Dog Days of Summer
Each year, members of the Harvard baseball team spend their summers playing in leagues all over the U.S.
“What are you doing this summer?”
Most people will mention some internship or an adventure abroad, but the Harvard baseball team has a different norm: playing ball.
“It’s a culture,” said junior first baseman Robert Wineski, who has spent his last two summers playing in a Hawaiian baseball league. “Everyone on the team has done it at least once. [Harvard] coach [Joe] Walsh stresses it. The coaches really push you to play in a summer league…. I don’t know a kid who played four years of Harvard baseball and didn’t play in a summer league.”
“When you’re playing on these summer teams, you’re playing with and against guys from other major colleges,” Walsh said. “When you have some success there, you bring that confidence back each year.”
In the leagues, ballplayers from all over the country suit up for as many games—sometimes more—in the summer as they do in a collegiate season. Their weeks revolve around baseball, and depending on the league in which they play, they suit up almost every day of the summer.
“If you go 0-4 on a Sunday in the Ivy League, you have to wait until Saturday to get up again, and it’s tough,” Walsh said. “But during the summer, just playing each day and getting practice…can really help you.”
The process of finding summer teams starts for Harvard in the fall when the coaches place players in various leagues across the country, choosing spots where they feel the players would best fit.
In the six-week-long Hawaiian league, Wineski, along with fellow juniors Kyle Larrow and Jordan Haviland, played baseball games six days a week while living in the same hotel with the rest of the league’s players.
“It’s just the way I think the game is supposed to be played—lots of games,” Wineski said. “You just roll out and have a great time.... And imagine being in a hotel with a hundred guys in Hawaii looking to have a very good time.”
But not all programs are the same.
Junior pitcher Joey Novak had a much different experience in the Northwoods League in Minnesota, which plays 70 games over the course of 10 weeks.
“You get in a routine where, if you’re at home, you wake up pretty late, you hang out, you go to the field at three, do some batting practice, go get some food, come back, get ready for the game, play,” Novak said. “After the game, heat and then get a lift in, maybe. Then you go back and go to sleep.”
Unlike the Hawaiian League that plays all of its games in the same general area, the Northwoods League includes roadtrips that average three hours.
“There are a lot of hotel rooms where you’re just kind of waiting around,” Novak recalled. “Everything’s revolving around playing every day.”
Though the summer leagues can be intense, Walsh feels they are vital to a player’s and a team’s success.