Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford’s horse on Nov. 9

By Alex Petroski

The Revolutionary War leapt from the textbooks and onto the fields of Northport Middle School during an afternoon performance on Monday.

The school’s seventh-graders were treated to a day of fresh air and visual demonstrations by Boots and Saddles Productions, a Freeport-based group that specializes in “living history.”

Principal Tim Hoss said about 250 students attended the “in-house field trip.”

“What better way to learn then being immersed in it?” Hoss said.

Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9
Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9

The students were split into groups and spent time at the five different stations set up by re-enactors.

Gen. George Washington, rebels and British soldiers greeted the students with tales of betrayal to the throne and last ditch pleas to join the Redcoats. A female re-enactor taught kids about the role of women during the Revolution.

The students had the opportunity to ask questions of the re-enactors, pass around props and hear deafening blasts from prop guns.

“They’re actually interacting with us and they’re showing us, not just reading out of a textbook, so we get to hear from them how it was,” Griffin Crafa said. “Now I can actually see it. I heard it, so it’s in my mind, whereas in the textbook you have to just copy notes down and … it doesn’t really stay in your mind.”

Meghan Sheridan said she had fun and Cami Tyrer, referencing the loud musket shots that echoed across the Northport Middle School playing fields, said, “It was a blast, and we learned so much.”

Social studies teacher Barbara Falcone, who organized the event for the second consecutive year, was happy with how the day turned out.

“This is what real learning should be like,” Falcone said. “They’re getting out from behind those dusty computer screens. They’re being outside and they’re seeing from all of these people what real life was like during that period.”

Falcone said the students will remember this event for many years.

Re-enactor Joe Bilardello expressed a similar sentiment: “Out here it’s like we jumped from the history books.”

An assortment of different Bootlegger drinks line the shelves. Photo by Alex Petroski

It takes guts to quit a steady paying job to pursue a dream. Not many people bet on themselves as boldly as Stony Brook University graduate and owner of Prohibition Distillery Brian Facquet did back in 2008.

He grew up in Commack, graduated from St. Anthony’s High School in 1991 and spent a few years in the Naval Academy before transferring to Stony Brook for his senior year. There he played lacrosse, majored in history and met his future wife Benat.

“I created a brand that’s rooted in history,” Facquet said laughing, during a recent interview, when asked about failing to put his pricey college degree in history to use. He received that degree in 1995.

“I did something stupid,” Facquet said. “I quit my job and just started doing this.”

“This” was creating an up-and-coming craft spirit brand called Bootlegger 21, which is based out of an old firehouse in Roscoe, about two hours north of New York City. The name, the packaging and even the boxes that the bottles are shipped in are all a nod to the Prohibition era in the United States in the 1920s when the sale or consumption of alcohol was illegal. People who continued to sell alcohol illegally were called bootleggers. The “21” represents the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

Facquet spent much of the 2000s in the corporate world, working for a couple of different technology companies. Successes in that field earned him an offer to be the East Coast vice president of Paylocity, a company that specializes in cloud-based payroll software, which Facquet was vital in creating. He turned down the offer.

“He’s always been entrepreneurial,” Phil Facquet said of his son Brian, who in 2000 went to his dad and asked him for advice about a business opportunity. Brian Facquet said that he was at Bluepoint Brewery in Patchogue.

“It was small at the time,” Facquet said. They had a few chairs, a keg and about three tables in an outside sitting area. The modest appearance didn’t scare him and he told his dad that he wanted to invest about $30,000 in the brewery. Both Facquets said that Phil was the greatest deciding factor in Brian’s decision to ultimately reject the opportunity.

“I always regretted not doing it,” Brian Facquet said. His dad admitted that he felt bad about being the voice of negativity back then, so when Brian went to Phil in 2008 and told him his new plan, his father decided to bite his tongue the second time around.

“I thought he was crazy,” Phil Facquet said.

When Brian Facquet decided to start making booze, it wasn’t going to be a hobby. He had no interest in going the route of the weekend warrior who brews beer in his garage and tried for a while to balance his steady paying job with his dream of, as he put it, “creating something that will be remembered.” He said he would go into the Tuthilltown Distillery, one of the sites of his vodka making exploits before he found a home in Roscoe, while he was on sales calls for his day job, overnight or on days when he was “playing hooky.” Eventually he decided he was going all in on Bootlegger 21.

