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Ward Melville's Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

When Ben Brown was 2 years old he’d break windows throwing baseballs, dreaming of being drafted by a Major League Baseball team. Now, the 6-foot, 6-inch Ward Melville pitcher is living that dream. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round on the third and final day of the MLB Amateur Draft.

He watched and waited as the names rolled by. He wasn’t shocked, but the suspense was killing him.

“When I found out, it was such a relief,” Brown said. “I jumped up really high and I gave my mom a big hug. It’s such an incredible blessing.”

Ward Melville sophomore pitcher Ben Brown hurls a pitch from the mound in the Patriots’ 6-0 game three loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on June 4. Photo by Bill Landon

The stress of waiting was almost too much for his mother. She contemplated going to visit her father to take her mind off the stress.

“I’ve been watching this pot too long,” Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown said as she got ready to walk out the door.

Urged to stay, she decided to pull laundry off the line instead, and sat down with her iPad to watch the draft ticker. Moments later, she heard him scream.

“I heard him screaming before I even saw his name pop up,” she said, laughing. “Luckily I was still here. It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball. He did it, and I never doubted he could.”

Brown amassed a 15-3 record over his career as a Patriot, tied for second on the school’s all-time wins list. He went 7-0 during the regular season in his sophomore year, and after a loss in the playoffs, went 3-0 to start his junior year.

He hadn’t given up a single run, but then an unexpected challenge put his resolve to the test.

Brown’s appendix burst, and he needed emergency surgery. He lost 20 pounds during his setback.

“He was very, very sick,” Wilson-Brown said. “He thought he had struggles before that, and to come out even stronger and more determined, I think that’s why we’re here today.”

During his time away from the mound, the strength Wilson-Brown saw in her son is why she said she knows he has what it takes to climb the ranks and make it to the big leagues.

“It was a magical, magical moment. This has been my son’s dream since the day he was born. He just wanted to play ball.”

—Jo-Anne Wilson-Brown

“Dreams do come true,” she said. “This kid has been holding onto that dream for dear life, all of his life, and someone watching as closely as I could, as a parent — he’s a good boy with a good heart and this is so much-deserved.”

Ward Melville head coach Lou Petrucci saw it, too.

“It was a long road for him and he had to work hard,” he said. “Everybody roots for Ben. He’s just a good kid and he’s done a good job.”

The sight of scouts is nothing new at Ward Melville, so when they came to see Brown, he relished it.

“I think every game I pitch in is a big game, but with the scouts there it made everything intensified,” he said. “Every little mistake was a big mistake, and I had to be on my best all the time. I really liked that.”

Petrucci said he liked how it lit up the rest of the team.

“Ben’s a gamer,” he said, laughing. “Ben’s a competitor. Would he get excited when the scouts were there? Sure. But I think the people that were most excited about having the scouts there were his teammates, because they love Ben.”

The two-year captain follows in the footsteps of Ward Melville draftees Anthony Kay in 2016 and Steve Matz in 2009. He pitched in front of Matz during a training session with Petrucci in seventh grade, before Matz was called up to pitch for the New York Mets. He was 6 feet tall then.

“I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

— Ben Brown

“They’re two really great people, and it’s really cool to be in the same ranks as Anthony Kay and Steven Matz,” Brown said. “We have a phenomenal program, and it’s no surprise guys are getting drafted. Lou has been through it all and he really guided me through this process.”

Petrucci actually first met Brown when he was in his class at Minnesauke Elementary School. After seeing him go 7-0 in his sophomore season, he knew his pitcher was on his way to a standout high school career. He watched Brown top out at 92 mph his senior season and have a strong showing in front of the Phillies brass two weeks before the draft, and he knew success was only a few picks away.

“We knew it was coming,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”

Now it’s only a matter of time before Brown is in the major leagues, the head coach said. As the youngest player picked by the Phillies — born Sept. 9, 1999 — Petrucci noted Brown could pitch three years in the minor leagues and still be a teenager.

“I think his determination and dedication to baseball is what sets him apart from the average high school pitcher,” Petrucci said. “If he signs and forgoes college, he’ll be in the big leagues in five years. No question in my mind.”

Commack’s Jesse Berardi and Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell were also selected by the Phillies this year. Morrell, the second player to win back-to-back Yasterzemski Awards — given to the best player in Suffolk County — was picked in the 35th round. Morrell trained with Brown at Infiniti Performance in Port Jefferson Station.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

“Brian and I are really close,” he said. “He’s such a great kid. We actually joked about getting drafted to the same team, and we didn’t think it would happen.”

Brown has committed to play baseball at Siena College in Albany, but after being drafted, he’s more determined than ever.

“It makes me more motivated to become a better baseball player,” he said. “I don’t think I’m really that good yet, so the fact that they see something in me makes me want to work even harder.”

His mother said she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“This is his dream — How do you take that away from a kid?” Wilson-Brown said. “We couldn’t even consider. The joy in this house that day was something I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget that moment.”

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contract. If a player opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years. But Petrucci is already dreaming up Matz or Kay versus Brown scenarios.

“They’re making baseball relevant—it’s nice to see Long Island baseball get the recognition it deserves,” Petrucci said. “To see these kids pursue their dreams and have their dreams unfold right before our very eyes, that’s what you want to see. We all work to see kids realize their dreams, and Ben Brown was the next in line.”

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a 24-2 record and Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. Last week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

“An absolute honor to be drafted by the Phillies today,” Morrell posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of the people who have supported me over my baseball career.”

