very solid in the Cal Ripken League. There’s a ton of talented players who you will see making some noise on the national stage this spring. It’s been a fun ride this summer, and hopefully we continue our hot streak through the first round of the playoffs!
What is a typical game day routine for you?
Escoto: On a typical day, I’ll wake up, make myself breakfast, and relax for a bit until heading to the gym to get a lift in before the game that day. Then I’ll drive over to the field to get ready for the game.
What is it like to be able to play so close to home?
Escoto: It’s great to be able to play summer ball and live at home. I’ve been able to see a lot of old friends and also get closer to new ones.
Escoto: I think experience in any aspect of the game allows you to be more comfortable and confident, especially on the mound. Having a few extra innings under my belt and experiencing the different situations the game has thrown at me will instill confidence that I will get out of those situations the next time.
Inning Six | July 11, 2019 | European Baseball Championship – Team Ireland (Liam Dvorak)
During the first week of July, right-handed pitcher Liam Dvorak had the unique opportunity to compete for Ireland’s national team in pool play of the European Baseball Championship in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Against Serbia, Dvorak threw 3.2 innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out five. He hit in that game as well, going 1-for-2. Later in the week in Ireland’s contest against Greece, he started in right field and drew a walk at the plate.
Reflecting back, what did it mean to represent both Holy Cross and your heritage on the international stage?
Dvorak: It was an amazing opportunity to be able to put on the green jersey and play for the entire nation of Ireland. There’s definitely a certain sense of pride that comes with it, especially because baseball in Ireland continues to grow, and what we do in these international tournaments has a direct impact on further development and growth. This was also a great opportunity to put Holy Cross’ name out there on an international scale. Having the chance to spread it was a unique experience.
How were you able to mesh with a new group of players in such a short amount of time? What was the team chemistry like?
Dvorak: After the first practice together, the guys on the team were already pretty close. A majority of the players had already played together in previous years, but they were quick to welcome us into the family – and it really did feel like a family because the age ranged from 18 to 50 with people everywhere in between. As a result, there was a lot of learning on both sides, which made it a great playing environment.
Describe what a typical game day was like in Bulgaria and what the fan reception was like.
Dvorak: There usually wasn’t much time in between games, because there weren’t any lights at the field and there were three games a day. Because of this, a majority of the pregame involved watching the game going on before ours, which was a great chance to see the other teams and the talent they had. Once we got on the field, we started with a meditation led by our head coach to help calm the nerves. This was followed by a normal stretch routine and throwing until game time. The fans in Bulgaria were very accommodating and they respected the opposing teams.
Not only did you get to pitch, but you also hit and played in the outfield as well – how did that go?
Dvorak: I was lucky enough to hit when I pitched in the first game and then play right field and hit in the third game against Russia. It definitely took some adjusting, since I hadn’t seen live pitching in quite some time, but I was able to hold my own. I was happy to have made solid contact, even if I did only get one hit.
What were some of your favorite sights or activities when you weren’t playing?
Dvorak: The city center in Blagoevgrad was great place to visit when not playing, especially at night. The main strip was filled with restaurants and it was also busy with activity. I also got the opportunity to travel to the Rila Monastery, considered to be Bulgaria’s Vatican.
What was the most memorable part of the entire experience, and what is your biggest takeaway from the past few weeks?
Dvorak: I’d say the most memorable part of the entire experience was getting to play baseball with people from a completely different area and learn from each other. My biggest takeaway was that nothing’s more important than the team. The older guys set a great example of this, willing to do whatever the team needed them to do. Especially since this was the only chance some of them have to play baseball in a competitive atmosphere all year, they truly left everything out on the field. This is something I hope to bring back to Holy Cross because it will certainly help lead us to success.
For rising senior Riley Livingston and rising sophomore Ben Malgeri, there is a level of familiarity playing in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Not only do Malgeri’s North Shore Navigators and Livingston’s Worcester Bravehearts play against each other and Holy Cross teammates Andrew Selima, Angelo D’Acunto and Matt Clarkin, but Livingston also gets to play within the friendly confines of the Crusaders’ home field, Hanover Insurance Park.
How has the season gone so far? What have been some of your favorite or most memorable moments from this summer so far?
Livingston: Our Bravehearts season has gone well so far. It has been really fun to get to know the other players on the team who are trying to improve their skill set for next season. We are beginning to hit our stride and hopefully will put ourselves in a good position in time for playoffs in August.
Malgeri: The season has been off to a great start so far. Some of my favorite moments have been connecting with new people and slowly working to improve my game.
How has the game day atmosphere been in Lynn and Worcester?
Malgeri: The game day atmosphere in Lynn is fantastic. We often have kids days and birthday parties so it’s a very family-friendly environment and is a great time for people of all ages. The games are often packed and it also adds to the excitement of playing in the game itself.
