By Matt Williams
---- — LYNN — The North Shore Navigators have gone through a lot of changes since the franchise moved to Fraser Field six years ago.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the fact the Navs give college players a great place to play summer baseball.
North Shore began its second season in the Future Collegiate Baseball League this past weekend with a pair of one-run wins. They gave first-year manager Jon Cahill, a star at Peabody High in the late 1990s , his first career victories.
An assistant coach at Endicott College in Beverly, Cahill was an assistant for the Navs last summer.
He is an assistant at Endicott College and was an assistant for the Navs last summer
The FCBL is a wood-bat league comprised of college baseball players, akin to the famous Cape Cod League. League rules require 15 of the 30 players to have connections to New England, meaning they’re either from the area or play their college ball here.
This summer’s Navigators roster has a North Shore feel. Peabody’s Joe Gruntkosky, who pitches at St. Joseph’s of Maine, is back for a second summer along with Monks teammate Alex Markakis, who played at St. John’s Prep. Fellow one-time SJPer Justin Peluso, who plays at Wheaton, joins North Shore for the first time as well.
”I love playing close to home,” Markakis said. “We get good people coming to the game, it’s fun and it’s great baseball.”
A pair of ex-Northeastern Conference players are also on the roster in Lynn Classical’s Kyle Gauthier (Stony Brook) and Kyle Devin (headed to Stony Brook next year). There are also some former Cape Ann League all-stars in Mike Weisman (Columbia), Brandon Walsh (UMass) and Ty Leavitt (Southern Maine) of North Andover.
Navs pitcher Ryley MacEachern, who is going to Stony Brook next year and is from Saugus, was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 37th round of last week’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. He’s slated to get the ball for North Shore tonight when the Navs travel to Wachusett.
”It feels amazing,” MacEachern said after being selected. “I was sitting there seeing the rounds tick away, so naturally I was a little worried. But then I saw my named pop up and I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. We will see what happens from here, but for now I will just keep doing work for the Navigators.”
Six other one-time members of the Navs were drafted: Eric Jagielo of the 2011 Navs and Notre Dame went 26th overall to New York; Crayton Bare of Baylor, who spent several summers with the Navs, went to the Dodgers in the 28th round; Georgetown’s Michael Johnson, a 2010 Nav, also went to LA in round 14; Cody Dent of Florida, a 2012 Nav, was picked by Washington in the 22nd round; Junir Mendez of Southern New Hampshire went in the 16th round to Oakland and Jake Schrader of Tampa went to Atlanta in round 27.
All that talent serves as evidence of the kind of baseball the Navs are playing as they chase their first FCBL title after falling in the inaugural championship series to Nashua last year.
“I’d talked to Al (Markakis) and Ryan Grant, who I played with at Wheaton, and they were really happy for when I signed here,” said Peluso, who had two hits in the season opener. “They all say playing here is a great experience, a great time, and I’m looking to coming out to the park, trying to get better and having some fun with it.”
Markakis, who can play in the outfield or at third base, is excited about being back on the team for a second summer. As a veteran, he’s taken on a leadership role in showing some of the players new to the North Shore the ropes.
“I like being a clubhouse guy,” he said. “We have a lot of great guys. The chemistry seems good right now, and hopefully it’ll stay like that. It seems like we have a lot of young players and a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to learning about everyone.”
Among the players to watch from around the country is Tim Hendricks, who was an FCBL all-star a year ago. He’s joined by his brother, Kevin; the pair hail from Illinois and play for Benedictine. Newcomer Blaise Lezynski of Notre Dame could be an impact player as well Irish teammate Conor Biggio, the son of big leaguer Craig Biggio.
The Navs are also planning a number of community events this summer. They had a seniors luncheon last week and also played an exhibition game in front of area elementary school children last Thursday.
“We were getting high fives from kids (and) they’re asking for autographs. It’s special stuff,” said Peluso. “You don’t get a chance to play in parks like Fraser too much. I got a chance to sneak in some games in places like this in high school, but playing in this kind of park on a consistent basis this summer will be awesome.”