Mason Feole still remembers right when he found out that USA Collegiate National Team manager Paul Mainieri wanted him to join the squad for the summer.
“I got a text from [UConn head coach Jim] Penders right before the [Georgia] tournament saying that Coach Mainieri was looking at me for the team,” Feole said. “Then the next day I got the call from Mainieri and I was just so excited.”
It wasn’t at the forefront of his mind the entire season, of course — his number one goal was to help the Huskies win — but it was always there: he was looking to prove himself to his future Team USA teammates and coaches.
If Maineri, pitching coach Brian O’Connor of Virginia or any other of the National Team players or coaches didn’t know what to expect from Feole, they certainly got a good look at him during their season.
Feole appeared in three out of the National Team’s 15 games this summer and started two, pitching 11 innings of scoreless ball. The Wakefield, Rhode Island native earned his sole win of the summer on July 6, allowing just one hit in four innings against Japan.
However, Feole didn’t know quite what to expect when he first walked into the National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. It was a far cry from his stint with the Cape where it seemed he couldn’t spit without hitting someone he knew, from UConn or just baseball in New England.
“I knew Bryant [Packard] and [Jake] Agnos from playing them, but everyone else was brand new,” Feole said.
The new face that made the biggest impression on Feole was pitcher Zack Hess, who is a “funny guy, he’s a real wild man,” according to the rising UConn junior. The big man from LSU played a major role in one of Feole’s favorite moments of the whole summer.
“The Fourth of July game was special, Hess was really pumping, and we were getting into it in the dugout, and I think the Japan pitcher struck out 16 of our guys,” Feole said. “Then to watch the fireworks after the game in the dugout, it was really special.”
One of the coolest parts of the summer, according to Feole, was experiencing the different cultures of the different countries he faced.
Chinese Taipei pitchers will pitch with some funky stances and wind-ups, throwing fastballs in the nineties, then come back at you with eephus pitches in the fifties.
Cuba played baseball with exuberance, which contrasted with Team USA’s famously hard-nosed style of play.
Meanwhile, Japan had some pitchers in that 18 to 22-year-old range nearly pushing 100, while their batters had great plate discipline, all playing with “just tremendous respect for the game,” Feole said.
Despite most of his friends living the typical college baseball summer lifestyle in Cape Cod this summer, it was no contest as to what he would do.
“It was a no brainer, really, to represent my country,” Feole said. “I’ll never forget it.”
The Bourne Braves are home to three of the UConn representatives in the Cape Cod League: catcher Thad Phillips, shortstop Anthony Prato and relief pitcher Jake Wallace.
If there’s any Husky who really broke out of his shell this summer, it’s Wallace. The flamethrower worked as Bourne’s closer, throwing 10.2 innings of scoreless ball and striking out 19 on the season while allowing just seven hits and five walks.
Wallace’s performance this summer earned him a bid to the Cape Cod League All-Star Game where, as he put it, the “best of the best” come to play.
There he left an impression on scouts and fans alike, touching 95 on the radar gun and striking out the final two batters of the game for the West division, showcasing what has been a relatively new mentality for him this summer:
“I’ve just been working on throwing strikes and attacking hitters, making them hit whatever I’m throwing,” Wallace said. “That’s really helped out a lot, it’s made me change my game and this [season] is proof it works, so I’m gonna stick with that.”
In his second stint with the Braves, Prato is having as much fun as ever in the vaunted greatest college summer ball league in the country.
“It still definitely lives up to the hype,” Prato said. “It helped a lot getting experience here last year, so I kind of knew what to expect competition-wise, and even just living out here.”
Prato started out the season hitting .305 but was slowed by injury, and now is hovering near .265, with a .392 on-base and .367 slugging percentage through 121 plate appearances.
Even though Prato’s hitting has been slightly hampered, he has been his normal self on the defensive side of the ball.
This has included a circus-style play to shut the door on Brewster in their game July 22, where he deflected a sharp grounder, snatched it out of mid-air and threw to first to end the game.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense, that’s more important than hitting to me,” Prato said. “It’s definitely cool when someone’s surprised at a play that’s routine to me.”
According to Prato, one of his favorite moments at the Cape this summer came off the diamond. Prato became close with Houston third baseman Jared Triolo in his first stint with Bourne and went from battling him in AAC play last spring to a different type of competition this summer:
“Me and Triolo have pretty competitive games of [MLB] The Show. I’ve gotten the best of him almost every time but he’s beaten me twice in like twenty games,” Prato said. “Last night I beat him in thirteen innings when I hit a walk-off home run. I let him hang around a little while, but I’m better than him.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Husky pitchers Jeff Kersten and Chase Gardner have been turning heads with the Healdsburg Prune Packers in the California Collegiate League.
Gardner has improved in almost every pitching category in his time with the Prune Packers, earning a 2.25 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP, down from 4.00 and 1.3 at UConn last spring respectively.
The big righty’s imposing appearance and funky delivery earned him high praise from Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia after he pitched an 11-pitch perfect inning in the California Collegiate Showcase last week, per D1Baseball.com.
“He’s got a little funk to his delivery but does a great job of getting away from those right handed hitters and can control the count and control the zone,” Scioscia told D1Baseball.com.
Kersten also has put together a solid season with the Prune Packers with a 3.86 ERA, allowing batters to hit just .230 off of him so far this summer.
If there’s one message all of these Huskies have taken away from their time in their respective summer leagues so far, it’s to savor the moment playing alongside the best college-aged players in the country.
“Just enjoy playing with the guys you’re playing with, because you never know which guys are gonna make it big time,” Wallace mused. “Everyone’s here for a reason, so just enjoy it while you’re here.”
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.