Patric King has a much easier commute this summer.Last year, the Indian Trail native played summer wood-bat college baseball for the Statesville Owls, which meant driving for more than an hour to and from games. When some of the Statesville staff started a new Southern Collegiate Baseball League team in south Charlotte this year, King jumped at the chance to play closer to home. “It was a haul last year,” said King, who played at Piedmont High and is a redshirt rising sophomore catcher at UNC Charlotte. “It’s a lot shorter drive (this year). It’s like 20, 25 minutes this year. Last year we did, like, an hour and 15 minutes every day.” The Carolina Vipers are the newest team in the SCBL. The team is partnered with the Union County Vipers baseball club and plays its home games at East Mecklenburg High School. Many of its players played high school baseball in south Charlotte and Union County.The Vipers is the third team to start in or move to the south-Charlotte area in the last three years. The Ballantyne Smokies came to Ardrey Kell from Fort Mill in 2012, and the Pineville Pioneers started play in 2011.Vipers General Manager Keith Bray worked with the Statesville organization last year. He started the Vipers to try to make the SCBL stronger. “With all that we’ve got to offer down here, we could really make this league something special and get it to grow, and when people talk about a summer league, they say, ‘I can go anywhere in Charlotte and see a good game,’ ” Bray said. “That’s kind of what I’m hoping for.” The SCBL was established in 1999 and currently features seven teams in North and South Carolina made up of college baseball players. Teams use wood bats, like professional baseball leagues, instead of the aluminum bats used in college and high school ball.Wins matter to the Vipers (2-7 through June 18) and coach Aaron Bray, but player development matters more. “I want to win; I’m a competitive guy,” Aaron Bray said, but “my goal is to see these guys succeed at their schools, not so much us succeed here on the field with wins and losses.” Aaron Bray, Keith’s son, comes to the club after playing infield at Independence High and UNC Charlotte, where he is the program’s all-time career-hits leader, with 293. He was drafted by the Houston Astros in 2009 and played in the minor leagues for two seasons. Aaron Bray also coaches at Benchwarmers Sports Complex in Mooresville.Bray’s former UNC Charlotte teammate Ross Steedley, an assistant baseball coach at Pfeiffer, is the Vipers’ assistant coach.Aaron Bray said players come to the league with varying levels of experience. This year’s team is young. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are freshmen who redshirted, sophomores who didn’t play that much,” Aaron Bray said. “It’s hurt us a little bit offensively, guys trying to get back into the groove of things. It’s definitely hurt us in our bullpen.” Aaron Bray said his goal is to give these players more experience. “It’s like lessons without them going to a facility to get them,” he said. “We’re here early, work in the cage on their swings. I told them not to be afraid to ask questions.” Aaron Bray, who was a first-year coach with the Statesville team last year, takes a hands-off approach to managing games. He doesn’t tell batters to bunt, and lets runners steal at will. He said he sometimes learned more in summer leagues than he did in school. The freedom in those leagues allowed him to work on the things coaches were telling him during the school season.“They need to learn how to play the game of baseball,” he said. “I felt like I got a lot better (as a player) when I was away from everything and just trying to get better by myself.” The Vipers’ roster is made up largely of players who played their high school baseball in and around Charlotte, with players from Olympic, Providence High, Piedmont, Butler, Providence Day, Charlotte Country Day, Weddington and Grace Academy.Chase Gehringer, a Butler graduate and rising sophomore at Brunswick Community College, said being close to home was something that drew him to the Vipers. “It’s good to be home, honestly,” he said. “I lived in Wilmington, so it’s good to be home.” Homegrown players like Gehringer and King are why Keith Bray said he thinks the SCBL can thrive in the Charlotte area. Local public schools – Weddington, Piedmont and South Mecklenburg – won three of the four N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships. Charlotte Christian won the private-school 3A state title.Aaron Bray said he hopes more of those local players will decide to come back home to play in the summer and help make the league stronger. And he thinks the league and the city can draw talented players from outside the area. “Charlotte in itself sells,” he said. “It’s such a great city. I don’t want to leave. … I think if you can put a couple more teams in the surrounding area, I think you’ll draw better attention from the other schools, the bigger schools.”
Friday, Jun. 21, 2013
South Charlotte Summer college baseball team hopes to strengthen young league
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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