NEW BEDFORD — A young New Bedford Bay Sox fan stood in front of the home team’s dugout and waited quietly to be noticed.
“Will you sign this?” he asked sheepishly.
Carl Anderson smiled. “Sure,” the Sudbury resident said, signing a program as though he had done it many times before, adding his No. 2 at the end with a quick swipe of a black marker, like the pros do.
A moment later, the same fan — one of about a dozen on the field after a Bay Sox 6-5 win over the Plymouth Pilgrims last week — approached Lexington High grad Chris Shaw and nabbed another autograph. He chose wisely. Anderson and Shaw were two of the team’s four New England Collegiate Baseball League all-star selections this summer.
“It’s pretty cool,” Anderson said of the fan attention. “It makes you feel like a little bit bigger deal. Like you’re important.”
‘Without those two, we don’t win.’
In the NECBL, one of the best wooden bat summer leagues this side of Cape Cod, Anderson and Shaw have meant everything to the Bay Sox lineup. As of midweek, Anderson was hitting .314 with a home run, 13 RBIs, nine steals and 21 runs scored. Shaw was hitting .300, tied for second in the league with four home runs, and third in the league with 25 RBIs.
Shaw was named to the league’s home run derby last weekend, which took place before he and Anderson played in front of about 40 big-league baseball scouts in the NECBL’s all-star game in Laconia, N.H.
“Without those two,” said the Bay Sox manager, Rick Miller , “we don’t win.”
Miller believes that both players have potential to be good professional ballplayers if they continue to develop during their college years. He would know; he spent 15 years in the majors, including 12 with the Red Sox. In 1978, he won a Gold Glove as a center fielder with the California Angels.
“Carl has made big strides,” said Miller, who also coached Anderson last summer with the Bay Sox. “He’s making better contact more consistently now. When he stays disciplined, he’s a very good hitter. He’s probably a pro prospect if he continues to improve.”
On Shaw he added, “I think he’s got a major-league swing. He’s got a beautiful swing. He’s got to be a little more disciplined at the plate, but that comes with experience. He drives the ball in the gaps. He hits the ball to left center and to right center. If he continues to do that, he’s a prospect. He has a lot of upside.”
College players flock to the NECBL from schools around the country; they stay with host families while honing their skills in places like North Adams, Newport, R.I. and Montpelier, Vt. The Bay Sox roster lists players from Duke, West Virginia, UCLA, and Harvard, among other schools.
Before arriving in New Bedford this summer, Anderson, who graduated from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High in 2011, dominated the Northeast Conference as a sophomore at Bryant University. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound outfielder hit .341 and was named to the All-NEC first team.
Shaw, a 6-foot-3, 251-pound first baseman who graduated from Lexington High last year, hit .165 during his freshman year at Boston College this spring but led the team in home runs (6), tied for the team lead in games played (50), and was second on the team with 19 RBIs.
Anderson will be eligible for next spring’s Major League Baseball draft for first-year players. Shaw was taken in the 26th round by the New York Mets last year, but after opting to attend BC won’t be draft eligible again until 2015.
Both players know that the NECBL has provided them an experience that is something close to what they might see as minor leaguers if they get that opportunity. They play almost every night, they endure long trips to places like Saratoga, N.Y., and Sanford, Maine, and almost all of their focus is on baseball.
“The fact that it’s all baseball all the time, it kind of energizes me,” Shaw said. “I don’t have to worry about getting my schoolwork done, I can just focus on playing. It’s not too bad.”
When Shaw and Anderson have a home game on the schedule, they work out at Revolution Fitness in New Bedford and then arrive at Paul Walsh Field about three hours before the first pitch.
When they travel, they meet their teammates at the local Walgreens parking lot and pile into a coach bus where they watch movies (“The Town” starring Ben Affleck is a staple), listen to music (Anderson has recently become a fan of country star Jason Aldeen), or sleep (Shaw’s favorite pastime on the bus).
At some stadiums, they are celebrities for a night. Games in Laconia and Newport can attract a few thousand spectators.
In New Bedford, players are well known by many of the 200 or 300 fans who support the team. Last week against Plymouth, young fans knew player names without looking at roster sheets, and shouted words of encouragement between bites of ice cream and sips of soda.
“Just the experience of being a part of a team like this in a community that really embraces the team is really pretty cool,” said Bay Sox infielder Curtiss Pomeroy of Shrewsbury, who will be a sophomore at Georgetown.
It can feel like a grind, too, especially after playing a long college season and quickly transitioning to a 42-game regular-season summer schedule. By the time it’s over, some players have only a few weeks off before returning to college to start fall workouts.
“It gets overwhelming at times,” Anderson admitted. “Especially now that we’re down toward the end. It gets repetitive because you’ve been doing it for so long you feel like you might need a day off. But I play baseball. That’s what I like to do. It’s what I chose to do, and it’ll be helpful in the end.”
Both Anderson and Shaw insist that, if anything, this summer has only reinforced their conviction that they would like to be spending their springs and summers traveling on buses from one diamond to the next, pursuing their dreams professional baseball.
“I’m my happiest when I’m playing baseball on the field,” Shaw said. “If I could make that into a career, that’d be a dream come true. And if this summer is an indication of how I’m going to feel playing minor league ball, then I’m really excited.”
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.