The college baseball season came to a close last Wednesday when the Vanderbilt Commodores defeated the Michigan Wolverines to win the program’s second national championship.
The Gators' season, meanwhile, ended against Dallas Baptist in regional play on June 2.
For some college baseball players, however, the grind doesn’t stop after their school’s season concludes.
Collegiate summer baseball gives hundreds of players the chance to improve in areas that they underperformed in during the spring.
This year, 14 Gators are participating in collegiate summer leagues across the country, including catcher Brady Smith, two-way player Kirby McMullen and reliever David Luethje.
Collegiate summer baseball isn’t a small operation. There are over 40 leagues scattered throughout the United States and Canada.
Prospects from the NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA use the summer to take advantage of extra reps and to learn from coaching staffs with years of baseball experience.
Seasons usually last from early June to mid August and have 40 to 70 games, including a postseason.
The leagues are sometimes referred to as “wooden bat leagues" because they forego the metal bats used by the NCAA to prepare players for the next level.
Florida catcher Brady Smith isn’t concerned about burning out this summer after a long spring season in Gainesville. The junior from Niceville, Florida, is far more concerned with enjoying what summer ball has to offer.
“I’m here to develop more as a player and to work on my craft,” Smith said. “Hopefully open some people’s eyes and build relationships with the coaches and players I’m playing with here.”
This summer, Smith is in Chatham, Massachusetts, playing for the Chatham Anglers.
The Anglers, one of 10 teams in the Cape Cod League, are led by manager Tom Holliday. Holliday is the former head coach at Oklahoma State and the father of veteran MLB player Matt Holliday.
Coach Mickey Tettleton is also on Chatham’s staff and has been working with Smith since his arrival. He brings with him 13 years of MLB experience at the catcher’s position.
“He has really helped me since the first day I got here,” Smith said, referring to Tettleton. “He’s helped me with catching and all aspects of the game, really.”
So far, Smith has seen success, batting .364 through nine games in Massachusetts.
“I’m just focusing on being confident at the plate,” Smith said. “There’s no scouting reports in summer ball like there is at Florida, so you just have to have the right approach and, again, be confident.”
Outside of hitting, Smith looks to continue molding himself into a balanced player on the field as well as in the clubhouse.
“I’ve only been a (catcher) for a little over three years now, so I’ve really just been focusing on getting better at that position,” Smith explained. “Just continuing to understand the role, and learning how to control the game better.”
This is Smith’s second year of CSB. After his freshman season at UF, he played in 23 games for the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League, batting .333 with one home run and 10 RBIs.
“Getting that experience after my freshman year was pretty awesome,” Smith said. “And this season, I was fortunate enough to get to come back to the Cape Cod League… I’m just building a lot of connections and learning from a lot of people.”
Besides Smith, seven other Gators are in the Cape Cod League this summer, including starting pitcher Jack Leftwich and relief pitcher Nolan Crisp.
“I sure hope to get a chance to face them,” Smith said. “I’d love to face one of my fellow Gators and maybe show them up.”
A typical day during the collegiate summer baseball season is a bit different for Kirby McMullen compared to most players.
That’s just the way it goes for someone who spends time both at the plate and on the mound.
“I’ve always learned growing up that you can’t overdo it as a two-way player,” McMullen said. “You gotta be smart and you gotta pay closer attention to your reps on the field so your arm isn’t worn out when it’s time to pitch.”
McMullen participates in batting practice, and he’ll sometimes head down to the bullpen for a session to stay sharp on the mound.
In what is McMullen’s third summer participating in collegiate summer baseball, he’s in Charlottesville, Virginia, playing for the Charlottesville Tom Sox of the Valley Baseball League.
“I came here last year and had a really good time,” McMullen said. “So I had it kind of set up to come back after talking with the staff here in Charlottesville.”
McMullen has been getting an extended amount of at-bats in the batter’s box. He’s hitting .367 with two home runs and seven RBIs through 13 games.
