It would seem good news begets good news.
With doors of opportunity in the professional baseball world opening for several Knights during the MLB First-Year Player Draft two weeks ago, doors of opportunity opened up within the Knights’ roster as well.
For infielder Tommy Williams and pitcher Harrison Hukari, that meant more than just hoping they could benefit from the good fortune of the roster spots open — it meant getting to work.
Williams and Hukari are two out of 18 Knights participating in summer leagues around the country.
UCF players are scattered about the country, anywhere from the prestigious Cape Cod League all the way to the Alaska Baseball League.
Williams and Hukari elected to sharpen their skills a bit closer to home, playing for Sanford River Rats of the Florida Collegiate Summer League, where they find themselves teammates once again.
“I didn’t expect [Williams] to be on this team; I knew I was on this team but I didn’t know he was [too],” Hukari said. “It’s great; Tommy is a great athlete.”
It’s a chance for the two, who figure to be a big part of the Knights success in the coming years, to get to know each other even more.
“It’s great — we’re building team camaraderie,” Williams said.
And they can chase after roster spots, too.
As a freshman, Williams appeared in 11 games and had five starts in the infield this season. With UCF’s starting shortstop Darnell Sweeney being drafted and signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the spot has opened up for the taking.
“I just want to play,” Williams said. “I just want to get in the lineup and play some baseball.”
Williams is hoping to bulk up and fill his 6-foot-2 frame. Last fall, Williams stepped foot on campus weighing 175 pounds. Since then, Williams has gained five pounds and has made improved athleticism a focal point of his training.
“Basically [my goal is to] get a lot stronger, put on some more weight on and get some more at-bats,” Williams said.
Hukari saw some limited action on the mound as a reliever for the Knights this past season. In his seven appearances, he notched a 1.00 ERA.
While Williams works on bulking up, Hukari will be tinkering with his command.
“[My goal is to] get better command of my pitches,” Hukari said. “Obviously [I want to] get stronger and keep working on things I need to work on.”
The pair of Knights has made a summer home with the River Rats, one of the founding teams of the FCSL, which is entering its ninth season. The River Rats call Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium home. The ballpark was built back in the 1950s as a spring training facility for the New York Giants. Since then, legends like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Tim Raines and David Eckstein have all played there.
The pair of UCF ballplayers may have done more than just stay close to home in selecting the Florida League.
Baseball America has acknowledged the FCSL as one of the top summer leagues in the nation. The FCSL is one of 10 leagues in the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball. All of the leagues are nonprofit corporations and are in part funded by Major League Baseball but primarily dependent on donations from individuals, businesses and foundations.
Williams and Hukari are not the first Knights to have played for the River Rats. Former Knights Alex Friedrich, D.J. Hicks and Bryan Brown also wore a River Rats uniform during their college years.
Brown, during his time with Sanford, tied the league’s wins record with five victories and also ranks second all time with 52 strikeouts.
While Hukari and Williams have different personal goals they will address individually over the summer, the long-term goal is the same for both — reaching Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
“For the summer [the goal is] obviously to win the championship here for the collegiate league,” Hukari said. “Obviously next year [for UCF we want] to stride farther, make it to Super Regionals and make it to Omaha.”