Wednesday, July 2, 2008

H-VILLA's Finest: Semi-Pro Team Moves To Hastings

A new era in the annual Westchester/Rockland Wood Bat League unfolds this summer, as Hastings’ Travis Thornton is funneled down the management keys of the Hastings Monarchs. The Monarchs, with their roster thoroughly cleansed from last season, are the newest member of the 14-team, semi-professional summer program.
Originally the NY Monarchs, the team underwent a location change now that the club, which features a slew of Hastings natives, received a permit to play their home games on the renowned Burke Estate field on Farragut Parkway.
“I’m very excited about having a field that the Monarchs can call their home,” said Thornton, who bore the onus of workaday, all-circumstances hurler for the Monarchs last season.
“Many changes were made to the team during the off-season and this is yet another change to add to that list. The field is also more centrally located for most of the Monarchs squad, and another field to play on which should hopefully help the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League scheduling.”
The chief change which Thornton references is the total replenish from last year’s slumping squad. After the retirement of a longtime veteran in player/manager Joel Perez, who helped establish a softball subculture throughout the previous 12 summers of the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League, a sudden revolution was inevitable. Thornton, who at 24 is one of the league’s youngest newly-appointed managers, is adamant about starting from square 1.
“It’s a total rebuilding year,” explained Thornton.
The team’s veterans are targeting to bounce last year’s disappointing season, as the NY Monarchs, from their memory bank. So far, however, their aspirations haven’t panned out.
The team's ascension to the higher echelon of summer baseball has been about as smooth as a trip up I-95 in snow and ice-blanketed streets.
The team has been thoroughly walloped thus far. Thornton covered up his apparent exasperation with an optimistic perspective.
“We are 1-13 right now. That’s more of a reflection on the commitment level of some of the players. A lot of guys have other things going on, but what we’re trying to do is rebuild is treat it as more of an expansion year. Next year we’re going to fill in the pieces.”
With the team’s overall youth, Thornton feels adjusting to the higher level of play might be a process.
“It’s a semi-professional league, which means that there are a handful of players in the league that played professionally at some level. Either they were drafted, or played in the minors, or played on independent baseball teams. And you get various former Division-I guys, Division-II, Division-III. So, your getting all types of players at all different levels.”
Still, Thornton remains positive that the team’s establishment can do wonders for the community. He’s passionate about utilizing Hastings’ first-ever semi-professional team as a model to jump-start other feeder programs in the community.
“We want to show kids in Hastings that there are opportunities to play baseball outside of high school. We want to show them that beyond high school, there are 18-and-over teams that they can play for, if they still desire. So that’s definitely where I’m going with that.”
Thornton has been in contact with the Hastings little league coaches. He’s made sure every coach has a copy of their schedule and is anticipating hordes of young players to flock to the home games. This could be the next step for the baseball-obsessed community.
The Hastings varsity team captured back-to-back Section 1 championships and garnered berths in the 2006 and 2007 New York State tournaments. Clearly, baseball has been given the torch to carry proudly for the 3-square mile Rivertown.
The roster boasts Hastings products Luke Thornton, the younger brother of Travis, Dan Bohm, Max Pachner, Austin Friedman, and Mike Degaspari.
“Luke’s our power hitter,” said Thornton of his brother. “He’s back in the three-four spot and we’re going to need him in the outfield, he’s got a good arm and good awareness.”
Bohm, who starred on Hastings’ 2006 Sectional Championship team that earned a berth in the state Final Four, will be utilized as a jack-of-all-trades. Bohm can hit for average and play sound defense. The acquisition of Bohm fills the hitting vacancy left by Jesse Waters, the Hastings coach who is no longer part of the Monarchs program.
“He’s going to be all over the place,” explained Thornton. “He’s a team leader and he’s going to be utility in that he’s going to play short, second, third, and outfield.
Pachner is a leadoff hitter who is fundamentally sound in all facets of his game. Degaspari is coming off a shoulder injury and should provide some depth behind the dish.
Friedman is a relief pitcher who is coming off shoulder surgery.
“He (Friedman) just started with us, but we can definitely count on him to get in the starting rotation.”
The Monarchs first step towards a new, rejuvenated season was upping the middle infield. This was made possible with the acquisitions of Edward Fabian, an all-conference player at SUNY-New Paltz and Pete Correro, a stud shortstop with some major power. Both players are considerable five-tool talents.
. Other key additions are Andre Boykin and Richard Power, both of whom can pop and will be called upon to deliver in critical situations at the dish this season. Both players will add some necessary depth in the right corner.
David Lloyd returns as one of the league’s top pitchers. With a manipulative package of pitches to keep batters off-balance, Lloyd’s trademark location and control is what makes him the club’s ace. The Monarchs have provided solid security personnel for Lloyd now that they’ve upped the back end of the rotation. While the club won’t abuse Thornton’s arm as it did last season, the elder statesmen will be a lynchpin in relief and stimulate the middle of the rotation.
Thornton sprinkled praise on Eric Blicker, who played a major role in allowing the Monarchs to move into Hastings.
“He’s the main reason we are able to play at the Burke Estate and get this thing going,” said Thornton. “We owe him a lot of the credit.”