Team manager Dave LaPoint and the brass in charge of the Rockland Boulders, an expansion team in the Can-Am League, might have been uncertain going into the team’s open tryout session on Saturday at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ.
LaPoint, a former major-league pitcher, said he did not want too many players on the spring training roster.
“We have a short spring training, only 11 days. I might be selfish, but I’d rather start the season going 9-1, than be concerned with getting the players enough playing time,” LaPoint said Saturday, after throwing to a series of prospective hitters, and before calling balls and strikes from behind the mound as he personally scouted pitchers who still had an enthusiasm to dream.
Saturday’s open tryout, on an overcast, gloomy day that did little to dim the players’ determination, produced a cast of six players that were added to the team’s spring training roster. The roster will be pared down to the Can-Am League’s 22-player limit over the course of 11 days beginning Monday at Rockland Community College.
The newest cast of hopefuls, culled from a group of 49 on hand Saturday includes North Rockland High School graduate Justin Ottman, a left-handed pitcher who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners, and who played Independent ball with the San Diego Surf Dogs alongside Rickey Henderson; right-hander Justin Fry, who played professionally in France last year; and John Minacone, another southpaw hurler.
Also earning a chance to make the team are Jose Reyes (no relation to the Mets shortstop), an infielder/outfielder who played at Post College in Waterbury, CT; infielder Mark Hill, out of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA; and infielder Arturo LeDesma, out of Brewer College in Jacksonville, FL.
Bob Seaman of Palisades, chairman of the Pittsfield (MA) Colonials, a Can-Am League rival, visited the Boulders’ tryout session after watching his 5-year-old child play in a T-ball league.
Seaman, whose team plays at historic Wahconah Park—built in 1919, and one of the last wooden grandstand pro ballparks in the nation—is another proponent of Independent baseball.
“It gives everyone an opportunity, and a chance to be fine-tuned,” said Seaman, adding that he is looking forward to playing the Boulders. “Ken’s a good man, and it (Can-Am League) is affordable enough to take the whole family to games.”
Lehrer, as one might imagine, likes the Boulders’ chances of success.
“Our situation is a good one,” he noted. “Rockland is densely populated, and passionate about baseball. Our stadium is state-of-the-art, and bringing in Dave (LaPoint) as manager is a nice addition to the process. It’s a good start; I feel good about the situation--the town (Ramapo) and Supervisor (Christopher) St. Lawrence have been very supportive.”
Real estate developer Shawn Reilly, a Niagara Falls native now living in the spring training home of the Mets, Port St. Lucie, FL, predicted to anyone within earshot that they would be surprised by the quality of play in the eight-team league.
“When we started talk (about the team) it was exciting, and it energizes you even more when you see guys on the field,” said Reilly, part of the Boulders’ ownership group that includes Ken Lehrer, and former big-league catcherJohn Flaherty of Pearl River.
“It’s very nice to realize you have an opportunity to build something special right here in Rockland,” Reilly added.
LaPoint, a southpaw who pitched 12 years in the big leagues, and was a world champ with the Cardinals in his rookie season (1982), came to the Boulders after a long stint as manager of the Long Island Ducks, owned by former World Series champion Mets shortstop Buddy Harrelson.
“The Boulders is an exciting opportunity,” said LaPoint. “It will be great for fans from Rockland and Bergen (counties), and for me.”
George Wargo III of West Haverstraw, whose son George is a junior catcher at St. Thomas Aquinas College, was barely able to contain his enthusiasm.
“The Boulders are the greatest thing ever to happen in Rockland County,” Wargo boomed. “They will make a big impact; it’s another form of family entertainment. I usually go up to Fishkill (Dutchess Stadium) to watch the Renegades, and now I can come here.”
Wargo and Co. will hit the road for the Boulders’ season opener on May 26 at Bears &Eagles Stadium in Newark, NJ, against the Bears and manager Tim Raines. Rockland’s home opener is scheduled June 16 at the yet-to-be-named Rockland Stadium in Pomona against Brockton (MA), which is managed by Bill Buckner, a former first baseman with the Boston Red Sox, among other teams.
