By DAN CHAREST
Toeing the rubber in the top of the ninth was a strikeout specialist from Pennsylvania. His batterymate behind the dish was a high-average hitter from Alabama.
And leading off for the Ocean State Waves of the New England Collegiate Baseball League stood Pawtucket’s Nick Sebastian.
Before Sebastian strolled to the plate with his Waves losing 3-2 to the Laconia Muskrats, he had spent a lengthy time on his baseball journey outside of his hometown until the Waves brought him back to Rhode Island.
A catcher from the New York Institute of Technology who just wrapped up his sophomore year, Sebastian grew up on the Slater Park fields of Darlington American Little League. In high school, he spent his first two years at Providence Country Day and for Sebastian’s junior and senior years, he honed his craft at the world famous IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Now Sebastian has returned to play in one of the most prestigious summer baseball leagues in the country, with players from all across America, and he is having a heck of a time.
“It’s awesome,” Sebastian said of playing in Rhode Island this summer. “It was kind of one of those things that you never think you are going to play here again because your career moves on. But then you get to come back and play on the fields you grow up on. It’s a cool experience.”
Also cool is that the Waves are based in Wakefield, which is a much closer drive from Pawtucket than the NYIT campus.
“My family comes down to watch me all the time,” said Sebastian. “My mom and dad are always here supporting me. When I’m in school three hours away, they cannot necessarily make every game, but here they can come to every single home game. It’s awesome for them to be able to come out and be here all the time.”
Rhode Island is not exactly a hotbed for producing top-notch baseball talent, yet the expansion Waves, one of 13 teams in the NECBL, have made it important to recruit the state’s best college ballplayers like Sebastian.
“It is always great when you can keep the talented kids from Rhode Island in the state,” said Waves general manager Matt Finlayson, who found eight Rhode Islanders to play for the Waves, including temporary player John Tangherlini from Lincoln. “With kids from all across the country that have never seen Rhode Island before, it makes for a good balance.”
Nick says he helps show his teammates the perks of the state. That helps translate into build relationships on the field with his pitchers that he just met and has to call the pitches for.
“Nick does a great job of managing the pitching staff and is a great defensive catcher,” said Finlayson. “He does a very nice job of working with different pitchers. All these guys are new and he is already developing relationships with a lot of our arms.”
Playing in the NECBL is an accomplishment for any aspiring Major Leaguer, especially given the fact that two of the last five No. 1 draft choices, Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Houston’s Mark Appel, are alumni of the league.
Yet Nick has a feature about himself that makes his chase to the bigs a tad more unique.
“I was born with 24 percent hearing loss in each of my ears,” said Nick, who has hearing aids, but elects not to utilize them while on the diamond. “My hearing loss has never hurt my baseball game. Luckily, there is not too, too much communication as far as verbal in baseball. Most of the verbal communication is done by me, so I don’t have to worry about that.”
Nick can also read lips, which he claims does not play to his advantage when in uniform. He says with a laugh that his friends outside of the game like to kid with him about his music or the television being too loud, but for now, Sebastian is just going to focus on the summer ahead.
“One of my biggest goals this summer is to maintain a higher batting average because that has been one of my faults in college,” he added. “I have not been able to keep my batting average as high as I want to, so I’m really trying to work on that aspect.”
In Ocean State’s opening six games of a rain-washed season, Nick has two hits and five walks in his first 12 plate appearances. As for Nick’s post-college plans, he is eyeing what every other Division I college baseball player is eyeing.
“Everyone’s goal obviously is to make it to the big leagues,” he said. “I am just trying to get my foot in the door, and playing professionally is the first step. So that is my goal, just to get some team to hopefully give me a look, give me a chance.”
As for his at-bat, Sebastian ended up flying out to left field and the Waves eventually lost to Laconia, 3-2. But with around 40 NECBL alumni currently on Major League rosters, coming back home has been a strong step to making that goal happen for Sebastian.