- Story by Steven Marcus on Newsday.com -
The goal is the Division III World Series in Appleton, Wis. It's so tempting to the baseball team at Farmingdale State because the Rams are usually just one regional series away from playing for the championship.
"You win the regional and it's straight to the World Series," senior outfielder David Zilnicki said. But he quickly added the caveat, "It's a clear and rough path."
Farmingdale is likely headed to the New York Regional in upstate Auburn. Teams and dates for the double-elimination tournament will be announced Monday.
Coached by former major-league catcher Keith Osik, Farmingdale has won six straight Skyline Conference titles. "You do have to look at it as a blessing to make the regionals every year," Zilnicki said. "But at this point winning a regional has been my main goal all four years and I've never done it. I feel like with our pitching staff and our seniors, we've seen it all, we know how to win. I think we can handle anything that is thrown at us."
One of the more interesting pitchers is freshman Alex Weingarten of Lynbrook High School, who has become the closer. "He was a very good starter out of high school," Osik said. "We're trying to get him to start but he's been so valuable at the end of games, at times for two, three innings, that he just locks down the game." Weingarten pitched the final four innings of a 2-1 victory over Old Westbury in the Skyline championship game.
Zilnicki, who scored both runs in the Skyline final, was a senior at Riverhead High School in 2009 when Farmingdale made its only trip to the World Series. "We had a magical ride," Osik said. "The kids just floored me. I really just sat back and enjoyed the ride."
Zilnicki said Osik told him he could become the next great player on the team after Kevin Curtis, another Riverhead graduate who is the program's all-time leader in hits with 161. Zilnicki has 155. "I had taken hitting lessons at his facility in Middle Island," Zilnicki said of Osik. "When I hit with him I felt like he knew what he was talking about."
Zilnicki has a career batting average of .371 and will leave Farmingdale as the school leader in stolen bases (70), runs scored (121), walks (72) and triples (13). He is hitting .462 this season. Osik is hoping Zilnicki becomes the program's first All-American.
Osik has done a remarkable job for a program that was 7-22 in 2005, the year before he took over. "It was kind of tough convincing kids to come to Farmingdale State at that point," he said. "They looked at me -- regardless if I had big-league experience and played 10 years -- and said, 'Farmingdale, we're not going to be coming to Farmingdale.' It was tough."
But a state-of-the-art facility and Osik's reputation on Long Island, where he was a high school star at Shoreham-Wading River, has made Farmingdale a desirable destination.
Osik thinks the program ultimately will take the final step. "I'd like to have a chance to get to the World Series to win it," he said. "That's why we're doing this."