Tate Copeland toed the rubber Thursday night at Cardines Field, exhaled and looked in for the sign.
Standing in the batter’s box was Dante Baldelli, Boston College senior and member of a royal baseball family in Rhode Island. Among the players behind Copeland in the field were 2019 Cape Cod Baseball League all-star Chris Galland and former Newport Gulls standout Scott Holzwasser. His coach pitched in the Seattle Mariners organization. Watching from the stands was a scout with a radar gun.
Nothing can make up for the cancellation of Copeland’s senior season at Prout, but an opportunity to pitch in the Newport Collegiate Baseball League – before he’s even thrown a pitch in college – is a welcome consolation prize.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” said Copeland, who is set to play at Quinnipiac next year. “I guess it was kind of a loss and a win. Not having a high school season was pretty tough, but I get to play with college guys and be around them. It’s really cool.”
Four months ago, Copeland was planning to take the summer off. He would have needed some rest after a long high school season, potentially a very long one with Prout’s hopes of contending for a Division II championship. Fresh off a breakout junior season as a pitcher and hitter, Copeland was poised to be one of the top players in the state this spring, particularly on the mound, where his future likely lies. When the spring season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Copeland sought out some opportunities, initially signing up to play for the Newport team in the Rhode Island Elite League, the 2020 replacement for legion.
The same pandemic effects that canceled the spring season also scuttled the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s summer campaign, which led to the creation of the pop-up Newport league. A mix of Division I, II and III players, most from the area, are converging on Cardines Field three nights a week for the highest level baseball that will be played in Rhode Island all year. Copeland was one of the few 2020 high school graduates to get an invite.
“Going into my high school season, my plan was just to shut down for the summer and just work on a throwing program,” Copeland said. “But when the season got canceled, it was like, ‘I have to play this year.’ I originally signed up for legion and then this happened. I’m doing both but pitching with plenty of rest.”
Copeland is pitching for the Blue Team, managed by former Holy Cross and Ocean State Waves pitcher George Capen. Now an assistant coach at Holy Cross, Capen signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Mariners in 2017. Copeland will soak in all the knowledge he can from Capen and from his teammates. He also gets some exposure, with scouts at most games and the league using the Trackman system that measures pitch and batted ball data.
“I think this is probably a better opportunity than high school would have been,” Copeland said.
Copeland has made two appearances thus far. He allowed a pair of runs in a relief outing in his debut, then got the start on Thursday. He got a ground ball from Baldelli for an out in a scoreless first inning. He gave up a home run to Bryant slugger Alex Lane in the second inning, then induced a fly-out and ended his two-inning stint with a strikeout.
Has he been nervous, facing some of the best hitters he’s ever gone against?
“No, I was just excited,” he said.
Copeland expects to get a few innings each week of the season, which concludes in August, and then he will turn his attention to prepping for his first collegiate season.
None of it is what he envisioned months ago for this spring and summer, but he’s happy to be on the field.
“It’s great to be out here again,” Copeland said.