By Matt Williams
LYNN — Pete Delani spent 13 years as the head baseball coach at Masconomet Regional High School and almost a decade as a Major League Baseball scout. So when he was named the new general manager of the North Shore Navigators this past January, observers knew he had a pretty good eye for talent.
The talent Delani assembled for the 2009 season will be on display for the first time tonight when the Navigators of the New England Collegiate Baseball League host the Sanford Mainers at Fraser Field (7 p.m.).
The NECBL is an MLB-sanctioned, wood bat league that gives some of the top NCAA talent a chance to showcase itself during the summer months. Considered a notch below the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, the NECBL has produced major leaguers like Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier and Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine, among others.
"I was very familiar with New England's college coaches from my years at Masco — we sent 48 different players to college. Also having been a scout, I have relationships with a lot of college coaches around the country," said Delani.
"Fortunately, I was really able to draw on those. A lot of building a team like this is word of mouth and people trusting you with their players."
Several local standouts highlight the Navs' roster this season. Peabody resident Mike Gallo recently re-signed with the team, and Danvers native Matt Boylan out of Brown University will start on the mound Saturday. Marblehead's Doug Shribman, a first baseman from Bucknell, and Peabody's Kyle Multner, and outfielder from UMass, are also on the team.
"This is a great league. I tried to get in last year, but most of the spots were full," said Multner. "An assistant at UMass asked me if I wanted to play for North Shore during our season, and I jumped at it. There was a contract on my locker the next day."
Multner's UMass teammate, former Malden Catholic star Jared Freni, is tonight's starting pitcher for the Navs; he's among the six other Massachusetts natives on the roster. There's also Boston College's Chris Kowalski in addition to players from the University of Rhode Island.
Three Navs outfielders were drafted out of high school: Red Sox pick Matt Marquis from Vanderbilt, Atlantic Coast Conference All-Rookie team honoree Sean Gilmartin from Florida State, and Tyler Thompson of Florida. (Gilmartin, Thompson and fellow Gator Kevin Chapman aren't with the team yet because the Seminoles and Gators are still alive in the NCAA tournament).
Also, North Shore boasts 10 college juniors who could be chosen in next week's Major League draft and could opt to turn pro.
"The difficulty is not necessarily the end of the college season, as that will always be the case," Navs coach Jason Falcon said in a release. "The bigger challenge is the lateness of this year's amateur draft. We will be in-season and have to wait it out with them and see what develops."
After qualifying for the playoffs last year (the franchise's first on the North Shore after moving from Holyoke), the Navs would love to repeat that success. Winning is part of all NECBL's teams dual mission — play well, and showcase the talent on hand.
"The first objective is to put the kids in a place where they can display their skills in front of scouts. We'll average 15-20 scouts a game," said Delani. "But they want to see them in a winning environment, so you have to marry those goals. There aren't any guys that don't deserve to be here, and that makes the playing time less of a juggling act."
That journey begins tonight and continues tomorrow at home against the Lowell All-Americans (who have Danvers native Eric Oxford on their roster). The Navs host Newport Saturday night before visiting Manchester, Conn. Sunday.
"Hopefully this is another stepping stone for me to try to get drafted — and I get to sleep in my own bed," said Multner. "We've only been together a couple of days, but it seems like a good group of guys. It should be fun."