Half of the Niskayuna roster has been playing baseball together on the same team for the last six or seven years, but nothing they’ve done so far remotely resembles what they will experience this weekend.
Niskayuna will compete in the Babe Ruth World Series, beginning Saturday and running through Aug. 25 in Van Buren, Ark.
Before leaving on a chartered bus Thursday, the team held a press gathering at Blatnick Park, and everyone there seemed to have a different reason why Niskayuna has been so successful this season, compiling a 32-6 overall record and going 6-0 en route to claiming the 13-15-year-old Mid-Atlantic Regional title last week at Cook Park in Colonie.
Niskayuna will compete in four games of pool play, beginning Saturday night at 8:45 EDT. The quarterfinal round begins Aug. 23.
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” said second baseman Taylor Parks. “I think pitching is the No. 1 reason we’ve advanced this far. We have a very deep staff.”
First baseman Patrick O’Brien disagrees.
“I think it’s our patient hitting that’s our strength,” he said. “Our hitters have been patient throughout the entire lineup. We can hit from the leadoff hitter all the way through the ninth hitter. I hit second in the lineup, and it’s my job to move the runners around, but every one of our hitters knows how to be patient and wait for their pitch. It shouldn’t change much at this level.”
Relief pitcher Sean Connors guarantees his team won’t be overwhelmed.
“There’s not that much pressure,” he said. “We’ve all been friends for years. I think eight or nine of us have played together since we were 8 years old, and I don’t think the pitchers, or the hitters, are going to be that much better than us at the World Series.”
Niskayuna coach Chris Bianchi said he doesn’t expect the change in time — Arkansas is in the Central Time Zone — will affect his team.
“We’ve been practicing under the lights quite a bit to get the kids used to playing later at night,” he said. “A couple of days, we’ve had two practices in one day.
“For me, it’s getting to be more normal the closer we get to the World Series.”
Bianchi has many pitchers he can turn to during the tournament, and he hasn’t decided on an opening-day starter yet.
“We don’t play until Saturday, so all we’ve got to do is make sure we get plenty of rest and eat right. We will be able to scout the other teams and see which pitcher will be the right guy to start. I’m sure all of the guys want to be that pitcher, but this way, none of them will get nervous if I name the starter too soon.”
Bianchi said that World Series rules are the same as in the regionals, meaning pitchers can only throw seven innings over two games.
“I think the pitch count is more important than the innings,” he said. “I’d like to keep my pitchers to 14 pitches per inning, which is pretty good for this level of baseball.”
The Niskayuna community has been extremely supportive of the team, according to Bianchi.
“Everyone is so excited, and everyone has been helpful, in terms of raising money,” he said. “We will be ready for the tournament. This team is as disciplined a club as I’ve ever seen. Everyone on the team knows how to execute his role.”
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” added Parks. “None of us will ever forget this trip.”
Ryan Feeney, Tom Favata, Mike Gabriel, Chris Wilk and Adam Gleason are the primary starting pitchers for Niskayuna, while Connors and Brian Poy work out of the bullpen.
O’Brien at first, Parks at second, Gabriel at third and Mike VanHusen at shortstop compose the infield, and Tom Sparato is the team’s catcher.
Outfielders include Garret Whitley, Feeney, Kyle Peck and Tyler Hanft.
“We are quickly fundraising to offset some of the 15 families’ cost of a chartered bus,” said Niskayuna Babe Ruth president Tom Sparato in a league press release. “This is Niskayuna baseball’s first Babe Ruth World Series appearance since joining the league in 1957. The boys have worked so hard to get this far and will proudly represent our league.”
Live webcasts will be available at www.citylinktv.com.