“You’re talking to a guy that’s worked all his life for somebody else,” Phil said about his son’s decision to pursue his dream. “I’m ambitious within a corporate setting, but to risk my own money? I thought he was crazy, quite honestly.”  His father came around rather easily. He still lives in Commack, though he periodically makes the trip up to Roscoe to lend a hand for a few days whenever he can.

Brian Facquet’s ambition and confidence have paid off. Bootlegger 21 now offers gin and bourbon to go along with the vodka. Facquet said that when he started the company he had a hard time convincing anyone about the merits of a craft spirit that was locally produced. “You hope you have a good product, you hope you have a market, but you never know,” he said.

The market has changed now. Hand crafted is in. Mass-produced, conglomerate spirits with brand recognition still have their place in the market, but Facquet said that he’s found the millennial consumer is willing to give the little guy a shot. He didn’t necessarily see this coming he said, but he’s thrilled to reap the benefits of a more open-minded marketplace.

The fact that this is currently Facquet’s only business venture doesn’t mean he’s suddenly become a slacker. Presumably Catholic high school and the Naval Academy made that impossible.

“I don’t know how he does it,” his father said. “He’s burning the candle light at both ends, plus the center.”

Brian Facquet’s hard work has paid off as well. The corn-based, gluten-free vodka has been awarded gold medals and double gold medals from the Best Domestic Vodka competition, the Beverage Testing Institute, and the New York International Spirits competition. The five-botanical gin and corn-based bourbon are still very new to the market.

Facquet’s goal was to create something that will be remembered. It will be difficult to remember him after extensive consumption of his product, although his entrepreneurial spirit will last long after the buzz wears off.

For more information about Bootlegger 21 and the Prohibition Distillery visit www.prohibitiondistillery.com.

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Kings Park's Liam Winwood makes his way around a defender in a previous game against Shoreham-Wading River. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Alex Petroski

The 2015 season didn’t go as Kings Park boys’ lacrosse head coach J.M. Simpson would have wanted, as his team struggled to a 2-14 record, but a silver lining was the development of senior attack and team captain Liam Winwood, who will go on to play at the college level next year.

Winwood recorded 19 goals and 10 assists in his senior season, his third with the varsity team, including five goals and four assists in Kings Park’s two wins this season. He will be trading in the maroon and gold of the Kings Park Kingsmen for the red and blue of the Division II Florida Southern College Moccasins of the Sunshine State Conference.

“Liam is a gifted playmaker with a great knack for finding the open man in tight spots,” Florida Southern head coach Marty Ward said. “His stick work is excellent and as he continues to mature as a player, he will be a great addition to our program.”

Winwood agreed with his future coach’s assessment of his skills, and credited his playmaking ability and vision as his greatest assets.

Kings Park's Liam Winwood makes a pass. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Kings Park’s Liam Winwood makes a pass. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“I also rely on my high lacrosse IQ and my understanding of how my teammates interact with each other allows me to predict how everything goes down,” Winwood said. “I’m hoping in college I can continue to grow as a player by becoming stronger, faster, fine-tuning my skills and pushing myself to the limit every day.”

Kings Park will be losing a valuable member of their team next season, but its not just for his contributions on the field.

“Liam was a great leader for us all season,” Simpson said of his now former player, who received the academic scholar award following all three of his varsity seasons, for maintaining an average above 90 while playing a sport. “He was constantly putting guys in the right place and was an extension of the coaching staff.”

Winwood said he will miss Kings Park, and reflected on what his time there meant to him.

“I can’t believe it’s already over,” he said. “I’m going to miss my coaches, teammates and of course my two biggest and loudest fans in the stands, my parents.”

Family support is a big part of Winwood’s Kings Park lacrosse experience, and pointed to a family member as being one to look our for.

“Keep an eye out for Dylan Winwood next year,” he said, calling his brother a “straight playmaker.” Liam and Dylan’s older brother Andrew also played for the Kingsmen.

As Liam Winwood moves on to play at the next level, Simpson is eager to see what the future holds for his former captain.

“He really grew as a dodger and playmaker as the season progressed, which was a role he was not used to,” he said. “He should be a guy that goes on to do great things at the next level if he puts the work in. I am excited to watch him continue to grow as a player and a person.”

