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A Conversation with Rusty Leaver

By John Bayles , 11/20/08, 7:32AM EST


Photos by John Bayles

So you had a dream, to start a summer collegiate baseball league in the Hamptons. We understand you’re a little closer to realizing it. Tell us what you’ve been up to since the Whalers dismantled back in August.

We immediately moved into a player recruitment drive. In that regard we assembled a pretty good staff of people. Based on the success of last year, they understand the potential. As is the Cape, if we do it the right way, this will be another one stop shopping location. Unlike other leagues, a scout could come here and spend two nights and see a lot of players, all who have the potential to be daft picks.

Last year, with our one team, we had achieved some notoriety inside collegiate baseball; and in terms of major league scouting, it’s a very small fraternity. It’s amazing how the networking is such, these days, that everyone knows what is going on and they saw we are very serious about trying to create a high quality summer collegiate league and get players that are possible big league, high level draft picks.


Is it true that Sag Harbor is not going to have to share the Whalers with Southampton this summer, that there will be even more baseball at Mashashimuet?

As always, we are subject to approval from the park board. Our hope is the Whalers will play all their home games in Sag Harbor.

When we met with the park board last year, it’s one thing to be a salesman and be pitching something. No matter how enthusiastic or expressive I might try to be, it is a lot easier to get people behind it when they’ve seen it and it’s a reality. When I go around to the different towns and talk to the local community members, it’s a lot like selling ice cream. It’s hard to say no.

Sag Harbor should definitely have its own identity. We look at Sag Harbor as the birthplace of this baseball league and it will always be the birthplace.


What are the other towns that will now have the same opportunity Sag Harbor had last year, to get behind a team of their own?

We will have the Sag Harbor Whalers and the Southampton… well the name is subject to the local community’s feelings, but we’re thinking the Southampton Breakers. Westhampton’s name is also pending, but it could be the Aviators. The Westhampton committee has a connection to the air base.

Then there will be a Riverhead franchise that could be playing on a lit field in Calverton. There is a sports complex the town owns that is nearing completion, so we should have a lit field there.

And then there are two potential fields on the north fork, there is a field in Mattituck, which would be the high school field and then there is a municipal facility in Cutchogue. It may be they are temporarily called the North Fork Anglers. They would split the games between two towns like the Whalers did last year.

And then we are taking the Long Island Mustangs, one of the survivors from the Kaiser Division. The Metro Cadets and the Peekskill Robins, who we played in the playoffs last year, will play in the Wolff Division.


So instead of the Wolff and Kaiser Divisions, the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League will now have the Wolff and the Hamptons Divisions. And I heard you are hoping to have the playoff format changed so it’s not a single championship game.

Yes we’d like to change the dynamic of the championship. Having been there last year, we’d like to see a best of three series.


What are the benefits of staying with the ACBL as opposed to branching out?

Number one, the first and primary one is if you’re your own league you can qualify for major league funding. And the reality is the funding cycle for this year had already gone by and we would not have qualified.  And also, we would not have been sanctioned by Major League Baseball.


And the ACBL has a little bit of history.

Yeah. They’ve been around for forty years and they were good to us last year. They are saying to us, “Grow, expand and we support you.”

And we will see. If our interests remain in line next year, we might stay with them then, also.


So the dream may change slightly. You might not have a Hamptons League, but there will certainly be more than one team. There will be a Hamptons Division of the ACBL.

Yes. The number one dream was always to create a family atmosphere. We’re about bringing out the Iowa in the Hamptons. This is something designed for the locals, for the year-round population.


What about the front offices for the teams? I know Butch Caulfield helped you out a lot last year. Will he be back with the Whalers and what about the other Sag Harbor people that were involved?

Butch did a great job for us last year, but he had some personal considerations. There are a lot of additional people in the front office that have stepped up, like Paul Gibson, Ed Blankmeyer and Pat Short. In Sag Harbor there are so many people, but you have this core group of Sandi Kruel and Eddie Burke who donated his services last year. And Tom Gleason, who really was the glue last year to everything. And Ed Haye, who represented the park board and wrote our contract. He’s just a gracious guy who always has the best interests of Sag Harbor in his soul.

The Sag Harbor committee, led by people like them, really took the attitude like, “okay, what do we do next.”

Despite the fact it’s the Hamptons, that’s what is exciting about all this, it’s small town America that is really at the heart of it. The Hamptons is no different than anywhere else. At its root, it’s just a series of small towns.


What about the coaching staffs?

As we have with the players, we put out emails around the country looking for coaches and at the same time put ads in some of the best known collegiate baseball publications. As a result we have a number of applications with résumés and bios and we have a few hires already.

Our coaches will hail from California to the Midwest. We have two brilliant, sage baseball minds. Both are retired coaches. Dan Gallagher was a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies for a number of years but was also the head coach at Fordham for 20 some years. He will coach Westhampton’s team. And along with Dan, Dave Walker, whose sons Chris and Kyle played on the Whalers last year, will assist Dan.


What about the other teams?

In Southampton we’re trying to get Ken Rocco, who is a former coach of Farmingdale, another guy who was a varsity collegiate coach for 20 some years. He’s a brilliant baseball mind and he’s retired in East Hampton. But we’re trying to coax him out of retirement.

We have a number of candidates we’re sorting through. We’re going to make sure we bring in the best coaches and we’re going to be a division very focused on teaching baseball.


What about the Whalers? Will Julio Vega be returning?

We’re going in a different direction. This is going to be about diversity and over the years we hope to have a number of very talented coaches come here.

We have a gentleman in Sag Harbor, a gentleman we haven’t signed yet. But he has a tremendous resume and he comes to Sag Harbor every summer. I’d rather not give his name until we have signed him. But he couldn’t have a better resume.


And what about the players? Any returning Whalers?

For starters, I know my son Gardiner is coming back. After a successful fall at URI, he got a number of offers to play in some respected summer leagues. But he will be coming back here.

The history of summer collegiate baseball is you rarely have players come back for consecutive years.

We’ve made it our charge to go out and get the best freshmen in the country and a handful of the best sophomores and a smaller handful of juniors.


What about Pat Holloway or Phil Klein, who pitched that perfect game last year?

We haven’t talked to Pat, but we talked to his coach at Louisiana Lafayette. And he’s going to send us two more players. That’s what this is about.

And Phil, he thinks he has the potential to go to the Cape, but it’s not a lock. We told him he will always have a home at Mashashimuet.

We are excited that we will have Dan Reiser back and also Mike Labrozzi from Farmingdale, another Pierson graduate. And we’re making it policy, where, if its possible and there is credibility, we love the idea of having hometown boys.