Diamond Rams shine during Summer Ball




Valley League

New Market Rebels

Cody Acker

Valley League

New Market Rebels

Walker Haymaker

Valley League

New Market Rebels

Darian Carpenter

Valley League

New Market Rebels

Jimmy Kerrigan (incoming transfer)

Cal Ripken League

Vienna River Dogs

Matt Jamer

Cal Ripken League

Vienna River Dogs

Alex Gransback

Cal Ripken League

Youse's Orioles

Matt Davis

Cal Ripken League

Bethesda Big Train

Logan Farrar


Watertown Rams

Shane Dressler

New England Collegiate League

Plymouth Pilgrims

James Bunn

New England Collegiate League

Danbury Westerners

Vimael Machin

Cape Cod League

Bourne Braves

Vimael Machin

RICHMOND, Va.—Mention the words "summer" and "baseball" to anyone and you'll get responses ranging from Little League memories to days spent at the ballpark watching their heroes take the field.

Head Coach Shawn Stiffler and his VCU baseball coaching staff have similar stories to share but, for the Rams, summer isn't a time to get a bunch of buddies together and get a pick-up game started.

It's a time to get to work.

"I think summer ball can really be the lifeblood of a program," Stiffler said. "It's essential for the development of your guys, not only on the field, but also from a maturity standpoint. It's important for them to get out and experience different people from different regions and to learn from other people at other programs."

Collegiate summer baseball leagues have a long and rich history. They're open to any college player with at least one year of experience and at least one year of eligibility left, so the pool from which leagues get their players is incredibly vast. Leagues range in quality and exposure, with the Cape Cod League being the premier league for players and scouts alike, with its alumni including MVP's, Cy Young winners and Hall of Famers.

While there are several leagues to choose from and several teams to play for, the highest priority for everyone is what to work on, not where the work gets done.

"At the end of every year we sit down with each player and talk about the fact that they're going off to summer ball," Stiffler said, "and we talk about some of the things we would like them to work on. Whether it's a pitcher working on holding the running game or adding another pitch, or whether it's an offensive guy working on his baserunning or his bunting, you really want to give them specific skills to work on."

"But it's also about them getting out and playing," he continued, "and continuing to learn the game and grind through the ups-and-downs of the game. It not only helps their physical play, but also their mental toughness as they move forward."

It depends on the player but, like Stiffler suggested, sometimes summer leagues can just be about getting in reps. One example he mentioned was that of Shane Dressler (pictured, left), who is coming off of an injury. Dressler spent the summer with the Watertown Rams of the Perfect Game Collegiate League, where he got some much-needed at-bats to help play some catch-up after missing some time.

In total 11 Rams took the field for different teams across the country this summer and, by any measure, all 11 put themselves in a great position to succeed this upcoming spring.

"As a program, we had a very successful summer," Stiffler said. "There were a lot of guys, just by numbers alone, that we can tell have turned the page in their development."

Individually, five of the 11 Rams made their respective league's all-star games: James Bunn (pictured, right), Darian Carpenter (Watch his HR Derby Championship), Matt Davis, Logan Farrar and Jimmy Kerrigan. Also, six were team leaders in offensive statistical categories.

Of those players, Stiffler pointed out that Carpenter really had a great summer offensively, and his numbers back it up. He led his team in hits, RBI, and home runs, of which he hit seven. Carpenter's improved power helped him rank second in his league in home runs and also allowed him to capture the Valley League's Home Run Derby crown.

The superlatives don't end with Carpenter, though. Bunn and Ram teammate Cody Acker led their respective teams in batting, with each guy hitting above .320 for the season. Farrar and Vimael Machin (pictured, bottom left) each led their teams in games played, a testament to how valuable they proved to be for their teams. Machin even earned himself an opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League. The Bourne Braves brought him on towards the end of the regular season and all of the postseason, making him one of four VCU players to play postseason baseball over the summer.

With all of the summer leagues having ended and all of the players making their way back to Richmond, this is prime time for coaches and players to get together and discuss what the past few months mean in terms of future plans.

"When the guys get back we sit down and evaluate their summer and ask them about how it went," Stiffler said. "It's good to get that feedback from the guys, not only about how they feel like they played and their numbers, but also what kind of setup they had and the people they met, and if that's a place where we should send guys in the future and continue to have a relationship with."

Having relationships with teams is a key part of making sure guys go to the right places. For instance, the New Market Rebels of the Valley League and the Vienna River Dogs of the Cal Ripken League each hosted multiple Rams for the summer.

Those discussions between player and coach don't mark the end of the summer baseball season, though. In fact, it's actually just beginning- for next summer. The 2015 summer season has been a priority for coach Stiffler and his staff this month, so once his players come back to Richmond he's already thick in the process of committing guys to teams for next year.

"Every year around this time," Stiffler began, "our coaching staff sits down to look at the roster and which players will be returning for next year so we can place them into situations where they'll be taken care of and treated well while also getting the post out of their experience. From there we reach out to some of our contacts and then we just place them where we think they'll fit."

It won't be another several months until the Rams take the field at the Diamond to start the 2015 season but, for the VCU coaching staff and its players, the wheels are constantly in motion, and the determination to improve is always there.

Written by Chris Cullum, VCU Athletic Communications Assistant