- The Boulders have scheduled an exhibition game against the New York Federals Thursday at Rockland Community College at 7 p.m. The Federals, a traveling team, replaced the now-defunct Sussex Skyhawks in the Can-Am League.
- North Rockland HS graduate Craig Robinson of Garnerville, a firefighter for 13 years in Stony Point, felt it’s never too late. “I’m old, but why not give it one more shot,” said the 31-year-old right-hander, who still competes with the Rockland Rebels. “We finally got a local (pro) team, and I’m excited.”
- Seth Cantor, radio voice (WRCR, 1300 AM) of the Boulders, along with Carmine Vetrano, guarantees that the home opener against Buckner’s Brockton team “will draw a few Mets fans that night, thank you Bill!” Buckner, of course, was a highly accomplished big league first baseman who achieved notoriety because a play involving Mookie Wilson in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Cantor grew up minutes away from the new stadium, and now resides in Fair Lawn, NJ.
- Former Pearl River softball standout Dana Fjermestad, a 2006 grad that played one year at Cortlandt State, is a member of the Boulders’ community relations and public relations staff.
- Vin Malzahn, a power-hitting lefty first baseman, was hoping to prolong his career after St. Thomas Aquinas College was eliminated from the playoffs on a bases-loaded walk in the last of the ninth inning.
- Phil Tisi, assistant to Supervisor St. Lawrence, said his boss had a legitimate excuse for not being in attendance. “He’s in Haiti for the inauguration of President (Michel) Martelly.”
- Boulders hitting coach Damian Roles, a first round draft pick in 1996, also threw batting practice to ease the work load on LaPoint’s 52-year-old arm.
- Dustin Smith, 24-year-old son of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, said he can duplicate his famous dad’s famous back flip, but elects not to do it as a matter of course. Smith, who played under Tim Raines with the Newark Bears, is switching from the outfield to shortstop. “I can’t wait,” said the St. Louis native.
- The Boulders are seeking host families—“As many as we can get,” said LaPoint—to house players during the season. Anyone interested in putting up a player are asked to call the club offices at 845-364-0009.
- The Boulders’ player payroll is a league-mandated $100,000. “That’s to keep parity,” said Reilly, a one-time GM with Niagara Falls and then Jamestown in the ’90s.
- Tom Durkin, technical director at CBS, will be assisting with Rockland’s $800,000 control room. “They have a state-of-the-art, high definition scoreboard that hopefully will provide replays, promotions, graphics,” said Durkin, who managed the state’s last championship Little League team, the Ramapo All-Stars, which included Robbie Aviles, a future player in the Cleveland Indians organization.
- Entertainment attorney John Tormey of Pearl River, an erstwhile rock musician, is another avid supporter of the Boulders. “I looked forward to the (new) stadium the first time I heard about it,” he said.
- Catcher Todd Jennings, 29, a catcher whose career has been hampered by a series of injuries, including Tommy John surgery, perhaps traveled the furthest. The Sacramento, CA, resident spent six years in the San Francisco Giants organization, and enjoyed a love of cars along with Barry Bonds. Last year Jennings played with the Long Island Ducks under manager LaPoint.
- Lori Rahaim of Nanuet, a trainer at St. Thomas Aquinas College, saw an ad about a job fair, called the Boulders, asked about the position, and here she is. “I guess no one else paid attention,” she laughed.
- Greg Mikesh of New City, a 13-year science teacher at Felix Festa Middle School, put faith in his 35-year-old arm. “I’m going to bring it,” said the veteran of two adult leagues. “I’m here to compete.” Then, looking over to fellow New City resident Angel Feliciano, a catcher, he added, “We’d love to play together.” Feliciano had one drawback. “I’m 49,” he said. “8/27/62!” Feliciano, spry and mobile, drew the admiration of many younger players for his energy and ability to still get behind the plate.