We played back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday (7/16 & 7/17) following the Gator business trip to Maine. Our first game with our brand-spanking-new barrels was against the Arch2 Indians in Rocky Hill. I had a pair of custom bats that were being shipped separately, with Gator green DTB (Dove Tail Bats) as well as the model and my name in green on the barrel with a natural finish. For the Arch2 game I used a Matte Black Gator 243 model bat that we brought back with the team shipment. First at-bat, she did the job, connecting on a solo dinger to left-center to get us out to an early 1-0 lead with two outs in the 1st inning. Will Perotti followed up the next inning with a solo shot of his own, as the Gators played a clean game and went on to win 6-2. Miles pitched another gem, tossing six innings while fanning eight batters and allowing one earned run. Zack Larson relieved Scribby in the 7th and struck out the final batter to seal the Gator victory.
The following day we were back at Muzzy Field under the lights, as former UConn righty and California-turned-Connecticut native Jeff Kersten made his Gator debut against the Bristol Knights. This would be our first of a handful of times in 2020 that we would face the crafty lefty Chris McGrath for Bristol. Kersten and McGrath held it scoreless through five innings. Finally in the 6th we got on the board, when Will drove me in with a liner up the middle after I singled and stole second. After Kersten went six innings and struck out seven in his debugt, Jacob Shpur came in for the save. Big Shpur struck out one batter and got some help from our backstop Landon Gardella, who threw out a runner attempting to steal and then caught a foul pop up to secure a 1-0 victory. The Gators were now 8-2 on the season.
Back on June 25th, the day of our first game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, a man approached me after the contest and asked if I wanted to play for his team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL). The GHTBL was established in 1929 and is one of the oldest baseball leagues in the U.S. That man turned out to be Tom Abbruzzese, the manager of the People’s United Bank team out of Wethersfield. Tom and I stayed in contact and I was also in touch with Justin Morhardt, former Atlanta Braves minor leaguer and two-way player for People’s United Bank. I hashed out dates that I could work around Gator games and sent them to Tom. On July 21, Lindsey made the trek over with me to Riverfront Park in Glastonbury as I made my Banker debut.
I did not make a glowing first impression with the bat, as I went 0 for 4. But Justin started that game on the mound and I remember converting on about a dozen plays at shortstop en route to a close victory over Rainbow Graphics out of Manchester. I quickly began to enjoy playing for People’s Bank for a few reasons. For starters, I always find it fun getting to know a new group of teammates and showing proving that no matter who I played for I wanted to win badly and that I had my eye on two league rings that summer.
Second, I was a touch more anonymous in the GHTBL, or at least I felt like that was the case (correct me if I’m wrong people). But with the Gators everyone generally knew ‘that’s Willy’s team that he made’, I would do the coaches meetings a lot of games, I stuck out like a sore thumb. But with People’s Bank I could sneak into our dugout with a plain t-shirt and the team hat that resembled that of the Philadelphia Phillies, and I could surprise the opponent at least for my first at-bat from the leadoff spot. I say that because after my first game as a Banker, many of my first at-bats I received fastballs that caught a lot of plate early in the count, as pitchers were trying to establish their fastball early in the game to the leadoff hitter. AB number one would go: knock, swipe second base, then third, another Banker drives me in for an early lead. It was at this point I felt like teams thought “oooooh it’s that long hair schmuck from UConn who belly flops everywhere” and they remember for the next at-bat.
On the Gator side of things, we had our third matchup against the Terryville Blacksox the day after making my Banker debut. The final time we would meet them in the regular season did not go our way, as the bats stayed quiet in a 5-1 loss. It was a hard fought battle, but the Blacksox jumped out to a lead early by way of the longball and Kody Kerski shut us down. Our lack of offense carried over into our matchup on Friday night against Elmer’s Angels back at Muzzy. We scored a lone run early, when Landon Gardella drove me in with an RBI single after I reached with a knock and stole second, but that was our only run of the ballgame. Luckily for us, we had former Bridgeport Bluefish Adam Piechowski in stellar form that night. “Pie” went the distance for the complete game shutout with 13 punchouts while allowing just one hit.
As the final week of July was upon us, we were slated for a Monday night double header at Muzzy Field against the Bristol Knights and the Southington Aftershock. It proved to be one of the more memorable nights of the Gator season.
Scribby got the start for us that night and pitched well. Through six innings he had struck out nine Bristol batters while the Knights scattering six hits for two runs on only one earned run. But our offensive woes continued as we entered the top of the 7th down 2-0. Then came some “Muzzy Magic”, which always reaches its height at the end of July and beginning of August.
Danny McCarty, a Trojan veteran and consistent hitter in the order for us all season, started the rally with a big leadoff double and was pinch-ran for by Brad Ellis. After an out, CJ Brito laced a double of his own and brought us within a run. Team strength coach, Nicky Yousefzadeh, worked a walk after a long at-bat and Matt Perotti wore one like a sweater to load the bases. Austin Patenaude tied the game with a sac-fly to center field with two strikes, and Caleb Shpur stepped up with two outs with runners at second and third with a chance to drive in two runs. After he worked the at-bat to a 3-2 count, Young Shpur fisted an inside fastball out to left-field for a clutch two RBI single to give us a 4-2 lead. I stepped up next and Caleb stole second on the first pitch before I got one way off the end of the bat but nestled a looper into left to score Caleb and make it a 5-2 ballgame. Scribby would shut it down in the bottom of the 7th to secure the W in Game 1 of our Double Header in dramatic fashion.
