By Jack Loder, ORLEANS,
Physically, nothing about Alex Amalfi separates him from the rest of his Firebirds teammates. Besides, maybe, a patchy beard and an especially wide grin. The tall lanky right-hander is of similar stature to his peers, throws about as hard, and fills out his red and yellow practice jersey as well as the best of his many legendary predecessors. Amalfi and fellow hurler Samuel Conte, however, join the Firebirds from division three schools, a relative rarity in a league that features almost exclusively the top division one talent from all over the country.
Just like their peers, they’re here to do a job, and the divisional status of their baseball programs won’t have an impact on that mission.
Amalfi is a local kid, hailing from Ashland Massachusetts. He plays for Umass Boston, a program that he says was one of just three division three offers he had coming out of high school.
“I was a late bloomer for sure,” Amalfi said. “I wasn’t super good in high school, I was always smaller and didn’t really have much velo. Once I got to college I was able to build my way up closer to where I am now.”
Where he is now is a refined high powered arm. Amalfi’s fastball sits around 90 and he showcases a nasty changeup and slider. In 56 innings this spring, he posted a 3.08 ERA while striking out a whopping 101 batters, a nearly impossible K/9 mark of 16.22. It’s abundantly clear that the high school senior who couldn’t get his fastball to 84 is a monumentally different pitcher than the current Alex Amalfi suiting up for the Firebirds this summer.
Samuel Conte’s path to the Cape was a lot different. Another Massachusetts native, Conte began his collegiate career at Northeastern University. He made his way to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where the left hander now stars on the mound for the Tigers. Like Amalfi, his imposing figure wouldn’t make you think twice when assuming he’s a weekend starter at a power five big time school. According to Conte, neither do his teammates.
“They have been nothing but great to me, not a lot of conversation has been about division level or anything like that,” Conte said. “These guys have welcomed me in like their own, I can’t wait to learn from them. I’d be stupid to not listen and learn.”
Based on their electric stuff, their teammates would do just as well to listen and learn from Conte and Amalfi.
Once they arrive at the Cape they are on an even playing field, but the path to the Cape is much more arduous for players not on the Division one circuit. Conte’s connection came from a former summer ball coach, while Amalfi’s invitation is just a temporary contract to begin the summer. For Division three guys, word of mouth is important.
The droves of scouts populating ballparks across Cape Cod this summer won’t be the only ones that Amalfi and Conte will be trying to impress. While they’re trying to prove themselves to prospective Division I universities and professional scouts, they will be trying to do the same for themselves. Baseball is a game of mental gymnastics for even the best and most accomplished players. For those looking to prove something? Sometimes the harshest critic is no one but yourself.
“For me it’s about proving that my hard work is paying off,” Amalfi said. “Seeing those results will definitely prove to myself that I can compete with these guys.”
In the early part of the season, continuity is a hot commodity. In order for a summer ball team to properly gel, chemistry needs to click. Kelly Nicholson couldn’t care less what level his players come from. They could be D2, D3, JuCo or NAIA, as long as they fit in with the team and community he’ll be happy. Nicholson and his staff prioritize bringing on guys who fit this mold. When it comes to Conte and Amalfi, both have high level stuff. More importantly, they are high character individuals.
“Character. Character is the most important thing we look for,” Nicholson said. “We want to bring in the right guys not necessarily the best guys.
I’ve only been around this community for one week, but it’s easy to tell that the people and fans of Orleans will embrace each player with the same enthusiasm day in and day out. Players like Amalfi and Conte who exemplify this sense of community, and that’s a priority.
“Are they going to fit in in Orleans?” Nicholson said. “Those are the guys we go after.”
So far, so good.