Livingston: Game days have been electric in Worcester. On weekends, we sell out Hanover Insurance Park, and there were a few games earlier in the season where we had upwards of 4,000 fans. It has been fun to sign autographs for kids after games and interact with fans on a daily basis.
What have been some areas of your game you’ve been working on this summer?
Livingston: Some areas that I am focusing on this summer have been working on my approach at the plate and working towards improving my arm strength. Living off campus at Holy Cross has allowed me to utilize the weight room and physical therapy on campus, giving me the chance to lift and recover before and after games.
Malgeri: This summer I’ve really been trying to work on refining the little things such as being more consistent in the box, dirt ball reads and stealing bases.
What has it been like facing some of your current Holy Cross teammates?
Livingston: It has been a lot of fun facing my Holy Cross teammates. Playing and calling pitches against Ben (Navigators) and Andrew and Angelo (Starfires) and hitting against Matt (Pittsfield) have been awesome. They are competitors, and I am excited to see the impact they have on the team next year.
Malgeri: It’s been a great experience facing my teammates, and it really reminds me that you have to just have fun with it.
Riley – is there any sort of comfort or advantage in playing at your home stadium?
Livingston: Since the Bravehearts play in our home ballpark over the summer, it has been easy to adapt and play loose. There is a high level of comfort playing at Fitton Field, and being aware of the dimensions of the field gives my teammates and I an advantage over our opponent.
Ben – what is it like being the road team at your usual home field?
Malgeri: Being the away team at my home field is something I enjoy, especially seeing how packed Worcester gets. It makes the game feel more exciting, and I also feel more comfortable playing there than I do at the other parks.
Inning Four | June 27, 2019 | Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League – Westhampton Aviators (Frank Spano)
Rising sophomore left-handed pitcher Frank Spano has spent his summer with the Westhampton Aviators of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. As of Thursday, June 27, the Aviators sit atop the Hamptons League with a 13-5-1 record, and Spano has appeared in five games with one start on the mound.
How has your first collegiate summer league season gone so far?
Spano: The season has gone really well so far. The team is performing well, and we are competitive in every game that we have played. We have made some mistakes early, but they are fixable ones. Once we clean up a couple things, the team will continue to win a lot of games and compete for a championship at the end of the season.
How does the summer season better prepare you for the upcoming collegiate season?
Spano: The summer season is a great time to work on things that you identified as weaknesses during the spring season. Being able to go to summer ball and pitch a lot of innings helps with developing a routine and consistency that is needed to perform at a high level when the spring comes around again.
What has the game day atmosphere been like, and how is the Hamptons environment in general?
Spano: The game day atmosphere is really good. The team is really relaxed and made up of great guys, so the games are a lot of fun. The fans are great – they come to every home game and support us. The Hamptons is a great place to be for summer ball. The beaches are beautiful, and in Westhampton, where I’m staying, the town really loves its baseball.
What sightseeing or any other sort of activities have you gotten a chance to do on your off days? What about team bonding or community service activities?
Spano: Staying in the Hamptons, you have to take advantage of the beaches. When we have off days and the weather is nice, my teammates and I will walk down to the beach for the day. On Saturday mornings, the team runs a baseball clinic for the kids, and a bunch of us also help out with the youth all-star team in the town.
Three rising juniors from the Holy Cross baseball team are competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League during Summer 2019. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Johnson joins a familiar batterymate, catcher Zach Buck, on the New Bedford Bay Sox out of Massachusetts, while right-handed pitcher Liam Dvorak is playing for the Ocean State Waves in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. The Crusaders have seen success in their playing time so far: Buck has hit .263 in five games, Johnson has allowed just four hits and a pair of strikeouts over three appearances, and Dvorak has struck out 13 in eight innings pitched so far.
How has the season gone so far, and what has the game day atmosphere been like?
Johnson: So far, our New Bedford Bay Sox team is off to a slow start, but we haven’t lost those games by many runs, and our team chemistry is starting to come alive. I really like my new teammates and it has been an enjoyable experience so far. The game day atmosphere is upbeat and all of my teammates get excited for first pitch. Everybody is ready to go, and with there being 18 pitchers on our roster, all of us are anxious to get as many quality appearances on the mound as possible. But the atmosphere is pretty relaxed during the games, and I can feel comfortable going out there and competing to the best of my abilities every single day, with no outside pressures of school or other factors on my mind.
Buck: The season has gone well so far. Every game we play is competitive and hard-fought, which makes playing in the league a lot of fun. Game days have been fun and the fans are great!
Dvorak: The Waves got off to a slow start, but we’re turning it around. We lost some close games early on, but I think we’ve started to grow more as a team, and with that we’ve been having more success. The game day atmosphere at Old Mountain Field has been really great. A lot of families come out to support the Waves and give us a good hometown crowd. There’s also a lot of games in between innings for the kids to participate in, which helps get more people involved in the game.
