Spagnola, Griffin, talk about keys to building the Mohawks’ success

No team has dominated the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League quite like the Amsterdam Mohawks. Since the PGCBL started in 2011, the Mohawks have won at least 33 games each season, racked up five East Division titles and one regular season title when the league slimmed down to one division in 2012, as well as four league championships in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Prior to that, Amsterdam won four New York Collegiate Baseball League titles in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010.

Over the years, two men have been instrumental in building Amsterdam’s success – President and General Manager Brian Spagnola, and Head Coach Keith Griffin. Together, they have created an organization that has produced nearly 60 professional baseball players since 2009, including current major leaguers Mark Leiter Jr. (Philadelphia Phillies) and Luke Maile (Toronto Blue Jays). Twelve more are in Triple A, one call away from the big leagues.

“We’ve just got good connections with good schools,” said Spagnola, who has run the Mohawks since 2003. “They send us good quality players every year.”

“We call them and find out who they want to send us,” said Griffin, who has more than 300 victories in his 10 seasons in Amsterdam. “We’ve been lucky here.”

Several of those schools are among the elite programs in NCAA baseball. The Mohawks’ 2018 roster includes four players from Mississippi State, which reached the College World Series, as well as six players from five schools that participated in the regional round: Indiana, South Florida, Canisius, Florida Atlantic and Morehead State.

“The mix we’ve gotten is the higher-end freshmen from the bigger schools and the more established players from the [smaller] Northeastern schools,” said Spagnola. “The high-end freshmen need a place to develop their skills sometimes, and we provide that for them.”

Whenever a school reaches the College World Series, it delays when the Mohawks receive those players assigned to them. This has often led to slow starts for Amsterdam, but once reinforcements arrive, the Mohawks have been virtually unstoppable. Over the last 10 years, the Mohawks have compiled a record of 172-55 in the month of July.

“We always start a little slow, but we turn it on once they get here,” said Spagnola. “This year has been an exception because we’ve lost [four] pitchers in the last week.”

“We’re down to 10 pitchers, some of whom are positional players,” said Griffin.

Even so, Amsterdam has won seven of its 11 games in July to move past Saugerties and Albany in the highly competitive East Division. Entering yesterday’s home game against Albany, the Mohawks owned a 19-13 record and a one-game lead over Saugerties (18-14). Albany (16-13) sits in third place, one-and-a-half games back with three fewer games played than Amsterdam.

“This team has been a little slower to develop [than previous teams], but they’re coming together now,” said Griffin.

Infielder Elvis Peralta Jr. (Marshall), outfielder Richie Barrella (Manhattan) and outfielder/pitcher Michael Ludowig (Wake Forest) have led the way for Amsterdam’s offense. Entering yesterday’s contest against Albany, Peralta owned a .321 batting average with eight doubles, six home runs, 25 runs scored, 20 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases. Barrella is batting .370 with18 runs scored, 11 RBI and six stolen bases, while Ludowig has a .327 average with 20 RBI and 16 runs scored.

Despite the recent spate of injuries to the pitching staff, Amsterdam still has several quality hurlers to work with. Zach Durant (Herkimer Community College) owns a 3-1 record in five starts and a 1.85 earned run average. Trip Lockhart (Kentucky) is 1-1 in five starts with a 1.44 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. Reliever Ryan McLinskey (Seton Hall) has five saves, a 1.14 ERA and 17 strikeouts in nearly 16 innings of work.

With a strong core to work with, Amsterdam is looking for its sixth consecutive PGCBL East Division title and its 10th straight season of winning at least 30 games, Griffin acknowledged those streaks could be in jeopardy, given the overall strength of the East Division.

“Everybody’s good enough to beat you if you don’t play well enough on a given night,” said Griffin.

If past history is any indication, though, the Mohawks will find a way to make it happen.

Rob Jonas

Rob Jonas writes about sports, arts, and culture for the Mohawk Valley
Compass. He has covered high school and community sports for more than 25