WATERTOWN — At last, summer collegiate baseball is returning to the north country.
Following a one-year hiatus after last season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Watertown Rapids have returned in earnest.
The Rapids will open their Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season when they host the Auburn Doubledays at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“It was a worry for sure, the whole winter leading up to this,” Watertown Rapids coach Ben Moxley said about concerns whether another season would be called because of the pandemic. “The league rules are fairly relaxed, we can just play baseball, really. The guys who haven’t had the vaccine will have to wear a mask, but it’s not a big deal. It really hasn’t affected us too much.”
This Watertown team features plenty of local ties to the area, including Moxley, who is an assistant coach with Clarkson University.
“I’ve played in this league, I’ve coached in it for three years as an assistant under Joe Hughes, who is an awesome manager down in Oneonta,” Moxley said. “So it’s exciting to finally have the lineup card in my hand and be making all the decisions and practice plans and all that.
“So I’m really excited about it, I think we’re doing some good stuff.”
The Rapids also have drawn players from around the country as is typical for the PGCBL.
“I really like the team that we’ve put together here,” Moxley said. “I’m still getting to know a lot of these guys, but we’re just excited to see these guys in action.”
The team roster includes pitcher Ryan Peters of Watertown, and a pair of infielders in Lowville graduate Brett Myers and Carthage grad Jake Millich.
“It’s really nice, it just feels comfortable here,” Peters said. “I’ve played with some of the guys who are on the team, so it’s great to be here.”
Peters, who is coming off his freshman season at Herkimer Community College, will get the start on the mound tonight for the Rapids.
“It’s a great opportunity that I’m able to play summer ball in my hometown,” Peters said. “I’m really excited that I’m able to play for this team and really happy that I have this opportunity,”
“Ryan is a guy who I’ve known for a while, I recruited him out of high school, so I’ve known about him for a long time,” Moxley said. “I’m excited to see him out there, he’s making some changes and he’s always working to get better.”
Millich, who is from Black River, was a sophomore this spring at Clarkson, after missing out on much of his freshman campaign at the school last year after the team’s season was canceled because of the pandemic.
“Jake’s helping us out, he’s working full-time, he’s a Clarkson student,” Moxley said. “He’ll be helping us out when he can make it, he’s got a lot of speed, he’s got a lot of power.”
Myers, who has starred in the past for Lowville at the high-school level, is attending Division I Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.
“Brett’s a good shortstop and another kid that I recruited a little bit out of high school, he ended up going to a Division I school down south,” Moxley said. “So he’s a talented kid and it will be good to see him against some really good arms in this league.”
The Rapids’ roster, which includes approximately 30 players, features college players recruited from California and Washington in the west, as well as Texas and Utah, and from Connecticut and North Carolina in the east.
“I’m excited,” Rapids’ general manager Nick Czerow said. “We had the guys report on May 24, so as far as I’ve heard, that’s like a week earlier than any other team in the league. We have guys who are going to be late, because a lot of our players are in playoff pushes right now with their colleges. Which I think speaks well for the kind of players we’re getting.”
Like other collegiate summer leagues around the country, the PGCBL uses traditional wooden bats.
“Hitters hitting with the wood bats, for me I like that better,” Peters said. “Because it causes more groundouts than flyouts, but I’m looking forward to that as a pitcher.”
“The caliber of the league is great, I think this year will be even better then it’s been in the past,” Moxley said. “With everybody getting COVID eligibility years back, there’s just more college baseball players available, so I think the league is going to be very good this year and a lot of teams are doing some good things.”
Peters is also looking forward to pitching once again on a field that he knows well, and experiencing the other ballparks around the league.
“I’ve played on this field for years, I know the dimensions of this field,” Peters said of the Fairgrounds. “It’s the most favorite field that I’ve ever played on, so I’m really looking forward to this.”
After an off-day on Friday, the Rapids will host the Syracuse Salt Cats in an exhibition game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fairgrounds, After three games on the road, the Rapids return to host Auburn next Wednesday, also a 6:30 p.m. start.
“So far, with the guys we have here so far, they all want to get better and they want to improve,” Peters said. “They’re a fun group of guys and I’m really enjoying the practices so far and the two coaches, too. I really like them a lot and I think we’re going to have a really fun season, a very fun summer of baseball.”