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Kristen Fraas leaps over the hurdle for Ward Melville. Photo from Fraas

Athletes use different things for motivation. Some are fueled by a desire to be the best. Some are highly competitive. Some are driven by the fear of letting down their teammates. In a sport like track and field, where the main competitor is the clock as much as the opponent, it can be difficult to maintain a competitive edge. But Kirsten Fraas never had an issue with staying intrinsically motivated during her outstanding career with the Ward Melville track and field team.

“What got me out of my bed was the fear of disappointing my coaches,” Fraas said. “I always wanted to do my best because what’s the point of me going to practice if I wasn’t going to put my whole heart into it? I also wanted to be there for my team. I didn’t want to let any of them down, either. I got myself out of bed to be the best I could be and to be consistent for my team.”

Fraas’ former and future coaches said the track and field competitor has a relentless work ethic.

“She has an amazing work ethic,” Ward Melville junior varsity head coach J.P. Dion said. “She came to practice every day ready to work and gave 100 percent every day.”

Fraas was a key member of a team that won back-to-back League 1 championships. She was highly decorated in her four-year varsity career, winning awards for being a scholar athlete and a tri-sport athlete, and she also won the Gold Key award, which is given to athletes who letter in at least eight of the nine seasons between grades 10 and 12.

“Kirsten is highly motivated and she’s a hard worker,” Stony Brook track and field assistant coach Howard Powell said of Fraas, shedding light on what made her an attractive recruit for their program. “I’m hoping that she can bring some of her strong work ethic to our team. I’m looking forward to working with her over the next couple of years.”

Fraas competed in multiple events during high school, including 100 and 400-meter hurdles, the 400 run, and the 4×4 relay. Fraas said the 4×4 was her favorite event. Powell mentioned plans to use Fraas in a variety of different events during her time at Stony Brook.

“I think that the thing I’ll miss most is my team,” Fraas said, reflecting on her time at Ward Melville. “We’re all very close knit and we’ve spent so much time together that we’ve become a family, so it’s [going to] be difficult leaving that part of my life behind.”

Dion reflected on the mark his now former runner left on the highly successful program.

She is a great kid,” he said. “Thanks to her leadership skills, she helped make our jobs as coaches easy. She is a very talented athlete and I wish her the best at Stony Brook.”

Fraas credited her family as being a strong support system.

“It means a lot to me that they’ve invested so much of their time into my success,” she said. “I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

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Young runners race around the track. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Ward Melville girls’ track and field team has found a way to raise money for its season while also providing families with young children from the district with a fun night to get out and exercise.

This is the third summer that the girls, lead by varsity coach Tom Youngs and junior varsity coach J.P. Deon, have organized races on six nights to host about 150 kids, though as many as 175 showed up on one night, from the community at the high school track.

“It [has] been really successful,” Youngs said of the three-year run of race nights, which took a hiatus last summer to allow for a new track to be put in at the high school. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the community.”

Nicole Murphy, a senior on the track team, also enjoys seeing the support the team gets during race nights.

“It’s nice to see everyone get together to participate in something,” Murphy said.

A little girl crosses the finish line in a 55-meter run. Photo by Alex Petroski
A little girl crosses the finish line in a 55-meter run. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s a great thing for the kids,” Tracy Seedorf, a community member and a parent of one of the runners, said. “My kid doesn’t play soccer. She’s not a ‘contact sport’ girl, so this is great. This makes it easier, especially when there’s a lot of kids here. It’s more fun for them.”

The race nights feature six events of various distances, with heats in each event for age group ranges.

“It’s a good opportunity for community members and their children, keeping them active and healthy throughout the summer months when they have that time to sit on the couch or just lay on the beach,” Youngs said. “It gives them something to look forward to every Thursday night.”

At the end of each race, members of the varsity track team wait at the finish line to write down the kid’s times on stickers that are stuck to runners shirts. The kids and their parents are encouraged to track their times in the various events to see their progress over the course of the summer.

“It’s nice to tie in the community,” Deon said. He added that a great deal of parents, and even grandparents’ involvement, is as a huge part of why the event has been successful. Ages of the runners span from 2 years old up to 12 or 13.

“I think they should start at an early age,” a parent, Marty Johnson, said of the importance of getting kids active, and also allowing them to socialize with their peers. Johnson said it was easy getting his kids enthusiastic about events like these. “My kids love being outside.”

