By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
With six games remaining when Tuesday began, the West Virginia Miners had a 22-man roster to take into the stretch run. Half of the 22 are pitchers, three are catchers — two of them banged up — and the remaining nine are listed as infielders.
Welcome to the frustrating world of trying to manage a summer collegiate league baseball team as August quickly approaches.
Every team, from the Alaska Baseball League, the Northwoods League and even the Prospect League, loses its share of players as the summer wears on. But the Miners seem to be losing more than should be expected.
It started with pitcher David Hess, who led the Prospect League in strikeouts before his college coach shut him down in late June. Then the real exodus began nine days ago, when pitcher Jaesung Hwang also had his season halted. All Hwang did was post an earned run average closer to zero than one in his six starts, going 5-1 and starting for the East Division in the PL All-Star game.
That was followed by the exit of Nick Paxton, an outfielder whose bat was just heating up when he packed up and headed for home last week. On Monday, University of Hawaii product Kaeo Aliviado boarded a flight bound for the islands, supposedly suffering from homesickness.
Between them were pitchers Ali Asif and Sam Hunter and infielder Vince Bartolone, and manager Tim Epling was informed Monday that another pitcher, Evin Einhardt, was being shut down for the summer.
It all begs the question: Is summer league baseball too long?
Most leagues start their seasons the last week of May, not long after a lot of college teams have finished their seasons. Some players are late arrivals to their summer teams, depending on how far their college teams advance in the NCAA tournament, and the transition from college to summer league is usually immediate.
Many leagues across the country will start their postseason next week, including the Prospect League. Some don’t begin until the following week, while others wrapped up theirs over the weekend.
No matter which, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for vacation or relaxation before the fall semester starts.
These guys are playing a lot of baseball. There’s fall ball in September and October, the start of spring practice in January and the beginning of the season in February. They basically have no break from the start of the year through July, many into August.
I can understand how that might be a problem for a 21-year-old college student who values a summer break.
However, they also know the situation when they agree to play for a summer program. They make a commitment that, no matter their age, they should honor to the very end.
These leagues do not exist merely as a fun way to spend a summer until the players lose interest or want to go home. They provide a way for players, who have a legitimate shot at playing pro baseball, to show their skills in a competitive wood bat atmosphere to pro scouts.
If players can’t handle a full slate now, how can they expect the scouts to take them seriously?
Epling did not comment about individual players, but whole-heartedly appreciates those who are still around.
“It’s a whole team effort. I’m really proud of the guys for the way they have hung in there, the ones that are staying,” he said. “We’ve had so many players leave. It’s just a tribute to the guys who are hanging in there on our team and playing hard. If we have to go out there with nine players, then so be it.
“I’m proud of the guys who are out here dedicating themselves to the organization.”
— E-mail: gfauber