Third annual event grows each year

For the third summer in a row, North Collins will be the site of the Western New York High School Baseball & Softball Showcase.

“I’ve been trying to get kids a chance to get looked at who are younger kids in the North East area and are great baseball and softball kids,” Showcase coordinator Rob Catalino said. “So far, we’ve had 100 kids in the first two years move on to play at a higher level in college.”

The idea for the showcase came from Catalino’s observation there really was not an event of this type in the area for local players to participate in.

“There’s so many softball and baseball travel teams, which is great,” Catalino, who is also an assistant varsity baseball coach at North Collins, said. “But not every kid has that opportunity (to play). They all don’t have the money to play on those teams.

“And (the showcase) has worked out,” Catalino continued. “The coaches have given me a positive response and (the college coaches) think it’s a great event and they’re looking forward to coming out this weekend.”

Unlike baseball and softball hotbeds like Southern California, Texas, Arizona and Florida, area high school players don’t have as many opportunities to play year-round, so Catalino knows it is important to get the athletes as much exposure as possible.

“When you coach at a small (Class) C or (Class D) level like we do, people just don’t come out and look at you,” Catalino said. “Some of our kids were playing (All American Amateur Baseball Association) and American Legion ball, and doing very well, but they just never got a look. So, my thought was to do something before the kids become seniors, or when they are entering their senior year. It gets their name out there early to some of the schools in the North East and I sent some of the programs out all over just to get the kids names out there. And, if they’re any good, they’ll get looked at.”

The format for the showcase pits teams comprised of players from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association, Erie County Interscholastic Conference, Niagara Frontier League and the Monsignor Martin Association against one another.

“I like our CCAA team,” Catalino said. “It’s got (Cameron) Voss from Fredonia and I think he’s got (NCAA) Division I talent. He’s throwing hopefully in the low to mid 80’s and I think he’s got another five miles-per-hour at least in him. And I’d like to see him get a look. He’s a great pitcher, a great competitor and that’s why I’m trying to show people off.”

Voss will likely get the start in the first game for the CCAA squad and he’ll be joined by Fredonia teammate Jarod Burmaster, as well as fellow lefty Nolan Hunt (Westfield). Also on the team are David Lynch, Harley Mehnart and Austin Winter from North Collins, Ben Burk and Noah Weinstein from Southwestern, Olean’s Garrett Boldt, Evan Treehouse and Tyler Allen, Panama’s Noah Coffero and Ellicottville’s Phalla Musall and Tom Eastman.

Locals comprising the CCAA softball team are Bre Dahn and Baylee Tarnowski of Fredonia, Alyssa Hahn from Cassadaga Valley, Pine Valley’s Jessica Wilcox, Jamie Wilcox and Alex Bentham, Portville’s Cammi McCracken, Jenny Pearl from Silver Creek, Taylor Olson from Gowanda and North Collins’ Arrica Bley, Jenna Keppel and Richelle Cyrek.

To be eligible to play in the showcase, a player had to be at least a first- or second-team all-star within his or her league during the 2014 season.

“Everything I do is for the kids and trying to give them a chance to get looked at,” Catalino said.

For the softball players, there will be more than just a game to play on Sunday.

“I’m going to have the top six or eight girls compete in a home run derby,” Catalino said. “I’ll have somebody feed them some meatballs and see who can hit them over the 205-foot fence. It’s just a little exciting thing for the players and the people sitting in the stands. I think it’s something that will take off this year and maybe try to get a sponsor to do it next year. And we’ll do the same for baseball too, but the baseball games take a little bit longer, so I don’t know if we’ll have the time to do it this year.”

The showcase has proven to be a lot of work for Catalino, but he knows, at the end the day, it is all worth it.

“The first year I lost money, the second year I probably lost money and this year I just hope to break even,” Catalino said. “But it’s something that I enjoy. I played college ball at St. Bonaventure and enjoyed my experience. And I like watching my kids that I coach play in college. It’s just something I think is worthwhile for the kids to get a chance to further their education and to do something that they love.”

In its first year, the showcase had just two teams, before the format changed to what it is today.

“The first year it was sort of just my idea and I threw it together and I probably had about 75 or 80 kids play,” Catalino said. “I just had one game and I did it all on the same day. I had baseball early in the day and softball in the afternoon, but then I came up with idea to try to have the leagues in the area compete. The Monsignor Martin wants to play against the ECIC and the public schools and I looked at the four divisions there and tried to come up with an idea that could have them compete. Last year was the first year and all of the games were close and they were real competitive.”

On hand to watch the games have been a slew of college coaches, who have taken notice of the talent that has been on display.

“We’re hoping to have 25 or more (coaches) for both this year,” Catalino said. “A lot of the kids that have played in the past have already signed on to play at Canisius, St. Bonaventure, Mercyhurst and another girls signed to play at Kennesaw State in Georgia, one of them signed on to Campbell University, which I played against in North Carolina when I was in college, so it’s exciting to see the kids have a chance to get their names out there and move on.”