Registration costs $5 a night per child, and three more race night events remain this year, including tonight. The registration period ends at 5:30 p.m. each Thursday, and races begin at 6 p.m. All of the funds raised go to the girls’ track team to be used for meets, invitationals, overnight trips and transportation.

A farmers market is sprouting up on the Three Village Historical Society grounds, offering fresh options for North Shore natives. File photo

It’s fresh in every sense of the word.

Healthy, fresh foods sold by local vendors are available on the grounds adjacent to the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket every Friday afternoon from 4-7 p.m. The East Setauket Farmers Market started nearly five weeks ago by Melissa Dunstatter, founder of Sweet Melissa Dips & Gourmet Catering of Rocky Point. Dunstatter also runs farmers markets in Port Jefferson and Sayville, and said she’s been a vendor for eight years and running farmers markets for about five.

The East Setauket Farmers Market started when a group of students from the Three Village school district chapter of the National Junior Honor Society wanted to do a fundraiser for a noble cause. What was supposed to be a one-day event back on May 16 to benefit a foundation called Hope for Javier, a nonprofit organization created to fund research for the disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy, has turned into a weekly occurrence.

“The location is really, really nice,” Dunstatter said in a phone interview this week. The success of the May 16 event, coupled with a void left by the departure of Ann Marie’s Farm Stand to Port Jefferson Station, made the site attractive for Dunstatter to set up shop from June all the way through October.

Some of the products from local vendors available at the farmers market include dips from Dunstatter’s company, fresh produce, olive oil, eggs, pickles, jams, beef jerky, fresh bread and much more. The Dip Lady, as Dunstatter is known, also has a kids day planned for sometime in August that will feature face painting, among other family friendly activities.

Dunstatter also mentioned plans for the site by the historical society headquarters that include some of the North Fork wineries, a pig roast, and a tomato and garlic festival, all at dates still to be determined later in the summer.

“So far it seems to be pretty successful,” president of the historical society John Yantz said. He mentioned the fresh baked breads from a vendor who travels east from Brooklyn every Friday as his favorite item to bring home from the market. “The stuff they have is very unique and very health conscious,” Yantz said of the overall selection at the market.

Dunstatter mentioned health consciousness as an important theme for the market as well. “My whole goal is to help families eat better,” she said. Providing local vendors with an opportunity to sell their products without the burden of sky-rocketing rents is another pleasant side effect of the market, according to Dunstatter. She said she plans to expand west into Nassau County at some point, which is an area devoid of quality farmers markets, she said.

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” Dunstatter said about the challenges of opening and running a farmers market, especially this one that she said was set up in about a week. “I always say I want to start a reality TV show with all of these farmers markets,” she added with a smile.

The East Setauket Farmers Market is held at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. For more information visit the farmers market Facebook page.

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Patrick Lagravinese hurls the ball to first base. Photo by Ray Passaro

The University at Albany is getting a special baseball player from Smithtown East next year, but if his family and coach are to be believed, they are getting a special person as well.

Patrick Lagravinese, who will be playing at Albany when the 2016 college baseball season begins, had a standout senior season playing shortstop and pitching for the Bulls. Smithtown East saw its record from 2014 to 2015 improve by 12 wins for one major reason — Lagravinese transferred back to Smithtown East ahead of his senior season after spending two years at St. John the Baptist.

Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro
Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro

While he was playing at St. John’s, all he managed to do was help the team win back-to-back Catholic league championships. He made the difficult decision to transfer back to Smithtown East, the school district he attended until his freshman year, despite the opportunity he had in front of him to win a third consecutive league title.

“Nothing’s better than being able to finish up your high school career with the friends and family that were there when you first started playing the sport,” Lagravinese said.

When Lagravinese decided he wanted to return to Smithtown East, he said he spoke with his parents and they supported the decision.

“He loved St. John’s but he felt like he was missing something his senior year,” Lagravinese’s dad, Chet, said. “But it wasn’t something I was going to do for him.”

The shortstop notified his head coach John Habyan, and said that phone call was “the hardest thing ever.”

“The amount of memories and relationships I made with this team will go a long way and I don’t regret any decisions I made crossing this path,” Lagravinese said.

