Eastside Diamond Hoppers catcher Whit Hughes connects with one during batting practice at the United Shore Professional Baseball League media day on May 16 at Jimmy John’s Field.

Eastside Diamond Hoppers catcher Whit Hughes connects with one during batting practice at the United Shore Professional Baseball League media day on May 16 at Jimmy John’s Field.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

USPBL preview: Newcomers fill void for departed veterans

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Metro | Published June 2, 2023

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 Fan-favorite JJ, the USPBL Field General, patrols the field.

Fan-favorite JJ, the USPBL Field General, patrols the field.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


UTICA — Baseball is back at Jimmy John’s Field.

An icon in the Utica community since opening in 2016, the United Shore Professional Baseball League is back and better than ever in 2023, continuing its tradition of assisting players in reaching their Major League Baseball dreams.

With 48 players signed to MLB organizations and three players making MLB rosters (Randy Dobnak, Logan Gillaspie and Jared Koenig), the USPBL’s growing reputation of elevating players to the next level continues to attract talent from all over the map.

“That was probably one of my main reasons for why I came here,” Utica Unicorns pitcher Conner Tomasic, an Indiana native, said. “It’s been seven seasons going on eight, and there’s already been 50 people drafted here, so you know people are watching and coming to see guys. It was a no-brainer to come here.”

Along with the exposure, it’s also extremely competitive baseball, and the fans are loving every minute of it.


Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers (0-2)
It’s only right to start off with the 2022 USPBL champions, but it’s a new-look squad coming into this season for the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, who are three-time champions of the league.

Missing their top-three hitters from 2022 and the majority of their pitching staff, the Beavers will look to rely on returning veteran outfielders Chris Davis and Travious Ford, and returning infielder JD Stubbs to bolster the offensive unit.

Davis is off to a hot start so far in 2023, batting .571 with two home runs in seven at-bats while Ford is building off his successful 2022 campaign with a .500 batting average in 10 at-bats.

The Beavers have scored five or more runs in both of their games this season, but are looking for their pitching staff to provide some consistency.

Troy native Nick Gajewski, who played collegiately at Rochester University, is one of the Beavers pitchers hoping to help bolster the staff this season.

A first-year player in the USPBL, Gajewski said that while it has been an adjustment, it feels like a full-circle moment to be playing in the league this season.

“Definitely trying to settle in and find your groove, but I don’t mind it at all,” Gajewski said. “Matter of fact, I like it a lot more than any other type of ball I’ve played prior, so I do enjoy the environment. I used to come to these games when I was younger, and here we are now.”

Pitchers Alex Reinoehl, Zachary Goree and Rhian Mann will look to be consistent contributors for the Beavers as well this season on the mound.


Utica Unicorns (2-1)
The four-time USPBL champions that won three-straight titles from 2019 to 2021 are back and looking to add to the team’s legacy.

The team has an imposing offense led by a mix of veterans and newcomers, with outfielder Alec Brunson and infielder Donovyn Curiel continuing to make their mark with the Unicorns, while newly acquired infielder Josh Baker and catcher Justin Gomez consistently provide at the plate.

“First look at it, I don’t think we’re going to be the same Unicorns that I heard of last year with the big boys, power, and lots of home runs,” Tomasic, a right-handed pitcher, said. “I think we’re going to be more of the gap-to-gap and score guys more efficiently than relying on the long ball.”

Gomez, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2019, is currently hitting .333 on the season, while Baker’s two home runs are tied for the league lead.

Like the Beavers pitching staff, the Unicorns staff will look to match the offensive firepower as the season progresses.

While the earned run averages may not be there yet for the Unicorns, Tomasic currently leads the league in wins (2) in his first year with the league. A Michigan State University player in 2022, Tomasic will look to lead the pitching staff alongside Tristan Harvin, Jace Baumann, Jake Fiorito, and Michigan native Carsie Walker (Saugatuck).


Eastside Diamond Hoppers (3-0)
Currently the only unbeaten team in the league, there’s a reason the Diamond Hoppers are not only the strongest team right now, but also the first team to have a player signed by an MLB organization for the 2023 season.

On May 23, the Minnesota Twins continued their USPBL poaching with the signing of 6-foot-8 right-handed pitcher Jake Wosinski, a Michigan native from Ada, who was dominant so far this season with zero earned runs and seven strikeouts in four innings.

Aside from Wosinski, the Diamond Hoppers are the most balanced team in the league right now with veteran infielders Joe Burke, Alex Pup and Saginaw native Noah Marcoux.

“We got a lot of returners, so having guys back that you played with and you know and you’re familiar with helps a lot,” Burke said. “We kind of have the dynamic together and know what to expect from each other, and we’re ready to get it going.”

While the hitting has improved since last season, the Diamond Hoppers pitching staff continues to be strong.

Led by Luke Drummond, Ethan Young, Brett Erwin, Chris Kelly and Grand Rapids native Andrew Verbrugge, the Diamond Hoppers’ slew of arm talent mixed with offensive firepower makes it the team to beat in the league.

“I know we got the pitching, but I hope our lineup is going to be ready to go,” Burke said. “One through nine, I think it’s going to be the best in the league. It should be, but we got to go out there and compete like everyone else.”


Westside Wooly Mammoths (1-3)
It’s been a mix of emotions for the Westside Wooly Mammoths since joining the USPBL in 2017.

While holding a pair of runner-up finishes, the past couple of years have been tough as the Mammoths hitting never seemed to truly find its groove last season.

Led by former Kansas City Royals 2019 draft pick Burle Dixon in the outfield and a crop of newly acquired talent, the Mammoths offense has been firing on all cylinders this season.

“I’m trying to be a leader for this squad and bring some wins to the Mammoths,” Dixon said. “They’ve been struggling the past few years, so I’m excited to be here and try and turn things around.”

Alongside Dixon, outfielder Francis Florentino, infielder Nick Webre and outfielder Reese Trahey, a West Bloomfield native, lead the offensive unit this season.

Macomb native and Michigan State University right-handed pitcher Kyle Bischoff headlined the Mammoths pitching staff with a league-high 15 strikeouts this season, and his numbers were strong enough to attract the Minnesota Twins’ attention. On May 31, the Twins signed Bischoff, who is the USPBL’s 48th player to sign with a Major League Baseball organization.

With Bischoff’s departure, the Mammoths will rely on veterans Beau Atkins and Novi native Grant Pytel to be consistent contributors on the mound.

Dixon said there will be one major change with the Mammoths this season.

“Confidence,” Dixon said. “We’re going to come out with confidence every day and be that person who you think you are. We’re going to come out with confidence every night and execute.”