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Hingham’s McGuiggan settling in at short for North Shore Navigators

He’s playing summer ball closer to home

For Hingham’s Jake McGuiggan , it’s a summer all about baseball.

But at least this year, he doesn’t have to pay to play.

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McGuiggan, who just finished his sophomore year at Harvard with a team-best .352 average and .492 slugging percentage, spent last summer in Watertown, N.Y. playing in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, where he lived with a host family and dropped roughly $750 for a league entry fee.

It’s a commitment that takes up anywhere from seven to 12 hours a day, plus travel time, six days a week. It’s rare to find a player holding a job simultaneously. This summer though, McGuiggan doesn’t have to worry about that while playing for the Lynn-based North Shore Navigators of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

Not only does McGuiggan get to stay local, living in Marblehead for the summer, he didn’t have to pay a thing to play.

No host family to stay with. No long road trips through upstate New York.

His mind is at ease. Instead, he is thinking about improving his footwork at shortstop and rediscovering his swing with a wood bat.

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“It’s kind of like a minor league atmosphere,” McGuiggan said. “You’re playing every night, showing up early, meeting new guys, playing a long schedule, a little over two months. It’s a great experience as a local kid from the South Shore being able to enjoy it up on the North Shore.”

McGuiggan wasn’t quite ready to play in the Cape Cod League — widely considered the best summer college league in the country — though Harvard coach Joe Walsh estimates that with another good year at Harvard, the shortstop could spend next summer on the Cape.

And before the Navigators opened shop this summer, just the second year of the FCBL’s existence, McGuiggan would have needed a home in the New England Collegiate Baseball League or find another one even farther away from his family in Hingham.

Despite its name, the NECBL teams carry rosters with players from all over the country. Aside from the New Bedford Bay Sox, there isn’t a squad in the 10-team league with more than five players from Massachusetts.

When the FCBL approached college coaches last summer, the message was simple: This will be a league for locals. At least half of every team’s 30-man roster must be composed of players from New England or playing for a New England-based college.

“I spent 10 years coaching in the Cape, and the toughest thing about a summer league is everyone wants the kid from the big-name school,” said Walsh.

“Arizona, Miami — you name it. For some of the local kids in summer ball it can be a little difficult. One of the big things we want our guys doing over the summer is playing every day. I’d much rather see Jake in [the FCBL] playing every day than getting a few ground balls in the ninth inning down in the Cape.”

McGuiggan has found a home with the Navigators, who play a 54-game schedule over nine weeks, playing just less than six games a week. There’s no time for practice. And it allows for a much different development.

“It’s those adjustments you have to make on the fly and per at-bat,” said Navigators assistant Jon Cahill, who played parts of three seasons in the Anaheim Angels minor league system.

“These pitchers Jake is facing — he didn’t see that every day at the college level. Now you’re seeing everyone’s No. 1 as opposed to seeing a one, two and three. He’ll go back to college and be above and beyond.”

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, McGuiggan may not have the look of a natural shortstop. He describes himself as tall and lanky and his footwork may not be as quick as most, but his coaches say he makes up for it with smooth hands and instinctive ability.

And McGuiggan’s swing was so hot at Harvard this spring that Brown coach Marek Drabinski told Walsh after one series, “We don’t know how to get him out.”

His professionalism and quiet leadership has also gotten the attention of Norwood’s Richie Hebner, an 18-year Major League Baseball veteran who returned after two years away from baseball to manage the Navigators this summer.

Hebner thinks the sky is the limit for the former four-year varsity player at Hingham High.

“I was [coaching] in the minors 16 years — you see a lot of kids just work their [tails] off and all of a sudden they have five, six years in the big leagues because they work hard,” Hebner said.

“With Jake — who knows?

“There have been some scouts at our games and they watch him. We take infield [practice] and I tell them, ‘Take infield like you mean it. You see scouts writing things — they aren’t writing down the shopping list from their wives.”

“If scouts keep following Jake and he makes progress, who knows?”

O’Neil swims strong at Olympic Trials

Abington High rising senior Colleen O’Neil knocked it out of the park at the US Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha last week, posting a 2:20.57 mark in the 200-meter medley, jumping from 120th to 75th in the national seeding. A time of 2:15.75 would have qualified her for the semifinals.

“A really good swim, we’re really happy with it,” said her swim coach, Marshall Goldman . “Especially because our focus is more toward Junior Nationals at the end of the summer. This is exactly where we needed to be.”

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@yahoo.com.

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