With St. John’s in his rear view, Lagravinese was outstanding in 2015. He went 5-0 on the mound and hit .363 while playing solid at shortstop and earned an invitation to the Grand Slam Challenge, a Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“Senior year at Smithtown East was everything I could ask for,” Lagravinese said. “The coaches and players were great to me and made me feel like I never left.”

Welcoming him back was easy, though watching him move on will be much harder for the Bulls.

Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re going to do the best we can to slot someone in [at shortstop], but you don’t replace a Pat Lagravinese,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said about the reality of being without Lagravinese, who he called extremely coachable and hard working, next season. “He’s unique in the fact that he’s clearly the best kid on your team, but doesn’t want any of the credit.”

Klee added that when the team heard Lagravinese was returning, it immediately raised the Bulls’ expectations for the season. It was like the team found its missing piece.

Leadership was a word frequently used by those who are close to Lagravinese. Klee said that Lagravinese being around again raised everybody’s game.

“During practices I would try my best to be a leader even though I wasn’t a captain,” Lagravinese said. “Not being a captain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help out and take charge when needed. Kids on my team looked at me as if I was a captain and I really appreciated that.”

That is a quality usually representative of truly special players like the one that Lagravinese said he models his game after.

“My favorite player is Jose Reyes,” he said. “I would always watch videos on YouTube and try and use the same style of play. I was a huge Mets fan up until he left, and now I love watching him play on the Toronto Blue Jays.”

University at Albany head coach Jon Mueller did not immediately respond to requests for comment, though he was quoted on the school’s official site after Lagravinese’s commitment to Albany: “Pat is a smooth fielding left-handed hitting infielder with good arm strength. He comes from both a great high school
program and summer organization. We anticipate Pat having an immediate impact for us in 2016.”

Chet Lagravinese spoke with pride when describing his son, both for the player he is and the person that he has become.

“He’s one of those kids that anything I say, he takes everything with pride,” he said. “He does whatever he has to do to make things right.”

Huntington nonprofit affords teachers a creative license

Officials break ground on a Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education-funded pond at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. File photo

In a time when most news about education is related to highly controversial state-mandated standardized testing, one Huntington nonprofit seems too good to be true.

The Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education will reach $1 million in funded grants next year since its inception in June 1993, according to the foundation. HFEE is “dedicated to enhancing the quality of the Huntington public schools in education, the arts and athletics,” according to its mission statement. Its funding comes entirely from donations and 100 percent of that money goes back into the school district.

“We are very lucky to have had such concerned parents back in 1993 to have formed such an awesome organization,” Maria Cassar, co-president and board of directors member since 2004, said in an interview this week. “HFEE has donated so much to the district and has become an organization that teachers, parents and students can come to with great ideas for our school district,” she said.

“Teachers come to us with so much enthusiasm for special projects,” Cassar said. She mentioned a hydration water filling station and a cell culture lab at the high school as a couple of her favorite projects from recent years.

Some other grants listed on the foundation’s website include a freshwater ecosystem pond at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School last May and a donation to the school district’s athletic department that included a three-dimensional climbing wall, a defibrillator and a new shell (a boat used for crew) for the crew team in 2013.

In 2015, HFEE funded grants for a gem stonecutter at the high school, a 3D printer for J. Taylor Finley Middle School and other projects totaling more than $40,000.

Teachers in the Huntington school district understand how lucky they are to have a support system like HFEE that allows them to come forward with creative ideas that often receive funding.

“It’s huge,” Maryann Daly, an employee of the Huntington school district for 33 years, said about the support both financially and creatively that she receives from HFEE. She estimated that she has personally written about $60,000 worth of grants over the years. “It’s what the association between parents and teachers is all about,” she said.

Daly is the chairperson of the district’s SEARCH program, which stands for Scholastic Enrichment and Resource for Children in Huntington. The program is designed to provide hands-on group instruction for the most gifted and talented of the district’s students.

Daly’s job involves implementing a creative curriculum meant to enrich and supplement traditional education, so the assistance that she has received from HFEE and the ability to spread those creative and enriching ideas to the whole district is irreplaceable, she said. Daly said that her position forces her to “think outside the box,” and that is never an issue for HFEE.

