Nighthawks Notebook: It’s a Wait-and-See Game for All-Star

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Grayson Padgett heads for third against visiting Keene on June 25, 2016. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2017 11:10:17 PM
Modified: 5/20/2017 11:10:18 PM

University of Houston outfielder Grayson Padgett was one of two players to re-sign with the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Upper Valley Nighthawks after stints with the team last summer. Unfortunately, the team will have to wait a little while before again seeing the 2016 NECBL All-Star in a Nighthawks uniform.

Padgett, a sophomore, has been dealing with pain in his right knee since the middle of the college season, which trainers say may be a meniscus issue. Padgett won’t go for tests until after Houston’s season is over, and he could spend several weeks healing up, depending on its severity.

On top of it, the Cougars (34-19) are riding a strong season that could put them in a strong position in the NCAA tournament, which overlaps with the beginning of the NECBL season and could push Padgett’s availability back even further.

The question is no longer when Nighthawks fans will see Padgett this summer, but whether they will see him at all. Either way, the power hitter won’t be available when the Nighthawks open their season on Friday, June 9, on the road against the Newport Gulls.

“We’re waiting until after the season to really get it checked out,” Padgett said over the phone on Friday. “I’ll definitely be late. It just depends on how far we go (in the NCAA tournament). If we make a good run, I won’t be able to make it all. I can’t say for sure yet.”

Padgett batted .328 for Upper Valley last summer with 20 hits, three home runs and seven RBIs in 18 games after a relatively light workload as a freshman at Houston — 19 games and 20 at-bats. He was one of three Nighthawks who played in the 2016 NECBL All-Star Game, but returned to Texas soon after to tend to a nagging back injury that kept him out of the lineup.

This spring, Padgett has started 43 games for the Cougars with 172 at-bats. He’s batting .291 with 50 hits, 34 runs scored and 29 RBIs with Houston engaged in its final series of the regular season, against former Nighthawk Jarod Yoakam and the University of Cincinnati.

Padgett also is one of four outfielders currently signed to the Upper Valley roster, along with former Winnipesaukee Muskrat and fellow 2016 NECBL All-Star Anthony Godino.

“I love the area, I love the team. The coaches were awesome. The family I stayed with was incredible,” Padgett said of his Nighthawks experience last summer. “There was no reason to go anywhere else. Even if I finished the season last year, I would have wanted to come back.

“I’d love to play in the summer,” he added. “I’ll get it checked out this summer. It depends on how bad (my knee) is.”

Construction has not yet begun on a $50,000 press box and concession stand at the Maxfield Sports Complex with a little less than three weeks to go before the Nighthawks play their first home game on June 10 against the North Adams SteepleCats.

Nighthawks general manager Noah Crane said the team received a zoning permit from the town on Wednesday. Upper Valley is still waiting for a construction permit and is hoping to break ground on the two-story structure by next week.

“We want to get it up as fast as we possibly can,” Crane said on Friday. “Hopefully, we’ll have it up pretty darn close to opening day, if not the week after. We’ll definitely have it up by the middle of June.”

Crane also said colder weather in April also slowed the construction process. The Nighthawks raised $25,000 via donations for the addition to Maxfield, which was matched by the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation to fully finance the project. Early estimates said that construction would take about a month to complete.

“We’re hoping we can turn it around quicker than that,” Crane said.

Much of the college baseball world rounded up its regular season this weekend before beginning conference playoffs next week, and many future and former Nighthawks left marks on their respective teams.

Perhaps none have had a better season than St. Joseph’s University shortstop Matt Maul, who was known more for his defensive ability in the Nighthawks’ infield last summer than his prowess at the plate. In 25 games for Upper Valley, Maul put together 21 hits, six RBIs and a .221 batting average before returning home to Glen Mills, Pa., to have surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. He spent the fall in recovery, missing off-season workouts, but has returned to the diamond with a vengeance.

The junior infielder evolved through 40 games this spring. He held a team-leading .346 average with 56 hits before St. Joseph’s final series vs. George Washington. Teammate Charlie Concannon batted .266 in 38 starts, but is tied for the team-lead with 28 RBIs. Brian Lau played 30 games at catcher with a .212 average with 25 hits and 15 runs, and was 3-1 on the mound with a 4.64 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 11 appearances and 21⅓ innings of work.

Saint Louis University’s Trent Leimkuehler has found similar success coming off of a quad injury that limited his playing time with the Nighthawks last summer. The senior led the Billikens with a .335 average with 65 hits and 20 doubles. He also was second on the team with 36 RBIs. Catcher James Morisano led Saint Louis with 10 home runs and held a .293 batting average through 42 games.

Matt Toke, a Seton Hall infielder currently on the Nighthawks 2017 roster, led the offensively minded Pirates with a .295 average. Al Molina, who played 38 games for the Nighthawks last summer, led the team with 13 doubles. Molina also had 47 hits, 23 runs and 21 RBIs in 46 games.

Mercer’s Alex Hanson had a solid season with a 41 runs, 58 hits, 34 RBIs and a .333 average in 47 games after transferring from St. Petersburg College. Iona’s Bill Maier was 7-4 through 11 starts with a 2.74 ERA for the Gaels. Joey Denison, an NECBL All-Star for the Nighthawks last summer, played in only 17 games for Troy, and had 13 hits and nine RBIs in his senior season. Infielder Matt Sanders, also currently on the Upper Valley roster, led the Trojans with 48 runs scored. He also had a .300 batting average with 66 hits, 10 doubles and two home runs in 52 games, though the Nighthawks’ 2017 roster is still a work in progress.

University of North Carolina-Wilmington second baseman Brian Mims led the team with a .323 average and 64 hits. Zack Canada played in only 26 games. Ryan Jeffers, one of three catchers signed to the Nighthawks’ 2017 roster, was third on the team with a .303 average. He also had 50 hits, 36 runs, 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in 46 games.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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