Walk us through a typical day so far this summer.
Johnson: On a typical day, I wake up in the morning and make myself breakfast before going to work out. I then come back and make myself lunch before heading over to the bus for away games, or I eat and relax before heading to our home field games, with arrival time being around 3 p.m. for early work, and most games start at 6:30 p.m. We stretch, have a full-team on-field BP, then have a quick break an hour or two before getting the game started. Afterwards, we are lucky enough to have food ready for us at the ballpark, where we eat and then depart back to New Bedford, or go straight to our host families’ houses.
Buck: I usually wake up around 9 a.m., make some breakfast and then head to the gym at around 10 or so to get a lift in. After that, I grab some lunch, and then around 2 p.m., I head to the field for some extra swings and early work before pregame BP starts at 3:30 p.m. Games start at 6:30 p.m.
Dvorak: Typically, I wake up fairly early, hang out with my host brother Steve, and then head to the gym or the field when it’s time.
How is the NECBL experience preparing you for the upcoming collegiate season?
Johnson: The NECBL experience is helping me to improve for the upcoming spring season because the competition is just as good as, if not better than, what we see in a weekend series down South, in the Patriot League, or here up North. I have to really focus on my pinpoint location as a pitcher, as well as mixing up all of my pitches, or else hitters in this league will catch up to my pitcher tendencies pretty easily. Also, most of our away games are anywhere from an hour to four hours away, so embracing the long bus rides will make it easier to get off the bus rides during the spring and be successful without being tired from traveling.
Buck: The NECBL is a very competitive league with lots of talented players. Playing with and against such talented players on a daily basis will certainly help me in every facet of the game.
Dvorak: The NECBL is a great summer league and exposes me to some top talent from across the nation. Facing these guys forces me to compete every pitch and limit the number of mistakes I can make.
What are some ways your team has gotten involved in the local community?
Johnson: I’ve had the chance to read to elementary school kids twice this past week. We not only read to these young kids but we also interact with them as much as possible, telling them stories and answering as many questions as they can ask. We also convince them to come to our games and to stay updated on not only how we are doing, but we like to know how they are doing as well. We hand out free tickets and different pamphlets for them to take home to their families.
Buck: Our team has gotten involved in the community in a number of ways, mostly reading to kids at local schools in the area as school winds down for summer breaks. We’ve also helped host a clinic for local little league players.
Dvorak: Our biggest way of getting involved in the community is through reading days. This is where we go into local elementary schools and read to them while also speaking about important life lessons. There’s also always questions about our baseball career and things of that nature. Some other ways we get involved is through kids clinics hosted at the field or gym. Activities could include basketball, kickball, dance competitions, and of course some baseball related things.
A trio of rising seniors -- shortstop Chris Rinaldi, outfielder Austin Masel and infielder Alex Volpi -- are in their first week with the Falmouth Commodores of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, which plays host to many future Major League Baseball players each summer. Masel and Volpi return to Falmouth after playing there in 2018, and these three Crusaders continue a long tradition of successful Holy Cross baseball student-athletes playing for the Commodores.
What is it like to have the opportunity to play in the CCBL this summer?
Rinaldi: Having the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League is an amazing privilege especially because of its history as one of the most prestigious summer leagues in the country.
Volpi: It is a great honor and experience to be able to play in such a prestigious league. The coaches and players are all great people, and everyone cares about your development as an individual player.
Masel: I love being on the Cape for the summer, especially coming back again. It is an unbelievable experience to play with the highest caliber players the country has to offer. Having family from Falmouth, it’s also great to play in front of them at every game. It’s such an honor and incredible experience to be playing in Falmouth while representing Holy Cross.
How does the level of competition in the Cape League help you prepare for the college season?
Rinaldi: The competition in the CCBL helps us prepare for the college season by going up against the best players in the country. It forces us to compete to the best of our ability and develop parts of our game that need the most work so that we come back next year the best players we can be.
Volpi: The competition is some of the best that the three of us have ever seen, which definitely serves to prepare us for the Holy Cross season. Playing at such a high level helps highlight the parts of the game that you have to work on to be the best player possible.
Walk us through what a typical day in the Cape League is like.
Volpi: Most days, we will go to the gym in the morning to lift and then we’ll have lunch before heading over to the field for the game. Before the game, we have early work and then a full team, on-field batting practice. After the game, we head home, where Chris and I are lucky to have dinner waiting for us thanks to our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Zmuda.
