Jason Szafarski will lead the Montauk Mustangs in their inaugural season when they take the field for the first time this June in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.
The HCBL announced in early December that the Mustangs will be its seventh team this summer, then a few weeks later revealed that Szafarski will take the reins as head coach. Szafarski is currently an assistant coach for the University of Tampa, which is now the top ranked team in the Sunshine State Conference with an 11-1 record.
Szafarski said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to be a head coach and will try and have the Mustangs win as many games as they can. “I’m going to get the players to work hard and do my best to send them back to their school better ball players than they were when they came in,” he said.
Montauk Mustangs General Manager Robert Aspenleiter thinks Szafarski will be a good fit for his squad, noting that his closeness in age to the players will make it easier for them to relate to one another. “I thought it would be good for Jason as he builds his career resume,” Mr. Aspenleiter said. “And he’s only going to have the young men for two months, so being closer in age, maybe he can really grab their attention.”
Szafarski has coached at almost every level of baseball. Last summer, he was the hitting and infield coach for the North Adams SteepleCats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). During his tenure, the SteepleCats led the NECBL in fielding percentage (.974), the highest in team history, and also led the league in double plays turned (48). SteepleCat Joe Landi also was tops in the league in hitting with a .348 batting average.
Before making it to the college ranks, Szafarski coached high school baseball in both Florida and New York. His most recent stint came at Dixie M. Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he led the Rebels to their first county title in 29 years. Following his time at Dixie Hollins, Szafarski was hired as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at St. Petersburg College where he worked closely with the team’s infielders. By the end of the season, the St. Petersburg infield had the third-highest fielding percentage in the state, and the entire infield was named to the All-Conference team.
Not surprisingly, Szafarski admitted that he’s more of a defense-oriented coach. “Defense doesn’t go in a slump, if you’re good at it,” he explained. “If you can get outs, you’re going to win more times than not.
“Offensively, I like moving runners and having good, quality at bats,” he added.
Szafarski has also spent six seasons working for USA Baseball, mostly with the under-16 National Team. He played college ball at Post University and then SUNY at Oswego, primarily as a middle infielder.
While he hasn’t been to the East End yet, Szafarski’s looking forward to coming this summer. “I heard it’s awesome,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Joining Szafarski on the coaching staff in Montauk will be pitching coach Roger Mischel and assistant coaches R.J. Etzel and Jamie Loeb.
Mischel has been the head coach at Queensborough Community College since 2010, where he’s led the team to three of the last four City University of New York Athletic Conference titles. Mischel’s playing career included two seasons at Queensborough, where he pitched and played third base. He was named a Second Team All-American in his sophomore season before moving on to Adelphi.
Etzel was named head coach of the East Hampton High School varsity baseball team earlier this winter, taking over for longtime head coach Ed Bahns.
The Montauk Public School Fields—the home turf for the Mustangs—will receive up to $15,000 in improvements prior to the start of the season, according to Aspenleiter.
Custom Clay, which specializes in infield dirt, will be dumping an estimated 105 tons of new soil on the field and, with additional landscaping, that bill should run around $5,000, he said. Another $3,800 is going toward the Montauk Monster, which will be a 15-foot-high fence in left field. As it stands right now, the left field fence is only 301 feet from home plate, but with the addition of the Monster, it will feel more like 325 feet for batters and be closer in line with collegiate standards. Center and right field will have temporary fences.
Additionally, $4,000 has been earmarked for new equipment, such as rakes, bases and netting to protect fans.
The Riverhead Tomcats will have a new home starting this summer. After playing at the Riverhead High School varsity baseball field the past five seasons, the Tomcats will now play all of their home games at Veteran’s Memorial Park at the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) complex, located on Route 25 in Calverton.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the Tomcats and the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League,” HCBL President Brett Mauser said. “Enterprise Park at Calverton is a terrific facility, and we’re looking forward to hosting exciting ballgames there for years to come.”
Back in late October, the HCBL announced that the Center Moriches Battlecats, which competed the past two summers, will not participate in the upcoming season. Mauser confirmed that the main reason for this move was that the Center Moriches organization has had trouble housing its players and, therefore, asked the league to consider waiving the requirement that they provide housing.
“One of the best aspects of the HCBL is to see Long Island players teaming up with, or going head-to-head against, players from Louisiana, Texas, California and other places around the country,” he said. “As teammates, they build bonds that help them grow not only as ballplayers but as individuals as well. We think it’s an important element to the overall summer-ball experience.”
The Battlecats compiled a 41-39 record while playing in the HCBL and had reached the HCBL Championship Series last season, eventually falling to the North Fork Ospreys in three games.