NORTH ADAMS — One by one, the members of the 2016 North Adams SteepleCats filed into the North Adams Armory on Sunday, picked up their gear bags and went home with their host families.
"Oh, it's time," SteepleCats manager Mike Armstrong said. "I'm ready. I can't wait."
Neither can each of the players who checked in. Most of the North Adams roster arrived Sunday, and Armstrong said a few would be arriving in the days leading up to Thursday's NECBL season opener with New Bedford.
One player, outfielder Daniel Holst, will likely be the last one to arrive. Holst has been playing for Southeast Missouri in the Starkville (Miss.) Regional of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament. Holst went 1 for 3 with a 3-run home run in a 9-4 loss to Louisiana Tech that eliminated the Red Hawks from the tournament. Holst homered in the first inning of that game.
"An assistant coach talked to me about the league, and said it was one of the better [summer leagues]," said Noah Vaughan, an infielder who hit .270 with 2 home runs and 19 runs-batted in at Texas-Arlington of the Sun Belt Conference. "I wanted to play against the good competition, so I joined the SteepleCats."
The team had a Sunday night picnic dinner that was forced indoors because of rain. Armstrong said the team would be practicing Monday afternoon, with dates Tuesday and Wednesday still up in the air.
Players from colleges in 10 different states will be a part of the 15th-anniversary edition of the SteepleCats. They come from schools as diverse as Vaughan's UT-Arlington team, to Iona, UMass-Lowell, Cornell and the University of San Diego.
Fourteen of the SteepleCats are coming to Berkshire County with teammates.
"It's going to make the transition [to summer baseball] so much easier having Pete with me," said Cornell catcher C.J. Price, who is in North Adams with pitcher Peter Lannoo. "Especially being a catcher and Pete being a pitcher, having that pitcher-catcher chemistry will really be helpful."
Price was an All-Ivy League Honorable Mention selection for Cornell and hit .231 with a .973 fielding percentage. His Big Red teammate went 3-3 with a 5.15 earned-run average. Lannoo was second on the team in wins and third in ERA.
"This part of the country is beautiful. I had a little taste of it at Cornell, but just being here in the Berkshires and being here, it's wonderful," said Lannoo. "It does [help]. We're living with a host family together and we're really excited to play some ball and have fun, most importantly."
Most of the schools that are represented on the North Adams roster are familiar ones. Northeastern, the University of Hartford, Columbia, Cornell, UMass-Lowell and Buffalo are among the schools that have sent players to North Adams and other teams in the NECBL. But Southern Illinois-Edwardsville is another story.
Keaton Wright, who was named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference second team, led his team in hits (67), doubles (12) home runs (5), RBI (37) and batting average (.362). He was sixth in the OVC in hitting. He is the first SIU-Edwardsville player to participate in the NECBL.
SIU-Edwardsville coach Danny Jackson contacted North Adams about Wright, and the SteepleCats welcomed him.
"He kind of wanted to get our name out there from SIU-E," Wright said, "so we can get kids on different sides of the country to play ball, and to kind of open it up to our baseball world."
Wright and the rest of his SteepleCat teammates will get to open up this new baseball world on Thursday.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.