Summertime usually means rest and relaxation for otherwise time-strapped college student-athletes.
And while many are enjoying a much-needed break from the stress of academia and grind of daily athletic training, some are doing just the opposite, choosing to keep their competitive juices flowing by playing summer league baseball.
Among those are Bakersfield Braves players Kyle Desimone and brothers Greg and Kevin Younger, who are tackling the sweltering July temperatures as they shuffle onto the diamond at Bakersfield Christian in preparation for their game against the visiting Santa Clarita Victory.
The Braves are one of five teams playing in the inaugural Central Coast Baseball League, a competitive wood-bat league created as an extension of the Braves' youth organization that has been in existence since 2001.
The idea was to provide local college-level players the opportunity to return home during the summer to continue to cultivate their skills during the offseason.
"Before this, the kids would have to travel out of town, if they were fortunate enough," said Bobby Maitia, the Braves' founder and coaching director. "Dave (Packer), our former club president who had a son that played in college, got the idea, and we just ran with it."
With a per-player cost of $500, the league, which plays a scheduled 32 games beginning in early June, provides an opportunity on two fronts for the nearly 200 junior college and division I and II players participating.
One, it gives players a chance to perform with the possibility of scouts watching. Just as important, though, is the improvement players will make before they return to their respective college programs.
“The main purpose is reps and exposure,” Maitia said. “We have had scouts out watching our boys play this year, both at home and away.”
While Bakersfield’s 17-man roster boasts players from as far away as Northern Illinois University, it is mainly comprised of local talent, and for Cal State Bakersfield sophomore outfielder Desimone, it’s a convenient way to keep from getting rusty.
“We don’t have to travel far,” said Desimone, who spent last summer playing summer ball in Iowa. “I get to live at home, have free food and play baseball.”
He also says the competition is tough, with many of the league’s pitchers touching 90 mph, along with a good mixture of top division I and II players.
“It’s a little harder to hit with wood (bats),” he added, “but it’s better since it actually shows who the hitters are, and aren’t.”
The Stockdale High graduate is batting .317 with 10 RBIs.
Meanwhile, Liberty High products Greg and Kevin Younger are also excited about the opportunity of playing summer ball at home.
Kevin, who is selected to play on the 2012 Central Coast Baseball All-Star team along with Desimone and teammates Matt Packer, Ross Hough, Chris Neal, says the league provides a good level of competition on a daily basis to groom his skills.
The CSUB senior outfielder has a homer and 14 RBIs to go along with a .329 average, and also likes hitting with wood bats.
“You can’t get a little dinker off the edge of the bat like you can with aluminum,” he said. “It’s truer.”
Kevin Younger says he is also enjoying playing with older brother Greg, who, after a five-year hiatus, is making his return to organized baseball with the Braves before returning to college as junior student-athlete at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa this fall.
“I missed playing and I wanted to come back,” says Greg Younger, a shortstop with 10 RBIs and a .302 average.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I’m getting back into it and getting better,” he added. “I made some good plays at short and had five hits in my first two games.”
Despite the heat and a roster of banged up players, the Braves beat Santa Clarita 12-4, and are 15-5 in league play and tied for first place.
And with just two regular season games remaining, the team is poised to contend for the league’s first title in a best-of-three series in Santa Barbara in early August.
The Braves play their final home games, a doubleheader against the Ventura Pirates, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday at Bakersfield Christian.