GAITHERSBURG – Summer is just around the corner, and the switching of the seasons means it is time for warm weather, vacations, graduations and the start of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League.
The league features college baseball student-athletes from universities all over the United States, as well as some international athletes. Players have the opportunity to keep their skills sharp during summer break, as well as make new friends and play on a new team.
The 2019 season kicked off on June 4 with an opening day match-up between the Gaithersburg Giants and the FCA Herndon Braves. Fans gathered at Criswell Automotive Field at Kelley Park to watch the Giants open their season with a 3-1 win against the visiting Braves.
The Braves struggled offensively throughout the game, while Gaithersburg tallied two runs at the bottom of the first inning.
According to Herndon Head Coach Chris Warren, allowing the Giants to earn those first two runs early on threw the Braves off their game.
“One key error on our part probably was the difference in the game. We gave up two in that first inning and that kind of hurt us,” said Warren. “But they’re getting to know one another, and we’re getting to know them. Honestly, the first ten games are essentially an introduction period, but obviously, you want to get off to a good start.”
Instead, that good start belonged to Gaithersburg. Sophomore infielder Brendan Hord, a student at the University of Kentucky, stood at the plate with bases loaded. Hord’s bat connected with the pitch and Herndon scrambled to seize the groundball. Before the Braves could recover, the Giants had snuck into a lead that they would not relinquish.
While Herndon’s mistakes kept Gaithersburg out in front, the Giants pitchers made quick work of the Braves at bat as they struck out player after player in quick succession.
“The pitchers did an excellent job just throwing strikes and challenging hitters. I think this win especially was on the pitchers,” said Hord. “As an offensive unit, we had a couple of timely hits, and that was the difference; we put the ball in play when they couldn’t.”
For most of the evening, it appeared as though Herndon was bracing for a shutout. After a few fruitless innings, the Braves finally scored at the top of the eighth.
A win was still within reach, but Giants pitcher Matt Watters strung together three fast outs at the top of the ninth to put Herndon away for good.
Gaithersburg starting pitcher Ben Jordan, also from the University of Kentucky, commended his fellow pitchers for nearly blanking the Braves.
“I think a lot of our guys just came in and threw strikes, and that’s all you can ask,” said Jordan. “I think that always puts you in a good situation to win.”
Despite his team’s loss, Warren maintained that playing in the summer league is about improving and preparing for the regular season.
“Number one, we want to be a competitive organization in the league. We also want the kids to have a good experience while they’re here,” said Warren. “We’ve got some local guys, but we’ve got a lot of guys from out of town, too, so we want to make sure they enjoy the experience and get better.”
Even though the Giants were victorious, Hord echoed Warren’s sentiments.
“As a collective unit, we really want each individual to get better. We want to use this summer as an opportunity to improve our games individually and make friendships and create bonds that will last long after we’re playing college baseball,” said Hord. “Ultimately, we want to take something back with us to our respective schools, something that will help us in the fall and in the spring and beyond.”
The league’s regular season schedule lasts through the end of July, with games played almost every day.
Gaithersburg will continue its home game streak against the Alexandria Aces on June 5 and the D.C. Grays on June 6 before traveling for its first away game of the season against the Aces on June 8.