Teammates turned roommates for summer ball

Nick Alfonso calls himself a “homegrown, Tampa boy.”

And while he said leaving his family and girlfriend behind in Tampa in early June wasn’t easy, having a familiar face made it better.

Each season USF coach Lelo Prado decides who should play in a summer baseball league. This summer, he placed Alfonso, entering his sophomore year, and Austin Lueck, entering his junior year, roughly 15 miles off the boarder of Canada to play ball in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

Now 15 games into their summer season with the Watertown Rams in New York, Alfonso said Lueck has made the summer better.

“Going away from home for two months is something I’ve never done before,” Alfonso said. “What made the transition easier was having Austin here.”

And Lueck isn’t just there for Alfonso on the field either.

As a kid, Lueck traveled to New York every summer and stay in his parents’ summer home — the home where he, and now Alfonso, are now staying in.

“He’s been kind of like my brother,” Lueck said. “I pretty much adopted him.”

Alfonso said he looks at the new living arrangement as a learning experience.

“Now that we’re in a different area, we rely on one another more heavily,” Alfonso said. “We were already friends before, but now we’re around people that we don’t really know. We can turn to each other for advice on the field and things of that sort of nature. Then the whole aspect of living with him and waking up in the morning and having to drive to the field with him, so we’re good friends now.”

Lueck said he’s gotten to know Alfonso in a humorous light.

“You learn a lot more about each other,” Lueck said. “In Tampa we hung out every now and then but living with him you get to know some of his habits. It’s pretty funny.”

Fun aside, baseball is baseball.

After a recent loss, their coach realized that some of the players are treating the experience more like a vacation and less like another season. Both Lueck, who is now in his second year of summer ball, and Alfonso, in his first, agree.

“The mindset a lot of guys have is that it’s just summer ball,” Lueck said. “But the whole point is to get better.”

This is a mindset that’s a bit difficult for Alfonso to wrap his mind around, he said.

Now, with 30 games to go in the season, he’s starting to look at this as more of a “business trip.”

“If you can find a way to get
better mentally and physically you’ve done something this
summer,” Alfonso said. “The
biggest thing for me is my mental game, trying to work and fix on my mental game and I can’t treat it like a vacation in order to get better.”

The schedule certainly doesn’t look like a vacation.

Lueck said apart from a few rainouts, there have been games every day — games that draw up to 900 fans.

“Traveling around to different parks and seeing these crowds is impressive,” Alfonso said. “These people really like their baseball and it makes the atmosphere really fun.”

The two Bulls-turned-Rams are also seeing familiar faces in their competition.

Juniors Buddy Putnam and Blake Sydeski are both in the same summer league on a
different team, and while Alfonso said he sees it as a chance to show these his USF teammates that he can play, Lueck takes a humorous approach.

“It’s hard not laugh at first,” Lueck said. “But they know what you can do and they know what you’re abilities are. Still, it’s kind of funny.”

If the Rams make the playoffs, the summer league could go until early August. While Lueck may see the humor in some cases and though he said that summer ball feels more relaxing, he also said it feels like another season of baseball.

Alfonso, said though he was skeptical at first, he has seen the benefit.

“It’s an experience and it’s something where if you’re in college baseball, it’s highly recommended,” he said. “I was hesitant at first but now that I’ve done it, I’m really happy, I do feel that I’ve gotten better and I’ve learned some things about the game. That’s what makes it fun.”