One of Daly’s favorite grants was funded by HFEE in 2004. The $15,200 grant replaced the district’s old Starlab, or a portable planetarium, with a brand new one. Another program, which started in 2004 and continued through 2014, allowed fourth-grade students to receive two one-hour lessons from the New York Hall of Science in preparation for a standardized test.

“The Huntington Foundation is absolutely amazing,” Tracey McManus, a teacher at Jack Abrams and an employee of the district for 15 years, said in an email this week. “They have helped me incorporate such unbelievable experiences for my students.” McManus cited a grant for an incubator used to hatch ducks and a grant in 2014 for the pond where she later saw ducks swimming as a couple of her favorite projects funded by HFEE.

Brian Reynolds, an employee of the Huntington school district for 25 years and a current technology teacher at the high school, fondly remembered the “smile from ear to ear” on a student who won a car race on a track for CO2 cars in front of his entire lunch period. He said the boy was virtually skipping through the halls for days after. Reynolds said it was the first thing the boy ever won in his life.

“It is a very exciting year for the Huntington Foundation for Excellence in Education,” Cassar said, looking forward to the 2015-16 school year. “We are all so thrilled to pass the $1 million mark in what we have funded for the school district.”

The foundation offers a few different types of grants to teachers in the district for special classroom enhancement projects, in addition to one $1,000 scholarship for a graduating senior and one scholarship for a lucky sixth-grader interested in a three-day environmental camp, according to the HFEE website.

For more information or to donate to HFEE visit www.huntingtonfoundation.org.

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Nick Fanti turns down Marist College scholarship after agreeing to terms with Philadelphia Phillies

Nick Fanti hurls a pitch during the Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Alex Petroski

Hauppauge graduate and star left-handed pitcher Nick Fanti, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 MLB Draft, agreed to terms on a contract with the club this week. He chose to forgo an opportunity to play at Marist College on a baseball scholarship, and will instead begin his minor league career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, Philadelphia’s rookie-ball affiliate.

Fanti said the decision was very tough on him, but he’s confident he made the right one.

“I really felt at home at Marist and comfortable with the coaches and players that I was going there with, but in the end, I followed my heart and made a decision that I wanted to make,” he said.

Hauppauge head coach Josh Gutes was thrilled with his former player’s decision.

“Since he was a little kid, all he’s wanted to do was play baseball for a living, and now he’s going to get the opportunity to do so,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision at first, because of Nick’s loyalty to Marist, but he had the chance to pursue his dream and he’s going to do everything he can to make that dream come true.”

Fanti had an outstanding senior season for the Eagles. He went 7-1, with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts over 52 innings. He also threw two consecutive no-hitters. Fanti won the 2015 Carl Yastrzemski award as Suffolk County’s best player, and started on the mound for the Suffolk County team in the Grand Slam Challenge, Long Island’s annual Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“I would have probably fainted from excitement,” Fanti said about the thought of his 10-year-old self receiving the news that one day he’d be a professional baseball player. “I can remember being told by teachers to stop writing and drawing about baseball during projects because that’s all I ever thought about, and still think about.”

Fanti grew up in a family of lifelong New York Yankees fans, though his Dad, Nick Fanti Sr., said in an interview in June, following draft day, that wearing a Phillies uniform one day wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Fanti Sr. said. “He’s going to make it anywhere he goes.”

The Phillies organization declined requests for comment, pending Fanti’s signing becoming official this week.

Fanti said on Twitter Monday night that he was “ready for this challenge” of taking on professional competition, which is obviously a step up from the high school competition that he’s used to, and the college competition that he bypassed.

Being selected in the MLB Draft, especially in the 31st round or later is far from a guarantee that an opportunity will present itself for a young player in the Big Leagues. However, New York Mets legends Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez were both selected far later in their respective drafts than Fanti. Left-handed pitcher Kenny Rogers had stints with both the Mets and Yankees, and he was selected in the 39th round.

Some other notable 31st round picks include pitchers Scott Erickson [1990] and Pedro Feliciano [1995], who both played for the Mets and Yankees in their careers. Erickson went in the 31st round in his fourth time being in the MLB draft. Sean Gillmartin, a southpaw currently on the Mets’ roster, was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft, although he was again drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A few Major League all-stars also got their start in the Gulf Coast League over the last decade. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen each played full seasons in the GCL.

