Darren Williams spent last summer playing baseball in the Hamptons.
This summer, the Mason County graduate will be heading to Vacationland.
Williams is leaving Sunday to play baseball for the Sanford Mainers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, after appearing in 18 games for Eastern Kentucky University this spring.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things about this league. From who they sent last year – they sent two of our team leaders, our team captains – Nick Howie was on the OVC All-Tournament team, OVC all-conference second team. It’s a good league,” said Williams. “Looking at the roster, there are guys from TCU, Vanderbilt, Michigan – they had a really good year – you know there are guys like that all around the league. It’ll be high competition for sure.”
Howie, an outfielder, is a teammate of Williams’ at Eastern Kentucky who will be joining him this summer. Williams stayed with a host family while playing for the Riverhead Tomcats of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League last summer, and will be staying with another host family in southern Maine this summer, along with Kyle Skidmore, a pitcher from Hofstra.
Placement in summer leagues is largely up to college coaches. Eastern Kentucky head coach Edwin Thompson is a native of Jay, Maine, while assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Tyler Hanson is a Sanford native and served as the hitting coach of the Mainers in 2010.
“He asked me where I wanted to go and I said, ‘Put me in the best league possible,’” said Williams. “He told me he’d try to find me a place here in the New England League.”
He said the coaches plan on seeing him during his time in the league and offered some advice on what to do while in the northeast.
“Eat a lot of seafood – that’s about it,” said Williams. “Just go up there, have a good time, play the way I’m capable of and get after it.”
The Mainers are scheduled to start play in the 13-team league on Wednesday at their home field, Goodall Park, against the Vermont Mountaineers. The team will play an eight week, 42 game schedule before playoffs in August.
Sanford plays in the NECBL Northern Division along with the Keene Swamp Bats, the North Adams Steeplecats, the Winnipesaukee Muskrats, the Valley Blue Sox, the Upper Valley Nighthawks and the Vermont Mountaineers. The NECBL includes teams in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
“They said to be prepared for long bus trips and late nights,” said Williams.
Williams redshirted his first year with the Colonels. Last summer with the Tomcats, he made seven starts and posted a 2.60 ERA.
The Mason Country graduate is coming off a spring where he appeared in 18 games, five of which were starts. He found success early in the season, shutting out opponents over his first 7.2 innings from the bullpen, but ended the season with a 9.53 ERA. He’s hoping to use the summer to try to increase his speed and accuracy, especially with two strikes.
“I’m really going to work on getting after it in the weight room when I’m not pitching, getting my velocity up and working on two-strike pitches,” said Williams. “I had a problem with that in the spring. It kind of messed me up a little. I’ve got to get back to what I do – executing and throwing the ball in the corners instead of in the zone. That’s my main focus.”
Besides improving for his college career, playing in the league gives Williams a chance to be noticed by professional scouts. Seven former Mainers have reached the major league ranks, according to the team’s website, including Cincinnati Reds left fielder Adam Duvall. There were over 100 players selected in the 2017 MLB Draft that played in the league, according to a list on the NECBL website.
“Summer ball is not a crazy amount of pressure, but those who go in with the right mindset and effort get the most out of it,” said Williams.
Williams is hopeful the experience and competition will help make him better and that, in turn, it’ll help the Colonels, who were among the final three teams remaining in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament this spring after being picked to finish last in the preseason poll.
“The future is bright for sure. Hopefully we’ll get a couple guys drafted in next week’s draft from EKU,” said Williams. “The future’s bright for me and EKU baseball and I’m excited to get started this summer.”