The Boys of Summer come to New England
By Mark D Phillips
Vandy Boys. The name is synonymous with college baseball players.
It is baseball in its purest form with athletes who are playing for the love of the game, with the slim possibility of advancing to a Major League Baseball career.
The Vandy Boys, a nickname for the players of the Vanderbilt University Commodores in Nashville, won the College World Series this week. It was an emotional roller coaster for a team that had overcome the worst kind of tragedy: the death of a teammate in a drowning that devastated the team.
The six seniors won the game for their friend, Vanderbilt pitcher Donny Everett, who died on June 2, 2016. Donny’s parents, Teddy and Susan Everett, were on stage with the entire team holding the championship trophy above their heads. It was a moment shared by college players nationwide, a band of brothers who understood the bond shared by those teammates.
That bond is well known by the players of the Worcester Bravehearts, where elite college athletes hone their skills during the summer months in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL). Vandy’s Pat Demarco hit the game tying homerun and caught the final out in Game 3 of the College World Series win over Michigan. In 2017, he played center field for the Bravehearts, the summer after graduating from high school. Pitcher Makenzie Stills of Vandy went 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA for the Bravehearts during their 2018 FCBL Championship run.
“I followed the series, and Vandy was my team,” said Shawn Babineau of the Worcester Bravehearts. “Last year, I played with three Vanderbilt guys on Martha’s Vineyard. They became friends.”
Most people think of the Cape Cod League when they think of the place to see the hottest up-and-coming players on their way to Major League Baseball careers.
The Bravehearts came into being in 2013 when it was announced that they would play their summer games at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Bravehearts gained a reputation as a family fun destination, and for having unique and popular promotional nights, like this week’s Craft Beer night under a tent by the bullpen. The team is owned and operated by the Creedon family, who also own and operate Creedon and Co., Inc., a catering and tent rental company based in Worcester since 1985. Every night of the season, you will find John Creedon, his son, John Jr. and his daughter Julie, somewhere in the stadium, picking up trash or working in the concession stand. They are as hands-on as they can be.
The same week that Vandy won their championship, the Bravehearts management took a road trip to Cleveland to witness Aaron Civale, the first Braveheart to make his Major League Baseball debut, earn a win for the Indians. Called up to make a spot start, the 24-year-old pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out six, which included all three batters in the first inning.
“Well worth it,” said Dave Peterson, General Manager of the Bravehearts. “We left at 4am from here, drove out to Cleveland, got there at 1 p.m. for a 4 p.m. game. Went to the game, sat with his family. Got into the car at 11:30 p.m. We had a game that next day.”
As the 2014, 2015 and 2018 champions, the Bravehearts are located in Massachusett’s second-largest market after Boston. The Red Sox have noticed, and in a bold move, are moving their AAA affiliate from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Worcester. The PawSox will become the WooSox in 2021.
The FCBL is the field of dreams for many college age players. The 7 teams around New England bring together a group whose goal is to get noticed. It is exciting, hustle baseball, with 50% of the players from or attending college in New England. Then throw in exceptional talent from around the country.
“Kids have better approaches, they’re more aggressive. The zone is definitely smaller. Here I can’t really blow too many fastballs by guys, I have to rely on my off-speed stuff more here rather than at Springfield College,” said Babineau. He joined the Bravehearts this year after a sensational sophomore season with the Pride in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was a NEWMAC All-Conference and ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division III All-Region honoree.
“It’s a little stressful, but I deal with the stress well. I’m just trying to channel everything to when I go on the mound.”
Last season, Babineau played for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks, one of the Bravehearts’ fiercest competitors.
“Coming here to Worcester, after playing against Worcester last season, I knew it was a good organization, they win a lot of ball games every single year, I wanted to be a part of the winning culture. A few of the fans came up to me and said ‘I remember you.’ It’s awesome. It’s very adrenaline-rushing and it makes my heart beat. I like it,” said Babineau, who is considered the team’s ace; At least by Braveheart superfan, Brian Dillon.
Known as Front Row Brian, Dillon has followed the team since its inception. Over the last two seasons, he has been a fixture on the front row, directly behind the umpire. He knows every player, shouting encouragement as they come to bat, or correcting the umpires’ calls for a Braveheart pitcher.
He sees the players at their worst and their best.
“I loved it when Makenzie (Stills) pitched because he just ate everybody up,” said Front Row Brian. “He could throw real hard, you could just definitely tell he was D1 talent. He was a little guy just like Babs.”
Speaking about Pat Demarco of Vanderbilt, Brian said “I was watching the tournament because I knew they would go far. He was another guy you could tell was going to go far. In a homerun derby against Wachusett, he came up and hit seven or eight. The two of them were awesome to watch.”
So Worcester has become a baseball town. In 2021, you will have the option of college ball with the FCBL or MLB baseball at the AAA level. It comes down to your personal expectations. It also comes down to economics. A ticket to the Bravehearts tops out at $9 in an intimate, 3,000 seat stadium with players who stand little chance of playing across town at the AAA level, but are giving their all with that dream in mind.
And players like Shawn Babineau are looking to make that dream move to the next level with every expectation of being drafted by an MLB team.
“I definitely want to see if it’s possible,” he said. “I just want to come out here and do what I do best and hopefully my name will get out there.”
So take this opportunity to see some future stars.
The Worcester Bravehearts play all their games and run their summer camps at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross.
1 College Street
Worcester, MA 01604
Tickets and schedules can be found at http://www.worcesterbravehearts.com