After the Grand Slam Challenge game in June, before he had made his decision, Fanti said how different it would be playing alongside strangers as opposed to his teammates from Hauppauge, who became his best friends. Fanti will have no trouble making friends in the Phillies organization if he pitches for them anywhere near the way he did in high school.

Activists, politicians, volunteers taking closer look at declining population of Long Island’s ocean life

Horseshoe crabs have been on Earth for almost 500 million years, but their future is uncertain. Researchers like Matt Sclafani, a marine educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead, said he believes that the species is in an alarming decline.

“It’s a very important issue for a lot of reasons,” Sclafani said during a horseshoe crab monitoring session at West Meadow beach in Stony Brook on Monday night.

Horseshoe crabs are a valuable species to human life, Sclafani said. Their blue blood is used for pharmaceutical purposes. Fishermen use them as one of the most effective sources of bait that exists.

Sclafani called Delaware Bay the epicenter for horseshoe crab spawning activity, with Long Island coming in as a close second as one of the most important areas to the species on the East Coast, he said.

Sclafani and his team of volunteers take to the local shores when the tides are low, usually in the middle of the night, to count and tag horseshoe crabs that come up to the shore to spawn. On Monday, Sclafani was joined by Frank Chin, the regular site coordinator for West Meadow beach, along with Grace Scalzo, a volunteer, and Karen Papa and her sons — 12-year-old Zachary and 8-year-old Jonah.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We get a lot of volunteers for this program,” Sclafani said. “That’s the part I think is really great, too. We get people involved in their backyards. There’s not a lot of marine life that you can get involved with and handle this directly — that comes right out onto the beach for you without a net or fishing pole.”

In all, the team tagged 55 horseshoe crabs over the course of the night, though that is nothing compared to the night on the South Shore when Sclafani said he and a team of about 35 volunteers tagged about 800 crabs. The process requires measurement, drilling a small hole into the shell, and then applying a round tag that has tracking information on it which is recorded.

“I think the entire population up and down the East Coast is in trouble,” Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said of the horseshoe crab population in an interview last week. “It’s in trouble for a variety of reasons including people overfishing the population, but also certain birds, including the red knot, are particularly prone to using them as a food source.”

Sclafani said the consequences could be dire, if the crabs are not saved.

“Their eggs are really important to the ecosystem,” Sclafani said. “A lot of animals feed on them, including migratory shore birds.”

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) divulged plans to urge the Department of Environmental Conservation to expand restrictions on harvesting horseshoe crabs in May, to the chagrin of fishermen. Those plans have since been tabled.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” Ron Bellucci Jr. of Sound Beach said in an interview last month.

Horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income, he said. Local fishermen have also questioned the validity of claims about the declining population.

North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski
North Shore activists take to the waters to learn more about the area horseshoe crabs. Photo by Alex Petroski

The idea that the species may not be declining is not an encouraging sign to Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and distinguished service professor at SoMAS, Stony Brook. He is also the president of Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy and the Friends of Flax Pond, two environmental advocacy groups.

“We know in nature that things go up and down, and up and down, but you have to look at long-term trends; 10 years, 20 years,” Bowman said in an interview last week. “I’ve worked with fishermen a lot. They have to make a living, I understand that, but it’s important to keep communications between the scientists and say the fishermen with mutual respect, and that way we can learn a lot from them. We scientists are trained to have a long-term view. It’s not just this season, this summer, this breeding season. It’s a long-term view. I think that’s so important.”

More restricted areas, which Romaine is pushing for, could simply result in overharvesting in areas without restrictions, both Bowman and Sclafani said.

There has also been some experimentation with extracting the blue blood while the animal is still alive, then rereleasing them into the water. This process is called biomedical harvesting.

“That’s becoming a more and more controversial topic,” Sclafani said. “The biomedical companies have maintained that it’s a low mortality rate — about 10 percent … they might even be as high as 40 or 50 percent.”

He also mentioned that there are concerns about the horseshoe crabs’ spawning activity after this process is completed.

Bowman stopped short of saying that the extinction of the horseshoe crab would have a drastic impact on human life, but it’s not a good sign.

“I was reading some very important news that’s coming out about the extinction of species on the planet,” Bowman said. “Species are going extinct at a huge rate. The cumulative effect is going to have a very bad effect on human civilization, far greater than we can imagine. We only see a little piece of it.”