AVON, June 28, 2020 – For months, when it came to baseball, all we had were our memories.
Under quarantine in our homes, we could only dream of a bright sunny day with wispy clouds in the air. Only in our minds did we hear the crack of the bat, the pop when a fastball was caught in the webbing of a leather glove and the sound of dirt as a runner slid into second base trying to leg out a double.
The contagious COVID-19 virus wiped out the spring baseball season and delayed the start of the summer season, too, as we remained apart to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy.
On Sunday, it was different. Baseball was back.
Teams from Avon and Simsbury began play in the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association, a one-year league designed to give youngsters ages 13-19 an opportunity to play some baseball since American Legion cancelled their summer program in May.
And in Canton, the two-time defending league champion Collinsville River Rats opened their season with a morning doubleheader at Bowdoin Field.
It was different. Instead of standing behind the catcher behind home plate, the umpire called balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound. Each played had to bring their own equipment, including bats and helmets. Some coaches were wearing masks.
At the Connecticut Elite game between Berlin and Avon, each player brought their own lawn chairs. Only the coaches were the dugout while the chairs were separated down the first and third base line – six feet apart.
“I’m really excited for the kids more than anything,” Avon U-19 manager Eric Welles said. “Obviously, the world is what it is right now and things are kind of crazy but it is nice to feel some semblance of normalcy.
“It doesn’t look the same and it can’t be. But you know it’s good to have these kids back out here playing baseball and having fun,” Welles said.
“It just feels great. It’s incredible because I didn’t think we would get (a chance to play) this year,” Collinsville River Rat outfielder Stephen Cuskovitch said. “And it’s just fun. It’s a great group of guys and we’re all friends. We’ve all been at home for so long. Let’s be honest, we get a little crazy in the house. We needed to get out of the house. It’s a beautiful day.”
The River Rats play in the 25-and-over division of the Connecticut North Men’s Senior Baseball League with teams in Berlin, New Haven, Marlborough, Hartford/Bloomfield, Southington and Newington.
The Tri-State League in western Connecticut, that include the Canton Crushers, said they won’t play in May but the Senior Baseball League held out hope.
“There was no reason not to be positive and hope for the best,” Collinsville manager Dennis Lodovico said. “There was no reason to be negative. That’s is what wrong with world today. Everyone is so negative. We tried to keep everyone positive.”
The River Rats split a doubleheader with the Berlin-based Kensington Cannons. Collinsville loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh inning and pushed a run across but that was all in a 2-1 defeat. But the River Cats prevailed in game two with a resounding 11-1 victory.
Collinsville had just one hit through six innings but Mike Scott led off the inning with a double and Cuscovitch singled, moving Scott to third base. Scott scored on a successful double steal to cut the lead to one. The River Rats loaded the bases with two outs but couldn’t push across another run.
Still, there weren’t too many disappointed players on the field despite the loss.
Lodovico sat in the dugout at Bowdoin Field between games with a bag of ice on the shin of his right shin that had a big, purple welt on it. He fouled a ball off his leg in the fifth inning. “I’ve never done that in 25 years (of playing baseball),” he said with a shrug. But when game two began, he was ready to go up at the plate taking his cuts.
“We’re playing baseball. We’re having fun. We’re competitive. Win or lose, it’s just a great day,” said Cuscovitch, who had two hits for the River Rats in the opening game.
Avon’s U-19 Connecticut Elite team was swept by Berlin, which prevailed 5-0 and 6-2. Avon had just four hits in the two games with Nick Amatulli getting a double and Christian Boudreau ripped a triple in game two. Blaise Engle went 3 1/3 innings in the second game on the mound for Avon, allowing one hit and striking out one. Tyler Mandeville struck out three in three innings of relief in the opener.
“To see the smiles on their faces (was heartwarming),” Welles said. “The final score doesn’t matter today. Maybe, it will matter a little more as the season progresses. Right now, we’re happy the (wet) weather held off and we got a whole game. We’re just really happy to be out here.”
Berlin had six hits and four doubles in the opener. Catcher Chris Gendron was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI. Starting pitcher Holden Murphy went five innings for Berlin, allowing one hit and striking out seven.
Avon’s Daniel O’Brien said, “It feels great to be finally back on the field and just play. We’ve been waiting for this all spring and summer. This was definitely something I was looking forward to during quarantine.”
Simsbury is comprised of players from Simsbury, Canton, Granby and East Granby – just like their American Legion baseball team. Simsbury had just three hits in a 3-0 loss to Cheshire in their opening contest. Kevin Gallagher had a double for Simsbury.
In game two, Simsbury had five hits but three errors helped Cheshire earn a doubleheader sweep with a 3-1 decision. Matt Rose of Canton was the starting pitcher for Simsbury and struck out three in two innings of work.
Simsbury scored their lone run in the first inning when East Granby’s Sean Griffin singled with two outs, stole second base and scored on Connor Anthony’s RBI single. Two of Cheshire’s three runs were unearned. Ryan Oroczo had an RBI double for Cheshire in the second inning.
The Connecticut Elite season continues on Tuesday when Simsbury hosts Avon at Memorial Field beginning at 6 p.m.
“I am just happy to be back here with my boys,” Avon’s Zac Aiello said – making new memories instead of reliving old ones.
Connecticut Elite Baseball Association
Berlin 6, Avon 2
Berlin (2-0) 000 150 0 — 6-5-2
Avon (0-2) 001 001 0 — 2-2-2
Adam Bilisky, Daniel Veleas (3), Garrett Fallon (6) and unknown; Blaise Engle, Jackson Jobe (4), Justin Hasler (6) and unknown; WP: Veleas (1-0); LP: Jobe (0-1); 2B: Nick Amatulli (A); 3B: Christian Boudreau (A)
Berlin 5, Avon 0
Berlin (1-0) 202 100 0 — 5-6-0
Avon (0-1) 000 000 0 — 0-2-2
Holden Murphy, unknown (6) and Chris Gendron; Arjun Grover, Christian Brodeur (3), Tyler Mandeville (5) and unknown; WP: Murphy (1-0); LP: Grover (0-1); 2B: Justin Piskorski (B), Daniel Veleas (B), Vince Dastoli (B), Chris Gendron (B); 3B: none; HR: none
Cheshire 3, Simsbury 1
Simsbury (0-2) 100 000 0 — 1-5-3
Cheshire (2-0) 020 100 x – 3-3-0
Matt Rose, Mike Santos (3), Cayden Thomas (5) and unknown; Aidan Godfrey, Cahill (3), Rosenthal (6) and unknown; WP: Godfrey (1-0); LP: Matt Rose (0-1); 2B: Ryan Orozco (C)
Cheshire 3, Simsbury 0
Cheshire (1-0) 010 001 1 — 3-3-1
Simsbury (0-1) 000 000 0 — 0-3-1
Rob Roles, Rosenthal and unknown; Cooper Schneider, Sean Griffin (3), Danny Coppinger (5), Nick Badorek (6) and unknown; WP: Roles (1-0); LP: Schneider (0-1); 2B: Kevin Gallagher (S)
Under 19, Division 1
Cheshire 3-3, Simsbury 0-1
Berlin 5-6, Avon 0-1
Bristol 9-3, West Hartford 2-1
Meriden at Newington (2)
Avon at Simsbury, 6
West Hartford at Newington
Berlin at Meriden
Cheshire at Bristol
Cheshire at Avon, 5:30 p.m.
Simsbury at West Hartford, 5:45 p.m.
Meriden at Bristol
Newington at Berlin