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Saturday, March 2
The Indiana Daily Student

sports

Summer season heats up for IU ballplayers

Cream and crimson litters the United States. Sunburn and ball gloves together again, as the boys of spring have become the boys of summer -- IU ballplayers are polishing their skills in collegiate leagues across the country.\nFrom central Illinois to central Florida, from Indianapolis to the Pacific coast, IU baseball players are keeping the faith and keeping pace one cleat dig by home plate and one ground ball to the chest at a time.\n"We want them to play, otherwise they'll get behind," IU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Kestranek said.\nSimple enough. \nAs other programs around the country are also sending players to summer leagues, summer ball is crucial for IU to keep up, let alone maintain a competitive edge mentally and physically.\nKestranek said the leagues help players to stay in shape, and that those who do not participate in summer ball are not getting done what they need to get done to play at their highest level.\nSo off to Cape Cod and New England players go. Some choose where they go, some are placed depending on age, experience and accolades.\nJunior Kevin Mahar is one of eight players who signed up for a two-and-a-half-month baseball academy in Brandenton, Fla. The spot is far and away the most popular of all leagues, attracting exactly half of all the IU players that are playing in summer leagues this year.\nMahar was "placed" in Florida last summer by the coaching staff, then opted on his own to go back there this year. Like other players, the outfielder worked with the IU coaching staff to determine the best possible spot for him this summer.\n "It really has helped a lot," Mahar said of his experience last summer that led to his decision to revisit Brandenton. Aside from working on his hitting and mental game, Mahar said he enjoys meeting other ballplayers from around the country.\n Meanwhile, teammate and junior pitcher Chris Behrens went to work on his throwing mechanics at the same training camp. The 6-foot-7 hurler said the one-on-one instruction he has received has been invaluable in helping him work on a more fluid, mechanically sound pitching motion so he can use more of his entire body to drive home pitches that top out in the low 90s.\n"A lot of pitching is your lower (body)," Behrens said. "I'm just working on using my body more for pitching. It's not exactly just playing but getting the instruction from the guys down here that helps you out."\nMahar said the monotony of routine as the only downside to the camp/league.\n"You're doing something over and over again," he said. "It gets tiresome."\nThat repetition includes morning workouts -- complete with base running -- afternoon hitting and defensive drills, and five evening games a week.\nThey are eating and sleeping baseball for eight weeks, from June 1 to July 28.\nOther leagues inhabited by IU ballplayers include the Central Illinois Collegiate League, where sophomore pitcher Adam Pegg and 2002 shortstop recruit Seth Bynum are playing, and the Great Lakes Collegiate League -- summer home to 2002 infield recruit Jay Brant and freshman infielder Ryan Parker.\nA few IU players have ended up as the sole IU representatives of their respective leagues, bringing some Indiana dirt and chalk to the New England, Great Lakes, Pacific International, Indianapolis and Cape Cod Collegiate Leagues.\nThe latter touted as the top collegiate league in the country, is the summer training post for IU's third team All-American, junior Vasili Spanos.\nAt the Cape Cod Collegiate League, top players around the country, such as Spanos, play six games a week. Spanos was able to find work at a local supermarket three days a week and said he typically used his day off to go the beach or explore Boston.\nNot counting playoffs, the league lasts roughly eight weeks, such as the Brandenton camp.\n"The best part about playing here is the exposure and the competition," said Spanos, who has decided to forgo the draft this year and play his senior season at IU.\n He ended up in Cape Cod after an Anaheim Angel's scout expressed interest in seeing Spanos play in this premier league to the IU coaching staff.\n "I don't think I could have done anything better this summer than this," Spanos said. He said getting used to wooden bats, tougher pitchers and less porous defensive play has challenged him and forced him to be more patient, especially at the plate.\n For Spanos, the real improvement comes by playing premier competition.\n"In my opinion, it's better than any training you could possibly do," Spanos said.\nFrom the roughly 40 players IU has listed on its roster, a little less than half play in collegiate leagues. The rest are expected by the IU coaching staff to play in similar, low profile leagues in their hometowns to stay sharp for the upcoming fall season.\n"All play, but not all play in collegiate leagues," Kestranek said. "They're simply not getting done what they need to get done if they're not playing"

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