We had the Aftershock next and first-pitch was around 8:30 after the wild finish to the Knights game. Our offense kept the momentum going from the end of Game 1, as all three of our first hitters of the ball game scored. Austin reached on a walk, as did Caleb on an error, followed by a single of my own. Will Perotti laced a two-RBI single to plate Austin and Caleb, then Danny McCarty drove a fly ball deep to center to send me home for a sac-fly.
Bobby added on to his list of quality starts for the Gator Gang. “Chat” tossed a complete game, fanned 11 batters without a walk and surrendered two runs. After getting three quick runs in the first, the bats went quiet again. We wanted to create some insurance and even try to run up the score after such a hot start. However, sometimes we had a recurring tendency, one I have seen in great teams that I have played with. The tendency to be complacent with an early lead and rarely putting together a full game offensively. We were able to secure the victory though, 3-2, capping off an incredibly unique double header. We were victorious in both contests while only scoring in two back-to-back innings, the 7th inning of Game 1 and the 1st inning of Game 2. Just another crazy night at Muzzy Field.
The Gators began to limp towards the regular season finish line, starting the next day after our late night at Muzzy. We had to make the trek to East Hampton High School to play the Fat Orange Cat Brewers, about an hour and forty minutes from the Gator Offices back in Lakeville. Down early, we made a comeback and the game was tied 4-4 after five frames. Then the wheels came off in the 6th as the Brewers hung seven runs on us before I came in for a mop up roll on the mound as we were out of arms. The game would finish 11-4, making the already long ride home feel even longer.
The first week in August was the final week of the regular season and we had three games to improve our 9-3 (.750%) record, trailing only the Blacksox (12-2, .857%) in winning percentage in the whole league. Monday night, we were on the road against the Glastonbury Pirates and another Husky made an impromptu Gator appearance. Garret Coe, from Morris and current UConn lefthander, made the start for us that day. He had participated in a few scrimmages in May and June and I texted him the night before to see if he wanted the ball. Garret was lights out, going the distance while punching out 16 Glastonbury batters and scattering five hits. The Gator bats were as cold as ice, however, and we couldn’t manage to manufacture one run to avoid extra innings. Their pitcher was throwing all sorts of slow junk, I recall reaching at pitches in my at-bats that game just out of the zone resulting in fairly deep but harmless fly outs.
To the disdain of everyone on the field, the umpires called the game a 0-0 tie after eight innings due to darkness as we were at a field without lights that evening. It felt worse than a loss. Tying is just gross, especially in baseball. The bad energy rolled into our next game, a loss to Elmer’s Angels 3-2. I really do not want to touch on this game at all, but after this one was the most angry I was all season by far. I was mad at myself for trying to swing out of my shoes too much and popping up a lot of my at-bats the last few games, a selfish approach that may have rubbed off on a few guys causing our slump. I was also mad because I felt like I was struggling to get my guys fired up for our games of late. We were getting away from our game, the way we played when we were beating the top teams and demolishing other teams, which was racking up the knocks and being really aggressive on the base paths.
We got back on track Friday night in a rematch against the Aftershock, as we won the season finale 7-1. Piechowski got the W and pitched the five innings he needed to qualify to pitch in the postseason, striking out five in the process while allowing only one hit. Big Shpur closed the door with two innings and two punchouts allowing one earned run to lock up our 10th win of the season. Everyone contributed a little bit on offense that night which was encouraging headed into the postseason.
It was about to be playoff time for the GHTBL as well, as I needed to get into one more regular season game to qualify myself for the playoffs with People United Bank. We were playing the East Hartford Jets at Wethersfield High School after I had finally received my custom Dove Tail Bat in the mail earlier in the day. It had a natural finish with the DTB and Willy Yahn in Gator green. She was beautiful. I wanted to use her that day because she was fresh out of the box in which it was shipped. I was the lead off hitter and the first pitch of the bottom of the first with the new weapon, I smashed a line drive into center for a single. A good sign for the new bat headed into the playoffs. Then a new pitcher came in for the Jets in the 3rd innings, throwing pretty hard from a funky angle. I learned after the game that it was Lief Bigelow, former UConn sidearmer who transferred to University of Maine. I faced off against him my second at bat, first pitch was a hard runner fastball on the corner inside. I took a hack at it and the barrel of my brand new bat explodes off the handle. I watched the beautiful green label saucer away in disgust. My running so fast in anger and the infielders being distracted by a flying wooden knife allowed me to reach on an infield single. But at what cost, folks? I jokingly called out to Lief (at this point was still trying to remember who he was) saying he owed me a new Dove Tail.
I finished the game with three knocks and three swiped bags, the Bankers came out on top 4-2. We were able to win all five regular season games for which I made the trip, as we had a pretty solid team. About the same average age as the Gators, with a lot of solid hitters throughout the line up and a few college pitchers who knew what they were doing. Justin Morhardt contributed highly on both sides of the ball. On top of hitting some bombs out of the clean-up spot, he is a competitive pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls, which as a shortstop makes him a guy that is fun to play behind. People’s United Bank finished 6-6 as we would face off against the GHTBL powerhouse the Vernon Orioles.
The Gator Gang finished the season at 10-4-1 and the #3 seed in the CTL playoff picture. We were matched up against the #6 seed Bristol Knights for August 11th at Riverfront Park.