Swamp Bats

The 2019 Keene Swamp Bats players celebrate winning the championship against the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks.

The Keene Swamp Bats, whose 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are planning to defend their 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League championship starting June 4, 2021, team President Kevin Watterson said.

“What I will assure you is … we fully are 100 percent focused on playing the 2021 season,” Watterson said. “I think we and summer collegiate baseball learned a lot this past season in terms of how we can all manage COVID and still play a season.”

Watterson said he’s talked with multiple NCAA coaches who all are on track to have a collegiate season, even if they have to start a bit later than usual.

“Knowing that our partners, the NCAA, are highly likely to play a season — to me that’s our cue that we are also highly likely to play,” Watterson said.

Missing an entire season has financial effects on teams and leagues, but Watterson said the team is in “good shape.”

As a matter of fact, there are planned improvements for Alumni Field, including a new pavilion, more batting cages and an upgraded Internet system, which means more capacity and faster connection.

Watterson made it clear that these improvements won’t just be for the Swamp Bats; the upgraded facilities will be available to the entire community — a community that has shown seemingly endless support for the team.

Especially in a time of need.

The team ran a fundraiser over the summer to help make up for the lost revenue of the 2020 season and raised more than $25,000, Watterson said.

“The community, as it has for 22 years, stepped up big time for the Swamp Bats,” he said.

Part of the community support comes in the form of host families, who open their homes to players during the season.

“We always say that the host families are the glue of the Swamp Bats franchise,” Watterson said. “What they deliver on behalf of our players … has been phenomenal.”

And, even in the COVID era, Watterson remains hopeful that host families will continue to be part of the program once the summer months roll around.

Manager Shaun McKenna will finally have the opportunity to make his debut for the Swamp Bats in 2021. McKenna was named manager for 2020 before the season was canceled. He served as an assistant coach for the team in 2019.

The Swamp Bats’ 2021 roster is mostly set, led by “outstanding” arms from the University of Virginia in freshman Jake Berry and juniors Avery Mabe and Billy Price.

The Swamp Bats are also bringing in freshman pitcher Gage Bradley from Vanderbilt University, the reigning national champions, and two freshmen from the University of Louisville, pitcher Kaleb Corbett and 6-foot-3, 225-pound first baseman Drake Westcott.

Westcott received interest from Major League Baseball teams on the second day of this year’s draft, but he opted to honor his commitment to Louisville.

Watterson encouraged fans to follow the players as they get ready to start their spring collegiate seasons.

And he had one final, encouraging message to the fans:

“They should feel confident that we will play next year as the defending champs.”

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.