Summer Ball

Northeastern athletes take their summers to hone their skills with new teams across the country.

By Huy Nguyen

During the summer, most students at Northeastern are riding water slides, building sandcastles, and grilling burgers. Others roast under the searing flame of the sun, waking up early to perfect their techniques, improve in strength and speed, and practice with other like-minded individuals. These other students are athletes who participate in summer leagues, sacrificing their hard-earned break to elevate their gameplay in their respective sport.

Last summer, men’s soccer sophomore defender Zach Sauer played for Kings Hammer FC in Cincinnati, Ohio in the USL2 league. Sauer aspires to play professionally following his college career, and playing for Kings Hammer allowed him to be seen by coaches and scouts of professional teams. Originally from Connecticut, playing in Cincinnati also gave him a chance to explore a new city in a new region of the country.

“I would have had zero reason to go to Cincinnati, so I’m really glad that I chose Kings Hammer because I probably would have never gone to Cincinnati in my life,” Sauer said. “It’s actually a really cool city and I had a good summer there.”

Surrounded by people from different cities and cultural backgrounds, Sauer bonded with his teammates through learning new games and exploring Cincinnati.

“A lot of the team members were [from other countries], so they would teach me card games,” Sauer recalled. “We would take the bus to the city almost every day and have fun there. We pretty much live together, so you just get pretty close naturally.”

There was one thing that Sauer disliked about Cincinnati, however: and that was Skyline Chili, a local favorite.

“There’s this place called Skyline Chili,” he said with a laugh. “They put chili on spaghetti and hot dogs and load it with cheese, and that stuff is so gross.”

Meeting players from other teams in their conference, Sauer would grow closer to athletes he would otherwise have never met: followed by facing off against them months later, during the collegiate season.

“It’s funny because they had four other guys from JMU (James Madison University) on Kings Hammer, and we ended up playing them in our conference,” he said.

There was one familiar face on the team however – men’s soccer redshirt junior forward Timothy Ennin. Though Ennin recognized the difficulties of moving away from home to play in a summer league, he said the decision was easy for him; especially given his goal to play professionally.

“I don’t think it takes a toll,” Ennin said. “I think it’s because I love playing soccer. I feel like I never get tired of it. I guess sometimes it could take a toll on me; halfway through the summers, I’m seeing all my friends party and having fun with their family. But in the end, I know it’s all contributing to going pro. I gotta put the work in, put the hours in.”

However, this wasn’t Ennin’s first experience playing in a summer league. In the summer of 2019, Ennin also played in USL2, for the Treasure Coast Tritons in Florida. It was an experience that Ennin recalled fondly.

“They had us staying at a resort in Port St. Lucie,” Ennin said, smiling. “Free smoothies, free drinks. There were three, four pools. It was right near the water. There were tubing sports, waterskiing. It was pretty big. I can’t lie, that was a really great experience.”

Baseball redshirt junior infielder Danny Crossen has played in summer leagues for the past three years – two years in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League and one in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). Crossen noted the differences between playing in summer leagues and playing at Northeastern.

“You’re still trying to compete and win,” Crossen said. “But you’re playing people from all over the country, so you’re able to see how other teams and players go about pregame, practice, and games.”

He also recalls the difference in environment when playing in the summer league, where the air is a lot more relaxed compared to the pressure of the college season

“It’s more relaxed; guys are there to have some fun but still work on themselves,” he explained.

Though he no longer participates in the Futures League, his coaches have left a lasting impact and continue to help him improve his techniques.

“I still keep in touch with the coach from the Futures League,” Crossen said. “He helped me a lot with my swing, so whenever I feel like there’s something going wrong, I reach out to him every now and then and ask him for advice. He’s been really helpful with giving me drills.”

Having played in multiple summer leagues, Crossen’s favorite part was being able to explore different environments. One of these environments was Mystic, Connecticut, a small beach town home to the Mystic Schooners.

“The coolest thing is definitely being able to experience all these little towns that you go around and play baseball at,” Crossen said.

Another member of the Futures League is freshman pitcher Dennis Colleran. Colleran, a native of North Attleboro, MA, played for the Worcester Bravehearts to ensure a smoother transition into collegiate baseball.

“I had just played my high school season the previous spring,” Colleran said. “I needed to transition from high school into playing against college athletes.”

The Worcester Bravehearts had players from Massachusetts with whom Colleran had played with his entire life, but some were from as far away as Florida.

“When you’re with them for so long, you develop a bond and you find similarities,” Colleran recalled.

With countless summer leagues to choose from, one aspect of their respective summer leagues that got all the players excited was the unique traditions that each team participated in. Crossen’s between-inning contests bonded the different teams of the league together as they participated in competitions other than baseball.

“A lot of the teams do a lot of little quirky between-inning contests,” Crossen recollected. “We played at places where they had pie-eating contests and dizzy bat races, which are all fun to watch as a player.”

The informality of Colleran’s games allowed the teams to interact with their fans, bringing the two groups closer together.

“There’s trivia, there’s mascots that would bring out a water gun and squirt the other coaches, there’s little kids that would come up and have conversations with us in the bullpen,” Colleran said, chuckling. “There would be dance competitions.”

When Ennin was in Florida playing for the Tritons, he was given the role of coaching little kids, teaching them soccer and setting up drills; a custom that the summer teams of his league had participated in for generations. For Kings Hammer, Ennin and Sauer partook in the soccer pub culture.

“Before and after games, our team and our coaches would drive to a private room in a local pub in the city called Molly Malone’s,” Sauer said. “They would cater us for pregame and postgame food and we’d watch the Euros [UEFA European Championship].”

Though the initial intention of participating in summer leagues was to practice their respective sports and pave the way for their professional careers, what occurred outside of practice would leave a lasting impression on the players. The athletes explored the cultures of both their teams and their unfamiliar environments. And while playing in summer leagues may only last a few months, the memories made and the bonds between unlikely teammates and coaches clearly last far longer.