For local prospects DeMartino, Koperniak, no college baseball season means an unknown future

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The abrupt end of the spring sports seasons across the United States left athletes from coast to coast disappointed, there can be no doubt.

What it also did, was put the future of draft-eligible college baseball players in limbo.

"I think it's just going to be waiting on things to happen really," Matt Koperniak said. "Right now, everything's closed down. Major League Baseball is closed down. The NCAA is done, so there's going to be no seasons for any scout to watch. You have to take that into consideration.

"For now, I've just been trying to take it easy. It's been a complete [180] from starting the season to going straight into not playing again."

Koperniak, an Adams resident and Hoosac Valley graduate, was beginning his senior year of baseball at Division III Trinity College. He was also looking forward to possibly being selected in Major League Baseball's First Year Player Draft. The draft, like MLB itself, is currently on hold.

"For amateur players that are hoping to be drafted, I think it's going to be very hard, especially from the New England area," said Amherst attorney and agent Jim Masteralexis, who also happens to be Matt Koperniak's family adviser, "because they start the season so late. I've been in touch with some scouts by text and on Twitter, and everyone knows this is a strange situation and everyone's going to have to adjust."

Koperniak and Drew DeMartino of the University of Hartford had been on possible draft boards for this coming year. DeMartino, a junior infielder from Pittsfield via Taconic High School, is also in the land of limbo.

"We haven't done a ton of communication," DeMartino said. "It's just been that this is all happening so fast, that you can't really prepare for it. The reality is that there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Thank God the NCAA gave eligibility back for the spring players, so juniors can return and seniors, most importantly, that just lost their last year of baseball, at least have an extra year of eligibility.

"Other than that, I haven't heard much about it."

Both Berkshire County baseball players were coming off All-Star caliber summers. Both Koperniak and DeMartino were named to the All-NECBL first team. Koperniak, who had finished his second season with the North Adams SteepleCats, was third in the NECBL with a .376 batting average. He had 37 runs batted in, good for seventh in the league, and had five home runs. The previous season, he hit .318 with a home run and 24 RBI.

DeMartino, who made the jump from the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures League to the NECBL's Sanford Mainers, was a first-team pick after hitting .319 with six home runs and 31 RBI.

Both players were off to pretty good starts in 2020.

DeMartino's Hartford Hawks were 6-6 when the season came to a screeching halt. The Hawks had won a pair of series from North Florida and The Citadel, both played in the south. Hartford had lost to Connecticut and Northeastern before the season stopped.

He was hitting .250 in 12 starts at second base. He had two home runs and six RBI. His .450 slugging percentage was second on the Hartford team.

Dalton's Joe Woronick is a freshman on the Hartford team, but he did not have an at-bat before the season ended.

Trinity, ranked 19th in the most recent NCBWA/D3baseball.com national Top 25, was 3-0 when the season stopped. The Bantams opened with a 5-3 win over Eastern Connecticut, then beat Lasell 16-5 before downing 12th-ranked Southern Maine 5-1.

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Koperniak had gone 7 for 13 with one home run, four RBI, a pair of doubles and three runs scored.

"It was kind of surreal," said Koperniak of the day Trinity coach Bryan Adamski told them about the season's ending.

"At first, we had a meeting saying our spring trip was off but we were going to be able to continue with the season," Koperniak said. "Two days later, we were told pretty much our season was over. We kind of knew it was coming, because we heard rumors throughout our whole conference that everything was getting shut down.

"It was shocking, but the way things were going, you knew it was coming."

For players like Koperniak and DeMartino, there are no sure things ahead in the immediate future.

"As of right now, I think there's nothing but question marks," said University of Hartford head coach Justin Blood. "The NCAA obviously came out shortly after and said they were granting eligibility relief to all spring sport athletes for this year. My understanding would be, and they didn't specify just seniors, so I'm assuming they're referring to everyone. My belief is, based on how they worded it, everyone in our program and programs across the country are going to get another year of eligibility to make up for this spring. When it comes to the Major League Baseball draft and summer leagues, nothing but question marks."

Under MLB draft rules, players are eligible to be drafted when they graduate from high school or prep school, and then cannot be drafted again until following their junior seasons. Players who are not drafted as juniors are also eligible to be drafted when they complete their senior seasons.

"Who knows what's going to happen with summer ball or anything like that," DeMartino said. "It's all up in the air. All these decisions have to be made."

Since there is no spring baseball season, the players have to look forward to summer baseball and potentially the draft. DeMartino, as of now, is slated to start the summer with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League. If Koperniak takes his extra season, he could also possibly end up back in North Adams.

DeMartino's numbers might not have been where he'd like them to have been 12 games into the season, but the UHartford second baseman said he was thrilled with how the Hawks had started 2020.

"My freshman and sophomore years, I don't think we had a win in our first 12 games of our season. The first 12 games of this season, we are 6-6," he said. "We're playing good teams, so I was happy.

"I'm upset that we don't get to see where this team would fully get to go."

For his part, Koperniak said he wasn't totally certain if he would take an extra year. But the Trinity senior said he was thrilled to have the option, because the alternative wasn't pleasant.

"It's a great thing that the NCAA did there, at least for D-III," he said. "For D-III guys, we all have that extra year. It was pretty gut-wrenching to have our senior year taken away from us. It's great to know I have that extra year.

"If all things don't work out, I'm definitely considering coming back for another year."

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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