With the glorious status and skill that comes with being a professional sports player, a lot of people wonder how to transition from college ball to the big leagues.
The New England Collegiate Baseball League gives college players the opportunity to show-off their strengths and abilities to prospective scouts of pro-baseball teams, according to the NECBL website.
“Providing a platform for players to showcase their skills in front of scouts from every Major League Baseball (MLB) organization, the New England League has sent nearly 150 alumni to the Major Leagues and has had nearly 100 alumni drafted in each of the last 10 MLB Drafts” reported the website.
There are 13 teams in the NECBL. The Keene Swamp Bats make up one team in this highly competitive League, according to Swamp Bat President of 21 years, Kevin Watterson.
Players are recruited from all over the United States, but Watterson said there’s a heavy influence of East Coast schools.
Players have to be fully enrolled college students to be eligible to play in the league. This year, two players from Keene State played on the Swamp Bats.
“We love having a Keene State player who’s capable of playing at this level… The NECBL is a heavy D1 league, that being said, every team in the league has D2 and D3 players on it. The D3 players we’ve had have been outstanding players. They more than hold their own. They have the talent” Watterson added.
Watterson said that the NECBL represents all six states in New England. The Swamp Bats play their home games on Alumni Field in Keene. This year, attendance was averaging around 1,550.
The season consists of 44 games with no practices.
In the 2018 season, the first game was played June 5th and the last game was played August 1st.
“We run it very much like a pro-franchise. I can remember one crazy stretch we had where we played 13 nights in a row. So, our players get a true feel for what it would be like to play professional baseball” he said. “It’s truly a grueling schedule.”
Watterson said the team roster is capped at 33 players based on NECBL requirements but the Swamp Bats focus on 30. Players are highly recruited and there are no try-outs.
“I don’t call players, I don’t call mom and dad. I deal with coaches because coaches, generally speaking, know where they want their players to go, or where they think the best venue is for them to go to, to further their game,” he added.
Watterson continued by saying NECBL players have different motives than those who play solely for their college.
“You have to understand why every one of our players is here. Everyone, not 29 out of 30, everyone, is here because they want to play pro-baseball and that’s why they make the sacrifices they do,” he said.
Head Coach of the Keene State Baseball team, Ken Howe, said the NECBL is a league for players to showcase skill, rather than sit on the bench.
“I don’t want a kid from Keene State going to play in that league and not have the opportunity to play. I don’t want them to go sit behind somebody else and not get the at-bats or give the innings pitched,” he said.
Compared to NECBL, Howe said the LEC season lasts fifteen weeks in the spring, from January until the middle of May. Coaching and practices are also allowed for four weeks in the fall. 40 games are played in the spring. Depending on post-season, that number could rise up to 60.
Howe said he had 12 to 14 KSC baseball players compete in the NECBL throughout his 32 years as a coach, while 9 players have made it to the pros.
The most recent player being Cody Dube, who was drafted in round-10 three years ago by the Delmarva Shorebirds.
“If they’re good enough, I’ve got a database of about 200 pro-scouts, so I’m in contact with guys constantly, to try and get the players that I feel have the opportunity, or could potentially have the opportunity, to move on and play. The opportunity is there, so if the kid’s good enough they’re going to get a shot,” he added.
Most of the KSC players come from the New England Region, according to Howe. On this year’s roster, the farthest players have traveled from New York.
Overall, Howe said college baseball gives players amazing opportunities in their futures, whether they plan to play professionally or not.
“You meet lifelong friends and get job opportunities. Athletics is a great stepping stone to move into the real world because you’re used to working in groups with people to accomplish a goal. So, it really translates well into the working-class too,” he said.
Senior Keene State Baseball Player, Connor Longley, got the chance to play in the NECBL for the Swamp Bats in their 2018 season. Previously, Longley played in the NECBL for the Massachusetts Holyoke Valley Blue Sox, winning the 2017 NECBL Championships.
He was contacted by the Swamp Bats through KSC Head Coach Ken Howe and his Valley Blue Sox Manager.
According to Longley, the Swamp Bats play an average of 6 games a week compared to a 4-5 game week on the KSC baseball team, although he said the KSC season is more physically demanding.
“It’s colder, it’s a longer season. There’s lifting and practices, but that’s what has helped me compete in the NECBL” he added.
For Longley, one of the biggest differences between the NECBL and the LEC is the fans. He said about a thousand fans will come to watch the Swamp Bats play whereas less than 100 come to the KSC games.
“It’s more exciting playing knowing there are so many people in the stands that really care. It helped my game greatly,” he said.
Longley continued by saying the NECBL can be highly intense with the large audience and the potential scouting opportunities
“The NECBL is a gateway to professional baseball while just few people make it from the LEC. NECBL is very challenging, especially to an LEC player who may not be used to playing in front of people. They need to be able to play well under pressure,” he said.
Longley added that both leagues are fiercely competitive, but in different ways.
“Playing in the NECBL is far more intense because of the very high level of competition. You need to go in with the mindset to play against some of the best players in the country night in and night out. The LEC is intense because of what it means to represent your team in the conference” he said. “Both leagues give off different vibes and it is nice to see it from both sides”.
The KSC baseball team will be hosting an alumni game in early October to showcase the talent that has past and the talent that still remains.
Time and date has not be confirmed, but anyone is welcome to attend. To stay updated on events, visit the Keene State Athletics website.
Ashley Arnold can be contacted at