Rinaldi: Though we haven’t played many games yet, we typically wake up around 8:30 a.m. and make breakfast before heading to the gym at 11 a.m. When we are done lifting, we make our way over to the field and make a quick stop for lunch. For a 6 p.m. home game, batting practice starts at 3:15, so if I’m going early to get groundballs or take some extra swings in the cages, I’ll get to the locker room around 2 p.m. After BP, we head into the locker room and change for infield/outfield, which we take around 5:10. Then, after the game, we head home, and Alex and I are lucky enough to have dinner waiting for us thanks to the Zmuda Family.
Have you gotten to explore the Cape at all or enjoy any time to relax? What is unique about the Cape League environment compared to other baseball environments?
Masel: On an off day, the beach is awesome. I always bring some of the guys from the team to my favorite beach on the Cape. It’s awesome to show the guys from around the country different parts of Falmouth that I’ve been going to since I was a kid.
Rinaldi: So far, we haven’t had much time to explore the Cape, but we were able to check out Nobska Lighthouse, which looks out onto Martha’s Vineyard, which was an awesome experience. The Cape League environment is unique because the fans really love the game and take great care of the players. The many host families and dedicated fans always come out to show their support.
Volpi: The Cape has been a great place to explore. It’s a beautiful area with a lot of great places to go see. It has been great spending time with my host family, who has really made the experience very special. I think the atmosphere at the games is incredibly unique. The fans really love baseball and the community of Falmouth truly cares for and takes an interest in the players.
Rising junior infielder Andrew Selima and sophomore catcher Angelo D’Acunto are members of the Starfires, a team in its inaugural season out of Westfield, Massachusetts. To the northwest, sophomore left-handed pitcher Matt Clarkin competes in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the Suns, and he has not allowed any runs in nine innings pitched so far. Their two teams have met three times this year, with Pittsfield winning two of those three matchups.
How has the season gone so far for you?
Clarkin: The season has been great so far. The team has played well, and there have been plenty of opportunities for everyone to succeed. It has been an enjoyable experience.
Selima: The season is great! We just started the season, so not much has happened yet, but things are going well, and I’m working on improving my field and hitting.
D’Acunto: The season is going really well. I’ve played in seven games so far. I’m learning so much from the coaching staff and my teammates are really great.
Describe your typical day during the summer.
Clarkin: A typical practice is usually light and relaxed. Guys get their work in, hitters take BP, and everyone does what they need to do to stay healthy. For game days, we show up three hours before game time and we take BP, then about an hour before game time, we stretch and throw and get ready to play. Everyone does what they have to do to get ready, and by game time everyone is set to go.
Selima: I wake up, eat breakfast, go to the gym and getting early hitting practice in, then eat lunch, nap and get ready for the game and drive to the field. For a typical home game at 6:30, we get to the field at 2:30, stretch at 3:00 and take batting practice at 3:30. After that, we hang out until infield/outfield at 5:00, then hang out again until 6:00, when we stretch and warm up one more time before our game.
D'Acunto: I wake up in the morning, make myself some cereal, watch some Netflix and then go to the gym. After the gym, I’ll head to the batting cages and get some swings in before the game. I’ll get to the field about three hours before the game, take on-field batting practice, then when the other team is taking BP, I’ll hang out with the boys in the clubhouse and listen to some music and get prepared for the game. We then will suit up and get ready to win a game. If fans are around, I’ll talk to them before the game and hang out with the children. (#ferdakids)
What unique opportunities does summer ball provide?
Clarkin: Summer ball provides a ton of opportunities. You get to meet players from all over the country from many different schools and backgrounds. You also get to experience a community where the people love baseball and support the team. Finally, you get to play baseball with new teammates who all love the game as much as you do.
Selima: It provides the opportunity to meet new people from different schools and from all over the country. You also become part of a new community and become an important part of that town and its community.
D’Acunto: It allows me to perfect my craft. I am able to focus on little parts of my game that others may look past, and it also allows me to get a lot of game reps that I may have not had the opportunity to get during my freshman season. My main focus during summer ball is growing as a player, and figuring out how to get to the next level.
In Westfield, what has it been like playing for a first-year team?
Selima: It has been amazing. This team means so much to the town and it is a pleasure to bring happiness and baseball to the town of Westfield.
D’Acunto: It’s good because we are starting with a blank page. Westfield is an amazing baseball town, and the people who live there are really invested in the team. We are kind of the underdogs and are trying to make a name for ourselves. Hopefully, I’ll look back years from now and be able to say I was on the first Starfires team, and have it really mean something across Massachusetts.
What has it been like facing some of your Holy Cross teammates?
Clarkin: It has been great facing some of the HC guys. Being able to see them before and after the game to talk about the experience of summer ball and then compete against them during the game is a unique thing that is very fun.
Andrew – what did it feel like to get struck out by Matt Clarkin?
Selima: What can I say – he got me. He pitched me well and out-dueled me. All I can say is that next time, that won’t happen again!