Maryland baseball’s Maxwell Costes checked his phone on Thursday, shocked to see around 30 text messages from friends and family.
He had just been named the 2019 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Player of the Year after hitting a league-record 12 home runs and batting .374 over the summer. Somehow, everyone found out the news before he did.
“I was like, ‘Why do I have all these messages?’” Costes told Testudo Times. “I was the last person who seemed to know, but it’s all good.”
The honor was well-deserved, as Costes helped the Amsterdam Mohawks win the 2019 PGCBL championship on Aug. 7. “It was one of the best feelings in the world,” he said of getting the ring.
For college baseball players, summer ball means more reps and the ability to play baseball year-round at a competitive level. Costes was one of nearly two dozen Terps capitalizing on the opportunity, playing in summer leagues scattered across the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas.
Randy Bednar, now one of the veterans for the Terps, had a similar experience playing for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene SwampBats. Bednar helped the SwampBats win the NECBL championship, batting .337 and leading the team with 41 RBIs on the season. Winning a championship was a feeling that Bednar said he couldn’t quite describe.
“That team put in a lot of work and a lot of effort,” Bednar told Testudo Times. “To be able to see that come to fruition was something really memorable, really special, something that I’ll never forget. ... It’s just something that I’m gonna hold dear to my heart.”
Bednar has played summer ball before, though he didn’t find as much success. He spent last summer in the premier Cape Cod League, but only saw eight at-bats and recorded one run scored. He finally came into his own this year, even notching three RBIs in the championship series.
“I kind of had to revamp my approach at the plate, having a nice simple approach there, being confident with myself at the plate,” Bednar said of the keys to his improvement. “Before every game, I’m getting my reps in, getting my work in. I’m still treating it like any other game and I think that’s the most important thing, taking each game step-by-step with the same approach.”
On the pitching side, the Terps had a few arms scattered, like relief pitcher Elliot Zoellner, who pitched for the Cal Ripken League’s Bethesda Big Train. Like Bednar and Costes, Zoellner was also part of a championship squad. In 11 appearances and 15.0 innings pitched, Zoellner had a 1.20 ERA, giving up nine hits, two earned runs and recording a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“It was just a really great environment to play in,” Zoellner told Testudo Times. “To be a part of the organization, a winning organization, where you’re not only going to get playing time, but you’re going to win a lot, is great.”
Zoellner has been with the Big Train for the past two summers and he’s relished the experience. However, this year, he had much more on his plate to balance, taking a summer class online and going to an internship during the day. Every day included all three things, giving him barely enough time to sleep before getting up early in the morning to repeat everything over again.
“There really wasn’t much free time at all. It was running thing from one thing to another,” Zoellner said. “I have incredible time management, I’ll tell you that.”
A few Terps were able to play in the Cape Cod League, including Sean Fisher, who played for the Brewster Whitecaps this summer. Fisher’s only knowledge of the elite league was through the movie Summer Catch, and he described actually being there as a surreal experience.
“There’s nothing like the Cape,” Fisher told Testudo Times. “It’s a great place to be in the summertime, let alone getting the chance to play baseball up there in the best league.”
Fisher had the benefit of playing with some familiar faces on the Whitecaps, specifically his battery mate, catcher Justin Vought. Having someone behind the plate he knew helped to settle down his nerves of playing against some of the best talent in college baseball. Fisher finished with a 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings and was named Reliever of the Year for the Whitecaps.
“I knew that I was going to be facing the best kids in college baseball, so my whole thing was just, I’m gonna hold my own,” Fisher said. “If you back off at all, they’re gonna hit you, so for me, it was going at them to put them on the defensive side.”
For all four of these players, it wasn’t just about baseball and getting the reps in, but the experience of summer league.
“It was one of the best times of my life being up there in Amsterdam, New York,” Costes said. “I was homesick, but I grew as a person while I was there.”
Now as summer winds down and the school year approaches, preparation begins for the 2020 Maryland baseball season. The Terps had a taste of the postseason in 2019, winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament, but they finished the season with a disappointing 29-29 record. Players hope their summer league experiences build the foundation for a better season to come.