PGCBL holds Baseball Fest at Shuttleworth Park

It was a day at “the old ballpark” for baseball fans on Tuesday as the Amsterdam Mohawks hosted the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League’s Baseball Fest 2017 at Shuttleworth Park. The event featured a little bit of everything including fielding and batting practice, a skills competition, a home run derby, a prospect game, and the 2017 PGCBL All-Star Game. Things got off to a home run filled start with the first ever PGCBL Prospect Game sponsored by Amsterdam Printing. Home town fans got to see one of their own help with a 12-9 East Division win over the West Division, and a Mohawks fan favorite, Eric Rivera, earn the game MVP with an outstanding offensive performance.

The PGCBL Prospect Game looked like a pitchers’ dual early on as the two teams managed little offense and a 0-0 score through four innings. The West got on the board first with the strength of a two run blast off the bat of Adirondack Trail Blazers’ John Micheal Boswell, and an RBI double by Newark Pilots’ catcher Will Alloca to take a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth. Rivera wasted no time in getting the East on the board with the first of his three hits on the day, a home run over the wall in left field off Elmira Pioneers’ Allbry Major to cut the lead to two after five innings. The West got the run back on a solo home run from Onodaga Flames’ Webb Little in the top of the sixth, but Rivera was just getting started.

With two runners aboard and two out in the bottom of the sixth, Rivera lined a fastball from Onondaga’s Ryan Marketell into right field for a double scoring both runners and cutting the lead to 4-3. Amsterdam native and Oneonta Outlaws infielder Ben Rhodes reached on an infield error, the second of three in the inning for the West, and came around to score the go ahead run in the nine run frame where the East sent 14 men to the plate. Mohawk Valley’s Russ Olive, Albany’s Justin Childers, Saugerties’ Andrew Taft, Utica’s Mitch Calandra, and Amsterdam’s Matt Gorski all contributed to the offensive output before Rivera’s second hit of the inning, a single, scored the last run for a 10-4 lead. Rivera had three hits in three at bats falling only a triple short of the cycle.

“I just went out an tried to have fun,” Rivera said. “Baseball is a game you have to have fun with. I went out and did what I could to help my team win.”

The West got one run back in the top of the seventh on an RBI single from Geneva’s Justin Barr, but the East boosted its lead to 12-5 with Russ Olive’s two run shot over the left- center field fence, and gave the East a pair of much needed insurance runs as the West closed the gap with a four run eighth inning highlighted by the fifth home run of the afternoon. Onondaga outfielder San Little’s three run round tripper scored Colton Evans and Webb Little before an inning ending double play brought about the final score. Former AHS shortstop Ben Rhodes fielded a sharp grounder up the middle of the diamond and tossed it to second baseman Justin Childers for the first out, and then Childers’ fired to Russ Olive to complete the play. Rhodes made a triumphant return to Shuttleworth Park where he spent his high school days as a member of the Rams varsity team.

“It felt good to come back here and play in Amsterdam,” Rhodes said. “It was a great time and an honor to be chosen for the prospect game. I received a warm welcome when I came up. I can always hear my mom.”

Rhodes recently completed his freshman year playing for Siena College and was selected by the Oneonta Outlaws of the PGCBL. However, his place in the batting order with Oneonta has given him a chance to do a little more with his at-bats than he had in college.

“I’ve been hitting toward the middle of the order which is a change from batting ninth at Siena,” Rhodes said. “I’m seeing different pitches including breaking balls instead of a lot of fast balls. It’s been going pretty well.”

Rhodes recently announced he is transferring from Siena College to Herkimer Community College, and posted the change on his Twitter page.

“It’s a good opportunity for me,” Rhodes said.

Amsterdam Mohawks pitcher Brandon Reitz was the pitcher of record when the East took an insurmountable lead. The Ocala, Florida native who recently completed his freshman year at Florida State University earned the win on the mound.

The day continued with the PGCBL Skills Competition sponsored by Miller Printing, and the 2017 PGCBL Home Run Derby sponsored by River Ridge Living Center. Elmira’s Conor Grammes turned in an impressive performance to be crowned home run king.

A day at the old ballpark concluded with the 2017 PGCBL All Star Game sponsored by the Recovery Sports Grill. The East Division defeated the West 10-8 with several Mohawks playing an important role in the win. Amsterdam’s Will Holland smacked a home run to left giving the East a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning. Holland’s solo shot was only the beginning of the fireworks. The West put up six runs in the fifth to take a 7-3 lead, but the East chipped away helped by an Anthony Gonnella RBI single cutting the advantage to 7-5. Gonnella scored on a bases loaded walk to tie the game continuing a big sixth inning for the East. Glens Falls’ Anthony Vaglica missed a grand slam by only inches settling for a two run double as the East put up a seven run frame taking a 10-7 lead. Mohawks hurler Carter Knapek came on to pitch the eighth inning and helped close out the win for the East. Vaglica was named the game MVP.

On a day like Tuesday with so many baseball all stars in the park, a common theme was collecting autographs. Young boys and girls were asking players to sign programs, baseballs, hats, and shirts in an effort to collect as many as they could during the day long event.

“I signed a few for the kids,” remarked Rhodes, a hometown favorite from his high school days with the Rams.

The PGCBL also held a skills competition for the local Little Leagues. A pair of young men from Schoharie were recognized for their accomplishments during the between-innings activities. Also honored were some of our military veterans who have seen active duty overseas. Several heroes were introduced and shook hands with the players.

Probably the busiest girl at the ballpark was Mackenzie Farina. The AHS junior spent her night driving the pitchers from the bullpen to the pitchers mound in the Mohawks golf cart, and then walked in front of the grandstand from end to end, carrying the sponsors signs between innings. Farina was at the ballpark during the prospect game, and long before the start of the all-star game, in preparation for a busy night.

In the past, the historic Shuttleworth ballpark was the home of the Amsterdam Rugmakers team from the Canadian-American League, and hosted the New York Yankees for exhibition games. It has hosted collegiate leagues, Babe Ruth leagues, American Legion leagues, and the Amsterdam High School baseball teams. After all these years, the old ballpark is still standing strong. It’s still a place for young and old to enjoy the game and see players who will one day play in the major leagues.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.