College Sports

Hustlers baseball team plays under the radar

Hustlers pitcher Noah Smallwood, a West Jessamine graduate who plays for Morehead State, said he loved throwing against the wooden bats the league uses.
Hustlers pitcher Noah Smallwood, a West Jessamine graduate who plays for Morehead State, said he loved throwing against the wooden bats the league uses. ALL

A blip on the local baseball-fan radar, the Lexington Hustlers have not gone unnoticed by scouts.

As a non-profit organization, the Hustlers don't have the loud music or between-inning contests that are popular across town with the minor-league Lexington Legends.

Nor do the Hustlers pour out advertising dollars.

The Hustlers simply play the game, the whole game and nothing but the game.

"What a great opportunity this is for everybody, myself included," said Adam Revelette, the former Lexington Catholic and University of Kentucky left-hander who serves as general manager and pitching coach of the second-year team. "From our game-day staff to our coaches to the players — just everybody involved. It's a chance to gain experience and knowledge in a sport that we all love. 'Opportunity' is the best way to describe it."

The Hustlers, who take their name from Lexington's Negro Leagues team of the 1940s and '50s, are the southern-most of 10 teams in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League. Eight teams are scattered across Ohio, and the Lake Erie Monarchs hail from Carleton, Mich.

Like the better-known Cape Cod League, the GLSCL is a wood-bat league. All players must have already played for a collegiate team and have remaining eligibility.

Sponsorships and player fees help cover costs. Most home games are played at Lexington Catholic.

As for scouts taking notice, three pitchers from the 2010 Hustlers were selected in June in the Major League Baseball draft: left-hander Dave Middendorf by Kansas City in the 22nd round, and right-handers Gardner Adams by Atlanta in the 36th round and Casey Lucchese by the Chicago Cubs in the 38th round.

Two current Hustlers were selected in last year's draft: J.T. Riddle (Boston, 35th round) and Ronald Cotton (Chicago White Sox, 45th round).

Until last year, though, players from Central Kentucky who wanted the summer collegiate wood-bat experience left home.

Revelette, recruiting coordinator and pitching coach at Transylvania during the school year, has a roster loaded with locals. Players come from Campbellsville, Eastern Kentucky, Georgetown, Kentucky, Louisville, Morehead State, Northern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.

Others include locals who chose out-of-state schools. Connor Asay (Vincennes Junior College), Brandon Boling (Gardner-Webb), Shane Crain (Wabash Valley Junior College), Jonathan Craycraft (Lipscomb) and Dalton Henzman (Middle Tennessee) all are from Lexington.

A few out-of-state players simply needed a place to play.

Kyle Atkins, a University of Arkansas outfielder, falls into the latter category.

He had planned to play in the Coastal Plains League, at Forest City, N.C. When that plan fell through, his coach at Arkansas contacted Revelette. Just about two months ago, Atkins was in town when Arkansas played Kentucky in a series that is best remembered for tornadic conditions.

"It rained constantly. I couldn't enjoy the weekend at all," Atkins said. "Then they told me I was coming (back) to Lexington and I was like, 'Oh, please don't.' Then I've gotten here, it's been a warm welcome and I've enjoyed every bit of time that I've been here, so it's been good."

Riddle, who was named Mr. Baseball after his senior season at Western Hills High School, played middle infield and right field for Kentucky as a freshman this year. Now, he's also seeing time on the mound, where he's expected to contribute as a late-inning reliever for the Wildcats.

"I'm enjoying it quite a bit. I'm close to home, which is a big help," Riddle said. "I get to stay here, lift (weights) at UK and take (two) classes, so it's working out for me playing ball here."

Craycraft says that being able to play for the Hustlers "means a lot to us."

"All the other hometown boys get to come home, don't have to live with a host family, get to live in their own house, relax and play ball in Lexington, where we grew up. A lot of guys don't have the chance to do that anywhere in the nation, and we didn't until the last couple of years."

The GLSCL plays a 42-game schedule, running from June 10 through July 31, plus post-season playoffs.

Coming off a 12-28 debut season, the Hustlers are off to a 3-13 start in league play, 7-12 overall.

Coach Bobby Wright, whose school-year job is assistant coach at Otterbein, says the second edition of the Hustlers is better than the first.

" 'Rev' worked his tail off in getting guys together," Wright said. "We've had a bit of a slow start, but I really do see success on the horizon. We've got too much talent to not be successful in this league. ... You can tell that we've grown as an organization from our first year."

Riddle played in 50 games for UK. However, Wright says that many of the Hustlers lack such experience.

"Most of these guys didn't see a lot of opportunities their freshman year at their institution," Wright said. "I feel like (their college coaches) just want them to get at-bats and they want them to get a feel for the game after they had possibly just sat for the whole spring. Have some success, come back with some confidence. ... It's a pitching oriented league, actually, and it's great competition for these guys, the way we organize it and everything."

Local products include Morehead State's Noah Smallwood, a left-handed pitcher out of West Jessamine High School. The past three summers, he played summer ball with the Kentucky Baseball Club. The biggest difference between KBC and the Hustlers, he says, are the bats.

"Wooden bats are awesome," Smallwood said. "Throwing inside. Throwing up. It's a heavier bat at the end. So it's just a lot more fun throwing to wooden bats. A lot more pitcher's ... advantage."

Revelette says he is in regular contact with scouts by phone and email. At least one is on hand for most games.

The showcase, though, is the league all-star game, scheduled for July 13. Nearly every major-league team is likely to have a scout there, Revelette said.

"It's at Great American Ball Park this year, which is the home of the Reds," he said. "If you can get there and show well there, that's an opportunity that you need. But yes, as you know, Lexington's a very well-scouted area ... so there are plenty of folks that are already asking about our guys."