NEW BRITAIN - The echoing of the ball hitting the bat, the pop of the leather glove, the call of the umpire, the chatter on the field between players - all sounds synonymous with the game of baseball.
They’re also sounds that have the New Britain Bees excited.
At a time when the coronavirus either drastically cut short seasons in other leagues and sports or prevented them from even happening, the Bees will get the chance to provide fans with some entertainment and much-desired sporting events. On Thursday, New Britain, after a lengthy delay, will begin its inaugural season in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in a home game against the Worcester Bravehearts. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.
“We’re really excited to get back on the field,” Bees manager and Yale assistant baseball coach Ray Guarino said. “These guys had their college seasons cut short. For that to just end like that, it left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. You never want to end a season like that, you want it to end on the field and I think these guys understand the opportunity that they have in front of them, that they’re able to going out there every day and show what they can do.”
New Britain also knows it has a great opportunity in front of it. Outside of newly formed CT Elite Baseball Association for American Legion teams and players, and the Connecticut Twilight League, there aren’t any leagues in the area currently playing or scheduled to play.
Minor League Baseball announced Tuesday it had canceled its season, meaning no Hartford Yard Goats this summer, while the top two collegiate summer baseball leagues - the Cape Cod League and the New England Collegiate Baseball League - made the move cancel their seasons April 24 and May 1, respectively. The independent Atlantic League, which the Bees were part of from their founding in 2016 to 2019 before parting ways, hasn’t made a concrete decision on its plans for the 2020 season.
“We weren’t geniuses by any means,” General Manager Brad Smith said. “We just played the waiting game.”
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook and online ticket orders have been flying in,” Smith added. “A lot of that has to do with us being the only game in town.”
Tickets to Bees games will be $7 and parking will be free.
There will of course be a number of protocols in place for those attending games at New Britain Stadium, which holds just under 6,200 people, similar to the current dining-in guidelines. Markings will be made in the concourse areas to direct flows of traffic and markings will be made at concession stands to keep fans six feet apart while waiting in line. Smith and the Bees will also be asking fans to wear a mask when they arrive at the stadium and in the concourse areas at all times until they reach their seats.
“We’ve been talking daily with Sergio Lugo, the New Britain health director, so we’re limiting the attendance to 25%, which is 1,500 people,” Smith said. “The entire stadium is going to be general admission so people can spread out.”
The FCBL’s season will feature a 39-game slate between the Bravehearts, Brockton Rox, North Shore Navigators and Westfield Starfires, all of whom play within Massachusetts, the Nashua Silver Knights out of New Hampshire and the Bees.
On the field, the game will operate as normal, but once off the diamond, players will be asked to stay six feet apart in the dugout and to wear masks, while coaches will be asked to wear masks at all times. The dugout will hold position players only, with pitchers being spread out in the bullpen beyond the outfield wall and in the picnic area adjacent to the bullpen. Team clubhouses will also be closed for the year.
Teams will also only have local players. Host families won’t be used and players will have to drive themselves to road games. The use of buses has been discontinued this season to avoid packing a large group of people in a small space. The same is true for home games as well. Every player must get to the field on his own and bring his own equipment. Temperature checks will be made when they enter the ballpark.
“We’re just getting accustomed to getting back into the swing of things,” Goodwin Tech alum and Southern Connecticut State pitcher Tommy Hughes said. “Baseball isn’t a contact sport so you don’t have to worry about too many things, you just have to follow the rules and guidelines put in place.”
The Bees roster will feature players strictly from Connecticut, which Smith said has helped ticket sales, and will boast a level of talent that might not have been available in previous seasons. Due to the other summer leagues being canceled entirely, Smith was able to pick up players from higher-level collegiate leagues who were suddenly in need of a new place to play.
In addition to Hughes, there’s New Britain High alum Danniel Rivera, CCSU infielder Noah Martinez, UConn outfielder Zach Donahue, and Boston College pitchers Brad Lombardi and Joe Mancini to name a few. New Britain did lose two players before the start of the season. University of New Haven outfielder Matt Chamberlin signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent, while Fordham infielder Jake Mackenzie signed with the Boston Red Sox
“All eyes are going to be on us because there is no other baseball to watch,” Hughes said. “Scouts are going to be coming to our games just to get out of the house. As long as we catch their eyes, that’s the goal. But with all the stuff going on, it’s just nice to be able to play and get out and entertain whatever people we can.”
And while the Bees are going to enjoy being able to take the field again, they’re goal as if they were playing a whole season hasn’t changed.
“If you’re going out there to just compete, that isn’t enough all the time,” Guarino said. “Our goal is to win the league. I think everyone is on board with that and play the best baseball we can. … You’re playing to play your best baseball and see where the chips fall and if you come out on top in August.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com