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After spending a sizable portion of June in the Detroit area with the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League, recent Chowan University graduates Marquise Lanier and Nick Rose are back in uniform with the Wilson Tobs.
The fact both were in the lineup when the Tobs squeaked out a 2-1 victory against the Wilmington Sharks in Fleming Stadium on a rainy Independence Day Thursday evening is a precedent.
First, Lanier and, next, Rose are the first players to begin a season with the Coastal Plain summer collegiate baseball league, accept an independent league opportunity and, after being released, return to the CPL.
The USPBL, numbering four teams, is in its fourth year of existence. It’s intent is to attract top-level collegiate players.
Lanier lasted a couple of weeks with the Unicorns, while Rose said he stayed in Michigan for about a month.
Both are back with the Tobs after head coach Bryan Hill, also the associate head coach at Chowan, and general manager Mike Bell requested and were granted permission by Justin Sellers, CPL chief operating officer and commissioner, to resume playing with the Tobs.
Lanier and Rose each explained they did not realize the uniqueness of their respective situations, but are extremely grateful to be back.
And as Bell noted: “All they want to do is play baseball.”
How could they return to a proclaimed amateur collegiate baseball league after competing — although briefly — in an independent but designated professional league?
“It hasn’t happened before (in the CPL),” Sellers acknowledged in a telephone conversation. “They are no longer amateur players; they have exhausted their college eligibility and are graduated seniors.”
Sellers explained Lanier and Rose are considered post-eligibility players. The rosters of each of the 16 CPL teams can include four seniors. If a senior departs, another senior may replace him. And Lanier and Rose were coached by Hill at Chowan and with the Tobs.
ONE LAST SUMMER
“This is one last summer to give them exposure and hopefully get signed by a professional team,” Sellers reasoned.
Added Hill: “This is only the second year they’ve had the senior rule. They can leave once and come back. That’s what it’s going to be from here on out.
“All the guys have degrees and are not students any more. They are not breaking any rules. What we are here to do is to help them get better in baseball and play baseball as long as they can play it.”
Bell iterated Lanier and Rose were released by the Unicorns and were rostered with the Tobs as graduated seniors. They were eligible only if they had exhausted their college eligibility.
“I’m pretty sure it’s the first time,” Bell said. “It’s a really unique situation.”
THE ROUTE HERE
Lanier is coming off a monster final season with Chowan, when he was proclaimed NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas co-Player of the Year. He landed on the first team on a pair of all-region lists, was selected all-state and accorded All-America honorable mention.
At .842, Lanier led the conference in slugging percentage and was second in batting average (.403) and home runs (15). He hit 14 doubles, drove in 44 runs and stole 11 bases.
Neither was Rose shabby his final Hawks season. He batted .331 with 14 doubles, six homers, 33 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
Both factored in the Tobs jump-starting to first-half CPL North Division supremacy before heading to Michigan. Through Wednesday’s games, each was batting .286 in his return. Hill noted Lanier is dealing with a hamstring issue.
“During the school season, I was in contact with the Utica coach,” Rose reported. “I came up for the Senior Showcase and played in three or four games.
“After I got released, I contacted Coach Hill to see if there was anywhere else I could play. He said he would work it out — and here I am.”
Lanier was reluctant to discuss his on-field plight with the Unicorns or his health.
“It was a good experience and I had a good time,” he continued. “I met some new people and I liked the coaches. Everything happens for a reason.”
Rose said he was impressed with the “minor league” environment in Utica — where all four teams play their games at Jimmy John’s Field during Thursday through Sunday from early May until early September.
“It was a great, fun place to play,” Rose commented.
Both understand they are to be paid but, as of Thursday, the checks were still in the mail.
ABOUT THE USPBL
In response to an email and phone message, Scott MacDonald, USPBL vice president of marketing and public relations, provided a standardized disclaimer available on the USPBL website.
The contents state that USPBL players are scouted regularly by major league teams and, in just three seasons, 31 prospects have signed with major league organizations. Kevin Matthews has reached Triple-A in the Atlanta Braves organization and Randy Dobnak is currently pitching in Double A in the Minnesota Twins organization.
Reads the information: “The USPBL was designed as an innovative developmental finishing school for players seeking to make it to the majors. The teams are comprised of top level college baseball players from around the country.”
BACK TO THE PRESENT
For Lanier and Rose, the focus has shifted to the present.
“I feel great,” Lanier said. “I love being back here; I love playing for the Wilson Tobs. I talked to Coach Hill and trusted everything that I would be able to come back. I am grateful. I thank God I can come back, play baseball, get back on the field and be able to do what I do.”
Observed Rose: “I am excited to be on a team in the playoffs and being able to contribute to the wins. I love baseball and I am glad to be able to play.”
Rose reveals his goals are to hit and win and Lanier assured his plans include helping the Tobs win their first CPL championship.
As for the future, Lanier still hopes to get his call, enter free agency and embark upon a professional career.
“I am hoping there is more baseball,” Rose speculated, “but as of right now, I do not know.”
Neither particularly cares to be remembered as a pioneer of sorts.
As Sellers explained: “Every player’s situation is unique. It’s case-on-case.”
But Bell admits: “This will be a topic of discussion going forward.”