Hadley’s Jake Balderston a student of the game with NECBL’s Valley Blue Sox

  • Jake Balderston, an Amherst Regional graduate,was a late call up for the Valley Blue Sox this summer but has made the most of his opportunity in the NECBL. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Jake Balderston, an Amherst Regional graduate, catches in the bullpen for the Valley Blue Sox at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke.  STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Jake Balderston, an Amherst Regional graduate, catches in the bullpen for the Valley Blue Sox at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke.  STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Intern
Published: 7/23/2021 7:20:23 PM

The Valley Blue Sox headed into this year’s New England Collegiate Baseball League season with a full roster, and anticipated a strong summer with alumnus turned head coach Hezekiah Randolph at the helm.

Shortly before the season began, the Blue Sox were in need of a player, after one of their backup catchers made it into the collegiate postseason. Called up was Hadley’s own Jake Balderston, a former Amherst Regional All-Western Mass. baseball player who four years later was entering his senior year at Western New England University.

“I didn’t really have plans to play this summer,” Balderston said. “I was probably just going to play on a local Tri-County team around here. The second catcher was at (NCAAs) Regionals and they were down south and he was supposed to come for the start of the season but couldn’t. They needed a backup catcher at the start of the season and called me to ask if I wanted to do it. I was very surprised but also very willing to accept the opportunity.”

With limited playing time so far this season, Balderston has made the most of his chances.

“He’s had a pretty phenomenal summer,” Randolph said of Balderston. “He hasn’t had many (at bats) but he’s hitting .500. It’s awesome for him to have these moments and every time he gets an opportunity to get in the game, he takes full advantage of it. He has a great team morale and he’s always there boosting up the guys egos.”

Balderston has found most of his physical success in the bullpen, where he’s been catching pitches of speeds topping 90 miles per hour and off-speed balls that he doesn’t often see at the Division 3 collegiate level. This practice has only made him more comfortable behind the plate when it comes time to get into a game.

“It’s important because of the day-to-day stuff I learn from guys who play at a higher level than I do at school,” Balderston said. “I’m not playing a lot but I’m learning so much every day picking guys’ brains.”

Balderston, a sport management major at Western New England, has relished the opportunity, and said he intends on learning as much information as he can to potentially start a coaching career of his own after graduation.

“My radar is more centered on the academic side of things,” Balderston said. “I would love to play professional baseball somewhere but to be honest with you, I don’t know how much of a possibility that is. I would hopefully like to coach somewhere down the line at whatever level that might be but my biggest takeaway is learning from players at a higher level so I can help myself as a player and take some of what I learn and use it down the line when I want to coach someday.”

Randolph was one of Balderston’s assistant coaches at Western New England before joining the Blue Sox as head coach this season, and he’s played a vital role in Balderston’s approach and mentality this summer.

“He’s a student of the game,” Randolph said. “At team meetings whether we’re talking about baserunning or something he might not be particularly good at, or even hitting, he’s just as locked in. Those are the things that’ll carry over to the next level especially if he wants to coach because he’s taking in information. Even though it might not benefit him now, it will benefit him in the future because he can pass down that information to kids he coaches in the future.”

Following in Randolph’s footsteps, Balderston’s eagerness to learn at the NECBL level could open the door for many front office possibilities down the road. Randolph credits the league in getting him the connections necessary to obtain a coaching position, and sees Balderston following in a similar path.

“For me it was colossal,” Randolph said. “Playing in this league got me onto my coaching career, got me my first job, and my first summer ball coaching job here with the Blue Sox. When I was here I made a really good relationship with the manager here and obviously that led to me getting the job. He trusted me and took a chance on me. It’s been a blessing for me and a testament to the player I was and how I approached the game every single day.”

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