Stars trying to build future Major Leaguers

Some of college baseball’s finest players assembled in Catawba County for another season of the Catawba Valley Stars baseball team.

The Stars, which consist of college baseball players from different schools around the country, play in the Carolina Virginia Collegiate Summer Baseball League. The team has been in existence for more than 20 years.

The league consists of eight teams, and the Stars play a grueling schedule of 65 games in 75 days.

Also on the Stars’ schedule are non-league teams from the Coastal Plains League, Independent League and MLB Rookie League.

Marvin Speaks, owner and coach for the Stars, has been involved with the team since 1982.

“For us, these players have to be recommended by their college coach or a professional scout to play in our league,” Speaks said. “It is a group of kids that have the ability and the talent, but are borderline on getting to that next level. Some of them are junior college players, some are Div. II players and some are Div. I players.”

Players must have a year of eligibility remaining to play in the league, but a rule enstated five years ago allows each team to use two roster spots for senior players in their last year of eligibility.

“We save those spots for kids that are borderline,” Speaks said. “There is a possibility they will be drafted and a possibility they won’t be drafted. It gives those kids one last chance to be picked up by the end of the season.”

This year’s squad includes players from New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Indiana, California, Virginia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico.

Coty Pate, who plays baseball for Mars Hill, is returning for his second season with the Stars.

He said he’s seen improvement in his play.

“In my first two years playing junior college baseball, I hit seven home runs,” Pate said. “I came here last year, coach Speaks helped me with my hitting, and I hit six home runs with a wood bat in the summer compared to seven with a metal bat in two years. He’s helped a lot with my hitting.”

Some of the players have tried to become adjusted to a tough training regiment, and climates and environments they may not be used to.

“I’m from Canada,” said Zach Fernandez, who plays for Urbana University. “So I’m used to the cold. Coming down here and doing these workouts like I’ve never done before with the heat takes it out of you.”

During each of the Stars’ doubleheaders played, Speaks plays more than 20 players on the team to give each of them a chance at playing time and exposure.

“The players are here to play and get better,” Speaks said. “In my opinion, they don’t get that way unless they are in the game playing. We learn a lot in practice, but they still have to get their playing time on the field.”

Speaks said he hopes each of his players will grow from their experiences from this team.

“They will be here until the first week of August,” Speaks said. “Then they will go back home, get ready to go back to school and hopefully, they will be better ball players on account of this.”