UMES HARDBALLER PLAYS IN NABF WORLD SERIES AND COMES OUT TOP PRO PROSPECT
Eric Gaines could be the first Hawk drafted in over 15 years.
Eric Gaines could be the first Hawk drafted in over 15 years.

Aug. 18, 2005

Toledo, Ohio - By Scott Calhoun Toledo Free Press Staff Writer news@toledofreepress.com

Vermilion shortstop Eric Gaines likely to be drafted after series

Vermilion Veterans SS Eric Gaines has played baseball religiously since he was 5 years old.

Now, as a red shirt junior at Eastern Shore Maryland University, he is poised to reap the benefits lifelong patience can cultivate.

Gaines was recently monitored in tryouts by perennial NL East contender Atlanta Braves. His outgoing message from the organization was forthcoming.

"There were about 200 guys there. And they cut us down to 10. Those final 10 got to hit," Gaines said.

He said the Braves' coaches then talked to each of the final 10 players after the hitting session to give them their realistic outlook.

At that point he was informed he had a great chance to be drafted when professionally eligible next year.

Gaines is also being hunted by the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals.

Even while playing for Elyria Catholic in Cleveland, Gaines was being spied on by the Colorado Rockies.

Gaines fields with the greatest of ease, having committed one error all summer.

"I love every aspect of the game, but I take more pride in my defense," he said.

His batting skills are brimming with the focus and confidence it takes to hit in the bigs. Gaines has batted a lofty .420 with the heavy wood bat in his hands this summer.

"His work ethic is outstanding. He practices all the time and just wants to keep getting better," said Veterans head coach Adrian Abrahamowicz, also a pitching coach at Oberlin College. "If there's a kid anyone could get behind and root for, it's this kid."

Wood bats lure MLB scouts

A primary reason Major League scouts will converge in Toledo for the NABF College Division World Series this week is the one thing the NCAA can't boast about its collegiate baseball spectrum: lumber.

The NABF summer leagues are uniquely essential for collegiate level players because they get the experience of hitting with wooden bats as opposed to the aluminum bats still used in NCAA competition.

Ron "Whitey" Hafner, a former minor league player from 1958-64 and an area scout for 17 years with the Seattle Mariners, said the difference between wooden bats and aluminum bats is so pronounced that even pitchers are adversely affected by the use of one instead of the other.

"The aluminum bat doesn't give the pitcher a chance to pitch inside," Hafner said, referring to a batter's ability to hit inside pitches more easily when lighter aluminum bats are used.

In general, hitters tattoo the rawhide with greater success when using aluminum.

"When a ball is hit by aluminum it goes about 15 to 20 mph faster off the bat," Hafner said.

Considering most hitters scouted by, drafted or signed to the pros have used nothing but aluminum throughout high school and college, those differences can weigh heavily in a player's ability to excel once he swings the real deal in the minors.

"Wood forces you to concentrate so much harder on hitting the sweet spot of the bat," said Vermilion Veterans SS pro prospect Eric Gaines, who hit .420 this season in the NABF.

"If the scouts could see you play in the NCAA with wood bats, they wouldn't have to come find you in the summer leagues," Gaines said.

NABF College World Series showcases potential pros

Toledo hosts the National Amateur Baseball Federation College Division World Series at four major area baseball complexes this weekend. The Glass City trumped bat-making Louisville, Ky., and Philadelphia to secure its second-straight NABF College Series. At 91 years, the NABF is the national pastime's oldest amateur organization.

"The NABF is the only amateur association with a college division, making this the only national collegiate summer world series in the country," said tourney director and ESCB president J. Patrick Eaken.

Eaken said the players will draw MLB scouts throughout the weekend tournament, making it an excellent opportunity for local players, coaches, and enthusiasts to see collegiate prospects being eyed out by pro scouts.

"This is basically a summer league for college players in the off-season," Eaken said, "and what draws them to play in the NABF college division is the presence of Major League scouts."

According to Eaken, the NABF College Division is recognized as an essential breeding ground for future MLB stars. All Star 2B Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles and OF Pat Burrell of the Philadelphia Phillies are two stars whose careers were nurtured in the NABF college summer leagues. Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge and Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose also played their way through the NABF.

A number of local players have sprung into pro ball through the NABF, including Justin Thomas. The former Clay High School graduate, who played for the Maumee Bay Buccaneers NABF club in 2002, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners and received a $290,000 signing bonus with the club. He now plays class-A ball in Washington. The Vermilion Veterans will be Toledo's regional host representative. The Cleveland-area club defeated the area's NABF rep Ohio Storm in the Erie Shores championship game two weekends ago. The Storm included Rocket and Falcon players, as well as former St. Francis star Scott Gunn.

The Veterans are led by SS top prospect Eric Gaines, a redshirt junior at Eastern Shore MD University and Cleveland State 2B Brian Lombardi. Gaines and Lombardi are a virtual force field in the middle In field, having each committed one error all season. Lombardi leads the team in doubles, and Gaines is batting .420. Starting pitcher Matt Wise of Notre Dame College in Cleveland is the Vets' king of the hill. Boasting a nasty split finger fastball, Wise has an 8-1 record with a lean era of 0.92 and only eight walks.

Hosted by NABF affiliate Erie Shores Collegiate Baseball Inc, the tourney begins at 9 a.m. Aug. 4 and plays through Aug. 7. Pool play runs through Aug. 5 at UT's Scott Field, the city's Bowman Field, BGSU's Steller Field and Ned Skeldon Stadium. The quarter finals onward will be held at Ned Skeldon Stadium on Aug. 6 and 7. The championship game is at 7 p.m. Aug. 7. A free Home Run Derby will be held at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at Oregon's Ouskey Field.

The Series is comprised of 16 regional tournament winners pared out of approximately 60 summer leagues. All games will go nine innings, follow American League rules and be played with wood bats.

A day pass is $5. A tournament pass, good for all 31 games, is $15. A $25 American Heart Association tourney pass is also available with a portion of the proceeds going to the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the AHA. Erie Shores will sell other AHA items, as well as raffling off Toledo Mud Hens and MLB memorabilia in between innings Aug. 6 and 7. All NCAA, NAIA, and CC levels will be represented in the annual event. Purdue, Arkansas, Temple and West Virginia are just a few of the Division I schools with players taking part. UT, Bowling Green and Owens each have numerous players from their rosters who compete annually in the NABF summer leagues.

BCSN will televise games in the tourney, including the semi.- finals and championship game.

Stories appear from the Toledo Free Press