The origins of the great game of baseball have long been disputed.
Perhaps the most popular story, if not the most accurate one, is that the sport was invented by eventual Civil War hero Abner Doubleday on a cow pasture in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1839.
That tale has since been rewritten in history books to recognize versions of the sport played in the 18th century and the contributions of members of the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club, including Alexander Joy Cartwright, whose 1845 set of rules formed the basis for the modern game.
What is indisputable about baseball history is that for as long as the sport has existed, small-town leagues have followed, occupying a corner of American nostalgia as synonymous with summer as sandy beaches and backyard barbecues.
On the East End of Long Island, the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League is a summertime version of America’s Pastime that’s taken hold in recent years. Modeled after New England’s historic Cape Cod League, it’s a pure version of the game featuring NCAA athletes, played at a brisk pace using wooden bats.
While the league has produced more than 100 Major League draft picks, including 10 who have made it to “The Show,” its greatest contribution is in the hundreds of hours of entertainment it brings to communities across the East End each summer.
“It’s an evening of family fun,” said Janet Dickerson, current general manager of the North Fork Ospreys, a team with a roster this season of players from 10 states and 18 different colleges and universities.
Some fans get a thrill out of seeing players who represent their alma mater, Dickerson said. For others, it’s the joy of seeing those players interact with children.
Dickerson was introduced to the league when her son Sam, now a Mattituck High School baseball player, met an Osprey at camp nearly a decade ago. The campers were given extra credit for going to a game that night.
“We said, ‘Hey our kid is telling us we gotta go; let’s check it out.’ It’s free baseball!” Ms. Dickerson recalled.
What struck her as remarkable that evening was how each of the players already knew the kids in the stands by name. That’s due partly to the players’ involvement with baseball camps, but also to the fact that each league player is taken in by a local host family for the summer. The Dickersons took in a player the following year — 6-foot-8 hurler James Kohler out of Ames, Iowa — and they’ve continued to host each year since.
Dickerson remembers Kohler’s father thinking his son was headed for New York City, and his relief when he looked up Mattituck online and found rows of vineyards that reminded him of the cornfields back home.
Hosting makes for a busy summer, but in some ways it’s like adding a new family member. The Dickersons have kept in touch with Kohler, who’s now in med school, and other players.
Hoot and Joanne Sherman of Shelter Island have hosted athletes from the local Bucks team for four summers. Each year they take in a pair of players, to whom Joanne jokingly refers as foster grandkids.
“It’s been phenomenal,” she said. “It brings into the house a vitality that hasn’t been there for a long time. Slammed doors, loud noises, the things you start to miss (after your children move out).”
Hoot, a baseball fan, hardly misses a pitch in a Bucks home game. Joanne, who said she’s never been much of a sports fan, doesn’t take it that far, but she still impresses herself when she shows up in the second inning and leaves in the seventh. This year, she’s bringing a cowbell to games, which should make for an interesting dynamic on the small island.
“I like it, I really do,” she said of going to the games. “When we spend winters in Florida, I miss my Shelter Island friends, my casino trips and now baseball.”
The season gets underway June 1 and continues through the end of July. In addition to Peconic and Shelter Island, the league’s teams play home games in Calverton, Sag Harbor, Southampton and Westhampton.