The feared slugger batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs while scoring 37 runs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. His first loss didn’t come until the Long Island championship game against Wantagh. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Willi had his iPad close by at all times once the draft was underway. He cleaned out his coach’s office at the high school, did chores around the house, and finally, his young sensation’s name came across the screen. He gasped.

“This is awesome,” he shouted.

Willi was supposed to be having a birthday dinner with his family, after foregoing a birthday celebration the night before to attend the player awards dinner, but it had to be put off for at least another night. He immediately picked up the phone to call all the coaches he knew.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

“It was a good birthday present,” Willi said of the back-to-back historic days for Shoreham-Wading River and for his 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander. “With each name that was posted I was keeping tabs. It’s exciting for him and it’s exciting for the program.”

Although Willi said it was expected, he added how interesting it was to see how the draft process works with a Notre Dame University-commit like Morrell, who has almost a full scholarship valued at nearly $300,000, according to Willi. Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

After seeing about five scouts at each game, Willi was waiting with anticipation for that special moment for his senior, but he didn’t expect that to be the case for Morrell, since the hurler has always stayed cool under pressure.

“Brian works his tail off, and he does the right thing,” Willi said. “The first couple times the scouts were out, the guys were a little awestruck, but Brian has always been team-first.”

Morrell had one of his biggest showings in a no-hitter against Bayport-Blue Point April 27. At least five scouts were in the stands to see him nail down 15 strikeouts with three walks while tossing the seven scoreless frames. He topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun. A scout who came from Massachusetts and got caught in traffic, according to Willi, only caught the last inning, though he still got to see Morrell comfortably throwing each pitch at 92 mph late in the game.

“It was good for the scouts to be there and see some of his best stuff,” Willi said. “[Being drafted had] been on his mind all season, but he never let it reflect on his performance or how he treated anyone. He didn’t try to throw 100 mph and not care if he wins the game — he never had that attitude. He always did what he needed to do to win the game. He was never selfish. He never tried to impress. He just wanted to win.”

Scouts were also impressed with his body of work.

Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round. Photo from St. John’s University athletics

Jarred Carrier, New York’s scouting director for Prep Baseball Report, dubbed Morrell New York’s Baseball Player of the Year.

“The 2017 high school season yielded many stellar individual performances across all corners of New York, but one player stood above the rest,” he said. “He delivered a statistically dominant season.”

Despite Morrell’s success, the 10-year coach and three-year varsity leader in no way takes credit for what his player has become.

“One of my coaching philosophies is that a player should be coached by many coaches,” Willi said. “One guy doesn’t have all the answers. There’s different strokes for different folks. Everybody had different body types, different talents, different skills in the game, and I think they should be exposed to many coaches. There’s a couple of things I taught Brian that he can take to the next level, and that makes me proud as a coach.”

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

“It’s sweet,” Willi said immediately upon hearing the news. “It’s really cool. To have coached six years total of varsity including assistant and head coach, I’ve had three players during that time get drafted that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell shows excitement following his two-run home run during a WIldcats win. Photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted by the Pirates and Julio Vega by the San Francisco Giants.

“He was a leader on the field,” Willi said of Tyler Osik, who played third base for the Wildcats. “He switched to catcher, which is interesting, because he’s followed the run of his father. He’s one of the Shoreham die-hard baseball kids. He loves the game, puts tons of effort into being the best and he did a good job listening to his coaches. I’m really happy to see his success.”

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft included Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, who was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact, but Morrell is already settling in as part of the Fighting Irish.

“To have that kind of recognition, us coaches are proud of any kind of professional looks that we get,” Willi said. “Brian got the opportunities that many kids dream of. It’s a big decision on what path you’re going to take, but I reassured him whatever path he takes, it’s going to be a fun one. If he keeps working hard he’s going to be successful.”

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, Mount Sinai's Michael Donadio among other Suffolk players taken this week

Shoreham-Wading River's Brian Morrell was selected in the Major League Baseball draft by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round. File photo by Bill Landon
Shoreham-Wading River’s Brian Morrell is a 6-foot, 1-inch right-handed pitcher who is committed to Notre Dame University. File photo by Bill Landon

It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.

After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. This week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.

To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.

The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.

Morrell batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.

An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.

Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik, who was recently playing for Chipola College in Florida, was selected by Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted to the Pirates and Julio Vega to the San Francisco Giants.

Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

The 6-foot, 1-inch pitcher is committed to attend the University of Notre Dame, and was hoping to hear his name called in earlier rounds, according to Shoreham-Wading River’s head coach Kevin Willi, but with the way the draft is set up with signing bonuses, especially in regards to college commits with big scholarships, it can be unpredictable when a player will be picked.

Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact. If Morrell opts not to sign and attend school instead, he will be eligible to be drafted again in three years.

Ward Melville’s Ben Brown was taken by Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft. File photo by Bill Landon

It’s also the second straight year a Shoreham player was drafted. Mike O’Reilly, a 2012 graduate and former Yastrzemski winner, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and is currently pitching for the Peoria Chiefs in Class A. The Phillies also drafted Hauppauge’s Nick Fanti, another Yastrzemski award winner, in 2015.

Ben Brown of Ward Melville was also selected by the Phillies Wednesday. The 6-foot, 6-inch right-handed pitcher was taken in the 33rd round.

Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft include Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.

St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season. Berardi posted a .356/.456/.462 slash line and earned first-team All Big East Conference honors. Three years ago, the 5-foot, 10-inch, 185-pound shortstop was taken out of high school in the 40the round by the Phillies.

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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.