The 2019 edition of the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks, after eight years in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL), begin play at the Shark Tank in Oak Bluffs on June 5 at 6:30 as members of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), the second-ranked summer league in the country.
The 13-team NECBL operates in all six New England states, and upwards of 200 NECBL players a year are drafted into pro ball by Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. Among summer collegiate leagues, the NECBL is generally rated second nationally to the Cape Cod League for baseball prospects.
Sharks general manager Russ Curran and second-year Head Coach Jay Mendes are scrambling to complete preseason details, like setting a roster and finding beds for players. “We won’t be set on the roster until after the MLB draft that begins this week [June 3],” Curran told the Times this week.“ And we’re still looking for housing for seven players. We need seven more beds,” he said of one of the Sharks’ biggest challenges over its nine-year existence. Interested families can reach Curran for details at 508-813-0380 or at mvsharks.com.
Eight Sharks signees are in postseason play, up to and including the College World Series tournament. “That speaks to the quality of college programs and players we recruited from,” Curran said.
While it’s hard to handicap team prospects at this point, Curran knows this squad has juice at the plate and strong pitching credentials, including seven lefties, an almost unheard-of number on rosters at any level. Sharks 2018 fan fave catcher Nick Raposo will return with preseason All-American honors. Raposo, a Johnston, R.I., native, responded with top 10 standings in several national collegiate hitting categories. Raposo struck out just five times in nearly 200 collegiate at-bats this season, playing at Wheaton College in Norton. Strongman Matt Chamberlain is also back. When last observed, Chamberlain was hitting a towering game-tying homer into the wind and rain at the Tank in the championship game last August.
Other key returners are catcher Josh Spiegel, outfielder Kai Nelson, infielder Jackson Raper, and pitchers Nate Tellier, Bryan Ketchie, and Devon Dimascio, big parts of the Sharks 2018 co-championship.
“No question, our strength is in the guys coming back. They hit in the first five spots in the batting order last season, and they had tremendous 2019 college seasons. That’s before you add in players from bigger D1 schools [Kentucky, Dayton, Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Kansas, Purdue, Duke, St John’s, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State].
“We have a lot of experienced seniors, and a bunch of freshman arms. For example, Kyle Salley, a lefty freshman from Duke, who throws 90, 92 mph, will be here. He was drafted by the White Sox, but opted to play in college. And I like that we have options for left and right hitters, except for catching, to compete in a 44-game season,” he said.
The Sharks have been busy outside the basepaths as well.
While the infield got a mani-pedi, the community got some important outreach. “When the guys get in, we’re going to help move Camp Jabberwocky into its new home. The team will also participate in Wellness Day at the Tisbury School, and we’re talking with other schools as well.
“We’ve established a weeklong drop-in clinic, 1 to 3 pm every day for Little League families who host a player, in addition to a regular one-day open clinic. Players will participate in the clinics. Of course, opening day is Little League Day. The players get in free. And thanks to second-year sponsor Vineyard Vines, every kid under eight gets in free all season,” Curran said.
Grandstand tickets are $10 and include both a free hot dog and a hamburger. General admission is $7, but an upgrade to a $10 ticket gets a free dog and burger as well. “We have worked to make a Sharks game the best and cheapest family entertainment on the Island this summer,“ Curran said.