CANTON, September 18, 2020 – When Willie Yahn was sent home at the end of spring training by the Baltimore Orioles organization in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in the United States, he thought he would be back in two or three weeks. Maybe, it would be a month.
But he never returned. The minor league baseball season was cancelled. Major League Baseball’s 162-game schedule was cut to 60 games as the sport tried to figure out how to safely play games.
Now, Yahn is the founder and commissioner of the six-team Connecticut Fall Baseball League. It has given the Canton Crushers, who didn’t play this summer because the Tri-State League cancelled their season in May, an opportunity to play some baseball in 2020.
The Crushers dropped their first game in the league to the South Windsor Phillies on Sunday at Bowdoin Field. But Canton gets another opportunity to play on Sunday when they host the Great Falls Gators, a team that Yahn and his friends formed this summer.
A year ago, Yahn, 24, was an infielder for the Bowie Baysox, the Orioles’ Double A affiliate that plays in the Eastern League. The former University of Connecticut player, who grew up in Sharon and was a two-time All-State player at Housatonic Valley Regional, played a few games at Dunkin’ Donuts Park last summer against the Hartford Yard Goats.
The pandemic shut down professional baseball this spring. However, not ready to give up on his baseball career, Yahn signed up to play with People’s Bank in the Greater Hartford Twilight League.
As a professional baseball player used to playing six days a week, he wanted and needed more games. So Yahn and some his friends in northwest Connecticut formed their own team – the Great Falls Gators – that played in the Connecticut Twilight League.
Great Falls is named after a brewery in North Canaan and the one of his friends who went to the University of Florida was partial to the nickname Gators. “It sounded pretty good so we kept it,” Yahn said.
His Gators had a fine season in the Connecticut Twilight League, despite no home field. Great Falls went 10-3-1 and advanced to the league semifinals before they lost to the Terryville Black Sox, a Tri-State League squad that joined the CTL this summer.
In the minor leagues, Yahn was primarily a third baseman. But he had been working to show his versatility by playing second base. This summer, he has spent most of his time at shortstop. “You get so many plays,” he said.
Yahn hit a career-high .296 at Frederick Keys in Frederick, Maryland, 4in Single A before getting called up to Bowie in 2019. In 32 games in the Eastern League with the Baysox, he hit .223 with nine doubles and six RBI.
He didn’t envision running his own baseball league. But when the Connecticut Twilight League came to a conclusion in late August, there was still a hunger for additional baseball as he learned participating in a Facebook group about the league.
There was a lot of enthusiasm about organizing a fall league but no one stepped up until Yahn did.
“It didn’t take too much for me to do it,” he said with a grin. “I’ll do anything to play so it’s not too surprising. I’m glad I did it. A lot of guys have a place to ball this fall.”
The South Windsor Phillies and Great Falls Gators from Lakeville are from the Connecticut Twilight League along with players from the Southington Aftershock, New Britain Hurricanes and Bristol Knights who joined together to form a team and players from Barile Realty and Elmer’s Angels, who formed a team in Newington.
Canton had nine hits in their first game of the season against South Windsor with Jake Bryant, Taylor Riley and Andrew Billing each getting two hits. Riley had a single and a double. Billing had two singles and two stolen bases. Mike Sullivan had a double for the Crushers, who led 4-1 after three innings.
Riley got the start on the mound and struck out two in 3.2 innings of work. Bryant pitched 5.1 innings of relief and struck out eight.
South Windsor pitcher Trevor Moulton went the distance for the Phillies, striking out 11. Jordan Zima was 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI for South Windsor.
Canton hosts Great Falls on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Bowdoin Field.
South Windsor 10, Canton 5
South Windsor (1-0) 100 900 000 – 10-11-1
Canton (0-1) 211 010 010 — 5-9-1
Taylor Riley, Jake Bryant (4) and Lucas Gryniuk; Trevor Moulton and Levesque; WP: Moulton (1-0); LP: Riley (0-1); 2B: Mike Sullivan (C), Taylor Riley (C); HR: Jared Zima (SW)
2020 Connecticut Fall Baseball League
|South Windsor Phillies||1-0||1.000||–|
|KHA co-op (Southington)||1-0||1.000||—|
|Great Falls Gators||1-1||.500||½|
|Great Barrington Millers||1-1||.500||½|
KHA: Players from Southington Aftershock, New Britain Hurricanes and Bristol Knights; Newington co-op: Players from Barile Realty and Elmer’s Angels
Week 1 results
South Windsor 10, Canton 5
KHA co-op 2, Newington co-op 0
Great Barrington 3-0, Great Falls 1-8
Great Falls at Canton, 2:30 p.m.
Great Barrington at Newinington, TBA
Upcoming Canton games
Sunday, Sept. 20: Great Falls at Canton, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 27: TBA
Sunday, Oct. 4: Canton at South Windsor, Rotary Field, 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 11: Canton at KHA co-op at Recreation Field, Southington, 6 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 18: Great Barrington at Canton, 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 24: Canton vs. Great Falls at Community Field, Litchfield (2), 10 a.m.
Playoffs: October 31 and November 1