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Baseball

The Futures League has become the must-play destination for New England’s top baseball talent

Sal Frelick of the North Shore Navigators celebrates after scoring a run against Worcester Bravehearts.
Sal Frelick of the North Shore Navigators celebrates after scoring a run against Worcester Bravehearts.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

LYNN — North Shore Navigators center fielder Sal Frelick believes this year’s Futures League season will be a showcase for the collegiate talent in New England.

With the Cape Cod League and the New England Collegiate Baseball League canceling their seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the area’s top players are in the Futures League, which began the second week of its season Tuesday night when the Navigators held their home opener against the Worcester Bravehearts at Fraser Field.

Former Globe All-Scholastics Nate Espelin (Belmont/University of Dayton), Cam Seguin (Austin Prep/UMass Lowell), Tom Chmielewski (Needham/Princeton), Peter Burns (Austin Prep/Boston College), Logan Bravo (Austin Prep/Harvard), and Jake McElroy (North Andover/Holy Cross) are on the Navigators’ roster, as teams across the league are seeing an uptick in Division 1 talent this summer.

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“With the cancellation of all the other leagues, this is the go-to place right now,” said Frelick, a rising junior at Boston College who was the Globe’s 2018 Athlete of the Year after a standout football and baseball career at Lexington High. “All the kids, especially the New England kids, are trying to get into this league. It’s highly competitive and it’s cool to see this going off in New England and see all the local talent.”

The Futures League, the only wooden-bat, collegiate-level league operating in New England this summer, consists of teams in Lynn, Brockton, Worcester, Westfield, Nashua, N.H., and New Britain, Conn. The league opened its 39-game regular season last Thursday with games in Nashua and New Britain and limited fans in attendance.

The Navigators and the Brockton Rox planned on having crowds attend Tuesday’s home openers after Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan launched Monday. But the league found out late Monday night that a new restriction placed by Governor Charlie Baker banned fans from attending sporting events where players are 18 or older.

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Some at Fraser Field watched the game through the left field fence, while others sat on lawn chairs and blankets on the grass hill in right field. The four Massachusetts teams hope fans can enter ballparks in the coming weeks.

Erin Clark/Globe Staff

“It is frustrating and it was a complete surprise,” said Navigators general manager Derek January. “But when you take a step back and look at it, there’s a reason why Massachusetts is in such good shape compared to the rest of the country. Who can really argue what the governor has instituted?”

Inside Fraser Field, it was business as usual. The three umpires stood in their usual spots, and with no face coverings. When Burns trotted home from second base to tie the score, 2-2, in the Navigators’ 8-3 win, he was greeted with high-fives from his teammates. Players and coaches practiced social distancing in the dugout and some Braveheart players worse masks on the bench.

“I think the teams in the league have done a great job up to this point and we are all excited to be out here playing baseball,” said Bravehearts manager Alex Dion. “Hopefully, this summer brings a lot of fun and enjoyment to the communities and gives the players an opportunity to grow and develop. I think this will promote our league and help us get better players in the future.”

January, who is in his first year running the Navigators, said he had to release 25 players on the team’s initial roster because they came from out of state and needed host families, a request that was not feasible during the pandemic.

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The loss of those players, combined with the cancellation of other leagues, opened the door for players such as Frelick and BC teammate Cody Morissette to join the Navigators. Both were set to play on the Cape this summer and are projected early-round picks in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft.

Worcester Bravehearts players wore masks while standing in the dugout.
Worcester Bravehearts players wore masks while standing in the dugout.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Futures League commissioner Joe Paolucci emphasized that safety is the top priority this summer. The regular season is set to conclude on Aug. 19, and the top two teams will then face off in a best-of-three championship series.

Every player and staff member must have their temperatures taken before entering the ballpark each day. The league said it will adhere to advice of medical professionals if positive cases spike.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t feel like we had a really good plan in place to keep people safe,” said Paolucci. “We’re always going to do what we think the right thing is and do what is best for the kids. I think the season is going to be great and we’re going to continue to bring Futures League baseball to our communities.”

LYNN - 7/7/2020: North Shore Navigators player Jonathan Luders heaed to third base with Sal Frelick close behind.
LYNN - 7/7/2020: North Shore Navigators player Jonathan Luders heaed to third base with Sal Frelick close behind.Erin Clark/Globe Staff