In the weeks and months leading to the summer of 2008, John Mayotte was working the phones and compiling scouting reports with time running short: Mayotte was the coach of the Glens Falls Golden Eagles at the time and had to assemble a team to defend the New York Collegiate Baseball League’s East Division championship.
Mayotte’s next move was to reach out to Edgar Soto, who was coaching the baseball program at Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona, at the time. In other words, he was going back to the well.
“The coach there was an acquaintance of mine and he worked with us on a yearly basis at that time,” Mayotte said.
This Arizonian well had more than 7-hole hitters and defensive specialists this time: Stefen Romero, now in the outfield for the Seattle Mariners, was ready to play for Glens Falls.
“(Romero) was a standout player. You could see a glimpse of stardom in him,” Mayotte said.
Thanks to his time with the Golden Eagles, Romero got an offer to finish his collegiate career with the Oregon State Beavers — then winners of two of the last three national championships — before being drafted in the 12th round by the Mariners and working his way up to Major League Baseball.
A new group of Golden Eagles is in Glens Falls looking to follow a similar path to the big leagues as their 10th season begins on Wednesday night at East Field.
“We’re trying to create that kind of atmosphere. I want to run it like a baseball machine, not just a baseball team type of thing,” current Golden Eagles coach Johnston Hobbs said.
While Hobbs’ budding machine hopes to bring winning baseball to East Field, another hopeful output is more editions of the Romero story: relative unknowns finding the attention of professional teams — or four-year colleges, for those coming from the junior college ranks.
“These are the types of guys that ordinarily wouldn’t get exposure like this, but these are kids that nobody has ever heard of that I’m pretty excited about,” Hobbs said. “It makes me look a lot smarter when that happens.
“People are going to be like, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard of this kid, where did he come from? What school is that?’ That’s what we’re looking for.”
And he would have it no other way.
“The way I recruited this year, I didn’t go after the Auburn guys or the Wake Forest guys or the guys at Florida State,” Hobbs said, overlooking a rough draft of the depth chart. “I wanted guys that were really hungry and felt like they were overlooked by those schools, and come in and play their (butts) off.”
The end goal for Hobbs is to give his players the exact opportunity his coaches gave to him — a fighting chance at a career in baseball.
“Honestly, I’m a retired baseball guy and retired business guy. I don’t need a trophy,” Hobbs said. “I want to help guys out like coaches helped me out, because I wasn’t the most gifted athlete. I want to help guys extend their baseball careers.
“I probably wasn’t the most talented, but I worked my butt off and those are the kinds of guys that I want. I’ve interviewed every one of these guys and that’s what we talked about.”
The Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League is founded on just that principle: attracting talent that will be playing in Major League parks sooner rather than later.
“They broke off from the New York (Collegiate Baseball) League because they wanted to make a more competitive league and compete with the Cape Cod League,” Hobbs said. “We’re ranked in the top seven leagues in the country, and it’s very competitive since there are hundreds of leagues out there. Our whole idea of the league to compete with the Cape and get guys draft-ready, get them used to everyday baseball.”
The next step in the plan is giving the right people — the baseball people of Major League front offices — no choice but to know about the pro-ready talent in Glens Falls for the summer.
“Every Major League team has a ton of scouts around. Ordinarily those guys will go to our All-Star game because those guys are busy all over the place,” Hobbs said. “What I’m trying to do this year, with our connections, is get more exposure for these guys.”
Hobbs has the plan of hosting at least one pro day of sorts, in which scouts come to Glens Falls on an off day for the team and get an exclusive look at players with professional aspirations.
“We’re planning on putting together a prospect day,” Hobbs said. “We’re going to call in some of our coaching buddies and scouting buddies and we’re just going to have them put on a showcase. The 60-yard dash, we’ll do some throws, some infield and outfield, take some batting practice and get them a little more exposure.
“I have three or four guys coming here that people don’t know about, but I’ve been watching their video and scouting them myself and that’s why they’re on the team,” Hobbs continued. “If they just get a look, that’s great. That’s the top 10th of the top 1 percent in your sport, just talking to you. Let alone if you make it.”
Hobbs’ plan has roots in more than pure optimism, as the idea has been carried out in the past. Jonathan White went undrafted in 2008; but, after a season with the Golden Eagles that led to a successful senior season at Vanderbilt, White was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2009 and spent one season in the minor leagues that he may not have gotten otherwise.
Before the potential conversations with scouts or power five conference head coaches, the new crop of Golden Eagles have to adjust to doing something they have never done before: play baseball every day for more than a month.
“It’s a big difference going from high school where, depending on your state, 25 to 35 games and maybe two a week, then in college you play 50-some odd, then here you play 48 in 54 days,” Hobbs said. “And three of those days off are all-star break, so it’s not like you’re getting vacation to heal up.”
That is, if their bodies are ready to play baseball at all.
“I’m going for guys that want to play hard, that aren’t tired of baseball by the time they get here,” Hobbs said. “We’ve run into that before: guys that finish the College World Series and they get here and they’ve got another 48 games to play. They start off into it but they get worn out.”