“Coming up after the college baseball season, I just wanted to get in as many at-bats as I could,” McMullen said. “I wanted to get some innings on the mound as well, hoping to be as successful as I could be… I’m just wanting to go up there and throw strikes, get some groundball outs and throw some good quality innings.”
In limited action on the mound, McMullen is 1-0 with a 1.58 ERA.
With the lack of school during the summer, CSB presents a chance for players to focus on themselves and their game more than anything.
“I know a lot of us try to work out as much as possible during our time here to get bigger and stronger since we have the time,” McMullen said. “It’s a really relaxed schedule for us overall, so we get a chance to get some extra time in the weight room.”
A less strenuous schedule and a chance to wind down from the usual grind of the college season is something McMullen enjoys about summer ball.
“At school, we have tutoring, classes, actual set times when we need to go to the weight room, actual set times for when we eat and everything,” McMullen said. “Here, it’s pretty relaxed. We pretty much do everything on our own time and get in the flow of playing baseball.”
Two other Gators accompanied McMullen to Virginia. Catcher Cal Greenfield and Gators’ signee Brock Edge are both on the Charlottesville roster.
Edge, a transfer from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, is hitting .273 with eight RBIs through eight games.
“Me and Brock have been in the outfield many times so far this season,” McMullen said. “He’s an all-around good player. Great in the outfield as well as at the plate. Hopefully he can add some power to our offense at UF next season. … He’s definitely going to be a good addition to our team.”
Coming off of his first season at UF, pitcher David Luethje is now getting a chance to experience collegiate summer baseball for the first time.
Luethje is in Wisconsin, playing in arguably the most well-known CSB league — the Northwoods League — for the Kenosha Kingfish.
“I learned a bit about summer ball and the Northwoods League from other players on the team,” Luethje said. “They just told me it’s a good experience, and I was excited to get up here.”
The Vero Beach, Florida, native has turned some of that excitement into positive results on the mound.
In 16.1 innings of work, Luethje has given up no earned runs, allowing seven hits while striking out 14.
“I came up here, and I had some things I wanted to work on,” Luethje said. “You have free time to work on things, so I’ve been doing that, and when I get in the games I relax, do my thing, and it has been working out for me so far.”
According to Luethje, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan encourages members of the team to participate in summer ball, if possible.
“They want us to play (summer ball), so we can keep getting reps in,” Luethje said referring to the Florida coaching staff. “They designated me to go to Kenosha, and I was all for it, because I knew it was an opportunity to play in a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
The slog of a season in the Northwoods League is one unlike many others. With over 20 teams participating, the schedule can be unforgiving.
“We play 72 games in 75 days,” Luethje said. ”So you don’t get many off days… We get back from some of these bus rides around one or two in the morning. So yeah, there’s a lot of traveling, but the baseball aspect has been fun.”
While Luethje is in Kenosha, he — like most CSB players — stays with a host family, and they help provide things like food and transportation, on top of a place to sleep.
“It’s me, and then I have my host mom and dad, and they have a son as well,” Luethje said. “Everyone on the team has a host family and most of them live on their own like what I’m doing.”
Luethje probably won’t stay in Wisconsin through the end of the season.
“I’m supposed to get at least 30 innings while I’m here,” Luethje said. “So if I’m feeling good after that I’ll probably head home, but if I have a couple extra things I want to work on then I’ll probably stay and pitch a few more innings.”
In order for him to feel comfortable leaving, Luethje has a few things in mind he wants to shore up before coming back to Florida.
“I’ve been trying to tighten up my front side, I’ve also been working on my back-leg drive to help increase my fastball velocity,” Luethje said. “I’ve been focusing on my off-speed pitches, too, practicing throwing them for strikes, and when it’s 0-2, working on using them as a put-away pitch.”
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @evanmplepak and contact him at [email protected].