CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- With the college baseball season coming to a close, aside from the remaining teams participating in Super Regional action, many to most college baseball players will continue to improve their skills by participating in summer leagues across the country. The Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL) is one such league that will draw its fair share of talented collegiate athletes, and will begin their season with three games to be played on June 4.
The first three games of the season will be between Mohawk Valley and Albany, Newark and Glen Falls, and Watertown and Adirondack.
PGCBL League President Jeff Kunion believes this season will be even better as the league has continued growing since its inaugural season in 2011.
“I think there’s a great expectation for this season," Kunion said. "We’re just continuing to build on the foundation, a solid foundation, which we built over our first few years of operations."
Since its first season as a collegiate summer league in 2011, the PGCBL has grown vastly in multiple areas, according to Kunion.
“I’ve seen it grow in a number of different areas. We’ve seen our sponsorships for the individual teams and the league as a whole has been growing due to the quality of competition,” he said.
He added that the affiliation with Perfect Game has also been a major factor in bringing quality college players to the PGCBL. Perfect Game’s affiliation with collegiate summer baseball started when Kunion, the owner of the Elmira Pioneers during their time with the New York College Baseball League, and Brian Spagnola decided to branch off to form their own league. Kunion said Spagnola had connections with people in Perfect Game and thought it would be beneficial to associate with PG for name recognition and to help develop quality competition. Spagnola is now the President and GM of the Amsterdam Mohawks.
“I think a lot of that has to do with our affiliation with Perfect Game because the schools know they would not be putting their name on an organization that was not solidly developed and developing a good foundation,” Kunion said.
Perfect Game is known for putting on national showcases and tournaments for baseball players across the country in hopes of catching the eye of scouts of major league organizations and college coaches from a recruiting standpoint.
The PGCBL consists of college players across the country and graduated high school seniors who will be attending a university in the fall, with approval from Perfect Game. The league opened in 2010 and currently has nine teams spread around the New York area. The league begins in June and is played through July, with the playoffs going through early August.
Last year’s league champions, the Amsterdam Mohawks, will look to win the championship for the third year in a row. The Mohawks finished last season with a 35-18 record with the help of last year’s MVP, John Nogowski. Nogowski, who played for Regional host Florida State this past spring, finished the season with a .365 batting average, 14 doubles and tied a league record for the highest on base percentage, .497. He also led the Mohawks in six different categories.
Another team looking to continue its progression from last season is the Albany Dutchmen. Last year, Dutchmen Head Coach Nick Davey received the Coach of the Year Award after setting a franchise record of league wins with 26 and leading the Dutchmen into the playoffs for the first time. Davey said it was more of a team honor due to his team overcoming its adversity.
“Our guys overcame a lot of adversity throughout the year; we lost 16 guys due to injury last year,” Davey said. “To play with their backs against the wall and have to win as many extra innings games as they did to just get in and fight they way they did, it just set the tone for a good playoff run and I think we set the bar, we have a new standard for our organization.”
To help the Dutchmen reach their goal of making a deeper playoff run and winning a championship, Davey said pitching depth and staying healthy is the key. The PGCBL has expanded its team’s rosters this season giving Davey more players to work with in case the injury bug returns this season.
“With the expanded rosters this year, we brought in a couple of extra pitchers," Davey added. "Just keeping guys fresh and having fresh legs at the end of the season, not getting so tired, being able to have guys with fresh arms."
The PGCBL will also be represented by players who have gone through Perfect Game events, whether they played in tournaments or participated in showcases. Jack Gerstenmaier of the Newark Pilots has committed to play his college baseball at the University of Virginia and is an infielder who participated in Perfect Game events in high school. Gerstenmaier scored a perfect PG grade of 10.0 from PG’s scouts. Some of the events he participated in were the 2013 National Showcase and the 2013 17u Perfect Game World Series.
Another player in the PGCBL who went through various PG events is hoping to be a factor in capturing a third straight title. Andy Ward, a righthanded pitcher, plays on the Amsterdam Mohawks and plays for Florida State during the college baseball season. Like Gerstenmaier, Ward received a strong grade from PG scouts, earning a 9.5 at the 2012 National Showcase. Ward reached up to 91 mph in high school and was described having a good, late sinking two-seam fastball and good spin on his curveball.
The PGCBL will be represented by a magnitude of talented players from a wide variety of colleges across the country. But each player will focus on improving their skills and chasing down a championship in August. For the players in the PGCBL, it starts today when they take the field on a warm summer night. But as Jeff Kunion put it, it takes a team to win and that’s what he appreciates the most about being the President of the PGCBL; is that everyone works well as a team to contribute to making the PGCBL successful.
“What I appreciate most is not only the cooperation amongst the owners to realize that we’re not just a bunch individual teams, but as individual teams like the players on the field, our organization is very much like a baseball team. Baseball you kind of play individually by yourself, but you really only succeed when you act together as nine individuals on a team.
“We can be competitive on the field, but we have to be cooperative off the field. That’s what we strive for and that’s what I see the league has done the past three years.”