Those who can survive the physical test have another one awaiting them, this time aimed at their mentality.
The players who arrive for a summer with the Golden Eagles, despite coming from all corners of the country, share a common experience in the previous months: a piece of equipment they all have been using since they started playing baseball over a decade ago.
That staple of the game — the aluminum bat — has been yanked out of their hands and replaced with a much less forgiving and more fickle bat carved from wood.
“I always preferred hitting with wood over aluminum for some reason, but there is an adjustment,” Hobbs said. “Especially when you have a big outfield like we do here, some balls that would be definite home runs at your high school or college field with aluminium are routine fly balls.”
Hobbs added, “If you miss it by this much with an aluminum bat, it’s a little more forgiving, but with a wood bat it’s a foul ball or fly ball.”
Batters are not the only ones making the adjustment, as pitchers have to retool their arsenals and reconsider their philosophies to capitalize on wood’s vulnerabilities.
“It can change your strategy a little bit with pitching,” Hobbs said. “I would say to the guys that throw harder, if they’re swinging a wood bat, throw them inside. Let’s not give them a change-up outside and let them get a piece of it, let’s go ahead and jam it inside on that wood bat and see what happens, especially with the fastball.
“Look at (former New York Yankees closer Mariano) Rivera’s cutter. What has that done to wood bats opposed to what it would do to aluminum.”
After a summer of wood bat baseball, the curve for hitters is reversed quickly as they return to campus as an improved product — and the numbers show it.
For example, Anthony Giansanti returned to Siena after the 2008 Golden Eagles season and saw his batting average rise by 76 points, up to second on the team, and was one home run shy of tying the school’s single-season record. Giansanti’s teammate Jonathan Koscso went from six doubles to 14 after the summer of 2008, plus adding 12 RBIs and over 150 points to his slugging percentage in his next season at South Florida.
“I look at it like overtraining,” Hobbs said. “If you can hit a ball hard with a smaller sweet spot, imagine going back to the aluminum bat — even if it’s BBCOR and the sweet spot and the rebound is supposed to closer resemble wood for safety reasons — it’s still bigger, it’s still a bit more forgiving.”
The results are consistent and noticeable to the point Hobbs wouldn’t mind having them if he were the one coaching the players in college.
“If I were a college coach, I’d really appreciate it,” Hobbs said. “I would know I don’t have to worry about John Doe this summer because he’s going to play for Coach Hobbs at Glens Falls and I know he’s going to come back better.”
When Mayotte needed a star player in 2008, he went straight to Soto and found one waiting for him. Hobbs has his sights set on being that go-to contact for professional teams needing some talent in their farm system.
“I would like to see a half dozen guys out of the 35 to get serious looks,” Hobbs said. “I know we had several guys last year that were getting looks from pro teams. I know there are a lot of guys that have that as their dream and they’re not getting to get that at their current school. Maybe we can help them out to facilitate that.”
Hobbs has history on his side, as the 2008 Eagles team was one of several that produced more than one professional baseball player.
“Chad Stang got a contract to play for LSU but turned it down — to go pro,” Mayotte said. “Shane Davis pitched a no-hitter when he was here (since drafted by the Blue Jays). Anthony Giansanti was here, and he was drafted by Oakland and is still playing in the Cubs organization. He’s a blue-chip player and blue-chip kid. Nick McCoy played some pro ball in the Yankees organization.”
Mayotte continued, “Those names I’m tossing around are outstanding players. You’re not going to get the best. I coached in the Cape Cod League for 5 years and the talent is incredible. But you may get a freshman and he comes back after two years of summer ball in Glens Falls for example and as a junior and you just say ‘Wow.’”
More recent Golden Eagles teams have also produced pro talent, as five members of the 2009 team are active in the minor leagues — four of them in Class A and one more in advanced Class A.
Outfielder Michael Ferraro and pitcher Nathan Forer are teammates on the Charleston RiverDogs, the Class A affiliate for the New York Yankees. Atlanta’s Class A team, the Rome Braves, features pitcher Daniel Watts while pitcher Andrew Brown is playing for the Asheville Tourists in the Rockies organization.
In Advanced Class A, Lance Durham is in the Detroit Tigers organization as a member of the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
Most of them have their time in Glens Falls as an attributing factor to their signing, as the institution pulled their names from anonymity to the folders of scouts looking to pick them up.
“At the end of the season we have a guy who’s just in charge of ranking the players in draft potential, with who has pro potential and who does not,” Hobbs said. “We submit a list to this guy and we talk about it. Their biggest thing is getting guys ready for the pros.”
All with the end goal of Golden Eagles spread throughout baseball, from the big leagues through the minors.
“I’d like Glens Falls to be known — after a few years of my coaching here — as a place that they want to come to play because they out a few guys in the minors,” Hobbs said, “they get exposure, they’re competitive, they’re playing for championships and it’s just a good experience.”