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Remembering 2013: The Long Island Storm, an Atlantic League tradition few know about

The dreaded off-season has arrived.  But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, we look back at the annual formation of the Long Island Storm, a spring training barnstorming team made up primarily of Atlantic League players, who travel around Florida in March playing collections of MLB minor league players to prepare for the season. The most recent team featured three members of the 2013 York Revolution.

Revs players with LI Storm

Starting pitcher Nick Green, second baseman Andres Perez and relief pitcher Kris Regas.

By Darrell Henry

One of the challenges for players early in an Atlantic League season is short spring training.  Typically only 10 days in length, it allows just enough time to move into their new home, meet their new teammates, and mix in a few workouts and exhibition games, weather-permitting.  But one of the best spring traditions, and best kept secrets around the Atlantic League for that matter is the Long Island Storm, a travel team comprised of many familiar Atlantic League names, which travels around Grapefruit League spring training complexes each March in a series of exhibition games on the minor league fields.

An elite travel organization, the Storm Baseball Academy has teaching programs, a state-of-the-art indoor facility in West Hempstead, NY, and travel teams for all ages, from 8-under through 18-under, in addition to the professional team.  Each spring, the Atlantic League team, with a few local players to help fill out the roster, comes together for an annual spring training trip in Florida.

Revs pitching coach John Halama has taken part in past years to help get himself prepared for an upcoming season.  This spring, Andres Perez, Kris Regas, Nick Green, and former Revs right-hander Jason Richardson all suited up.

It may take a game or two to shake off the rust, but once the Storm gets rolling, it’s typically a rough go for their opponents.  Part of the 2013 tour included an 11-5 opening win against Blue Jays minor leaguers, a 3-1 win over a Phillies team, a 10-1 victory against Marlins prospects, and a 7-3 triumph against Mets hopefuls.

“I think more so than talent, it’s experience,” explained Regas as a reason for the Storm’s success.  “A lot of the teams that we’re playing out there are a younger group of kids, and in baseball that’s huge.  We have pitchers that can throw changeups or breaking balls whenever they want, and these guys aren’t really used to that.  We saw plenty of talented guys that we played against, but that experience factor is probably the big reason why our guys aren’t really having any trouble against those teams.”

The level of competition for the Storm varied, and was often based on which players in minor league camps needed extra at-bats or innings on the mound.  Admittedly, their opponents may take the Storm for granted, but quickly find out otherwise.

“They don’t know who we are,” said Regas.  “I mean, we’re rolling up in street clothes and then changing in the dugout, so I think they kind of look across the field and are like ‘who are we playing today,’ and then we go out and beat them 11-2 or something like that.  But one of the coaches from the Braves recognized some of our guys and started asking questions, so now next year when we go down there, we’ll play against a Braves team.”

In many cases, the chance to play for the Storm is a case of good networking, and who players know.  Southern Maryland right-hander Pete Sikaras, a teammate of Regas with Gary of the Northern League in 2006, helped put Storm manager Mike Leiderman in touch with Regas to recruit him, and in turn obtained the contact information for Perez to sign him up as well.  Many of Leiderman’s contacts come through Lancaster left-hander Ross Peeples, who is a veteran of the travel club.

The team has an All-Star feel to it, as players who are opponents throughout the summer team up and travel together for those 10 days.  Several Lancaster Barnstormers, rivals come the Atlantic League season, joined the aforementioned Revs on the 2013 Storm.  Among the Revs’ “War of the Roses” brethren were Peeples, Jerry Owens, Kevin Howard, Dwayne Pollok, Eric Wordekemper, Alan Johnson, and Lenny DiNardo.  Long Island Ducks star Ray Navarrete was part of the team again this year, as were Jake Fox from Somerset, Yusuf Carter from Bridgeport, and Sikaras, Gaby Hernandez, and Eduardo Morlan from Southern Maryland.

“Like (former Barnstormer) Fehlandt Lentini, seeing him on the field, I was like ‘man, I really don’t like that guy,’” joked Regas about the 2012 Atlantic League All-Star.  “Now having spent a week and a half with him, we’re pretty good friends and keep in touch with each other.  It’s funny how all of that changes.”

To arrive in Florida, the players all have separate flights and then shuttle over to the same hotel where they meet for the first time as a team.  Regas’ travel didn’t occur without complication, though.

“I, of course, missed my flight at 6 a.m. in Sioux Falls, so I actually traveled from about 6 a.m. until about 11 p.m.  I had two layovers, it was ridiculous.  I read the return itinerary which was a 6:35 a.m. departure.  I showed up around 6 a.m., walked up, there’s nobody in line, so I said ‘hi, I’m supposed to be going to Chicago, I’m on the 6:45 flight,’ and they said, ‘well we don’t have one, is your name Kris?’  And I said, ‘yeah, why?’  And they said, ‘well we’ve been calling for you for about 15 minutes, you missed your flight.’”

Once Regas finally arrived in the Sunshine State, however, it was smooth sailing with his new teammates.

“We’re kind of all over the state of Florida,” recalled the third-year Revs southpaw.  “We stayed in two places, Tampa and West Palm.  When we were in Tampa, we played three of the teams out there, and then our last day went to Lakeland to play a Tigers team.  Right after that game, we drove down to West Palm to finish the trip there.  It’s good travel though, van rides.  We got a bunch of minivans and just get a group of guys in one van, and it’s pretty fun conversation.  I got to know some guys that I wouldn’t have gotten to know before, so it’s a pretty good experience.”

The experience takes professionals back to their youth in a sense, playing the game for fun in a travel-ball setting, just like they did when they were kids.  The baseball community is indeed a tightly knit group, and when summer-long foes come together each spring for the Storm’s Florida tour, being teammates for 10 days has become one of the Atlantic League’s least talked about and best hidden traditions.

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