Lindsey and I were off for the North. We made a pit stop in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina with one of my favorite teammates I’ve had in my career, Robbie Thorburn. As Forrest Gump would say, Robbie was one of my best good friends and the only guy I’ve ever had as a Spring Training roommate in my first three pro springs.
After a peaceful few days on the beach, we crossed back over the border of Connecticut on March 21, one day after Governor Lamont signed an executive ‘stay-at-home’ order that would take effect two days later. Upon my return home, the Spring Training blinders that I was wearing regarding the situation had been removed. The United States went into a nationwide lockdown, the likes of which no one had seen in 100 years.
During the winter, I lived partly with my parents at home and other times would crash at my girlfriend Lindsey’s apartment in Lakeville. When I returned this spring for the lockdown, I moved into the apartment with her and her brother Shawn. April came around and we acquired one more roommate, Jeremy, one of our best friends from high school who had lived with Lindsey and Shawn in Florida. Not only did we have good vibes in the apartment, but rent was pretty cheap too!
Lindsey and Jeremy still had to work through lockdown, but Shawn and I both had paid time off. I would still occasionally take batting practice and ground balls during the lockdown, along with hiking to get outside. But often when the weather was anywhere near decent, Shawn and I hit the links because it was one of the few activities still open to the public during the pandemic. Shawn had some more experience golfing than me but we were both starting to get serious about golf. We both received new clubs over the holiday season from our families after playing a decent amount in the fall of 2019.
So we golfed. And golfed, and golfed, and golfed, and golfed some more. Lindsey and Jeremy would hop in on the action sometimes, but Shawn and I had seriously developed a golfing addiction. There weren’t too many days in April and May of 2020 when you didn’t see “The Dunkin’ Boys” roll up to the first tee box at Canaan Country Club with two large iced coffees loaded with Turbo Shots ready to attack the pin. Almost every time we went we would walk 18 holes, which is anywhere from 7-10 miles depending on the course. We played through rain, snow, sleet, whipping winds. You name it, we played through it this spring.
On my way down to Spring Training, I was playing a decent amount of golf and I cannot describe to you how bad I was during some of those rounds on my own. I’m talking averaging 55-60 on 9 holes kind of bad, although some of these courses in Maryland and Florida were much harder than Canaan Country Club. By May, after playing an absurd amount of golf day in and day out, it’s fair to say I was averaging Bogey golf, or a stroke under that on my good days or at an easier course. For local golfers, my best score on 9 holes at Canaan Country Club is a 38 (+3) and my best at Hotchkiss is a 43 (+7). I would attribute my improvement in golf more to a better understanding of how and when to play conservatively in order to limit mistakes. Just two or three shots can blow up your whole round if you are not focused.
The mental side of golf and baseball are similarly complex and fragile. The mental approach is complex in that mechanically I could remember five things that will help me smoke a drive into the fairway, but I would forget something as simple as keeping my head down throughout the swing. Then, I found myself shanking a top-spinning worm-burner that only made it as far as the Senior’s Tee Box. Like in baseball, sometimes less is more mentally in golf. The mental game of golf is fragile in that one bad hit or one miscalculation on the course can lead to a downward spiral in ones round. Sometimes, the strongest weapon a golfer can have is a short memory, just like baseball.
*Record scratch* Wait just a damn minute. What sport do I play again? After doing some math, by the beginning of June Shawn and I had played roughly 45 rounds of golf in 90 days. 2020 was getting so scary and uncertain I almost forgot that I was a professional baseball player and I was not chasing down a college golf scholarship. There was one positive that did come from golfing that people will not believe. As I said, when we golfed we would always walk 18 holes, which was about an eight-mile walk. All that walking, combined with unintentional intermittent fasting led me to lose around 20 pounds of fat from playing golf. Shawn and I would be so occupied with getting to the course and getting our 18 in that we would arrive hungry, proceed to golf for 4 hours while walking eight miles consuming nothing but large coffee. Granted, I did not realize I was slightly overweight for my body type until after the fact, but it was a layer of fat mostly on the upper half of my body that I shedded.
So it was June, I probably played more golf than Tiger Woods during the lockdown and I had lost 20+ pounds. I knew I needed baseball badly. But how could I do that? I tried to get some simulated scrimmages in with a few local ballplayers. I tried my best to keep the groups small enough to not create concern among locals. Still, town officials were not pleased with this and that and we had to stop until Connecticut entered Phase II after the lockdown.
An old teammate of mine from the Team Connecticut (TCB) days, Kyle Maglio, contacted me and asked if I wanted to play with his Adult League called the Elmer’s Angels in the Connecticut Twilight League (CTL). At first, I was on the fence about the idea. As badly as I wanted to play, I thought there was still a chance that a Minor League Baseball season would occur. In which case I could just play pick-up games locally instead of committing to traveling all over the state. After some thought, I had to satisfy my itch of getting back into any kind of game setting and competing, so I told Kyle I was probably going to play for the Angels.
After giving it even more thought over the course of a few days, I was having second thoughts. For one, the local and competitive Adult League in the Northwest Corner, the TriState Baseball League, was canceled due to Covid-19. There were players from that league and other young, talented collegiate players in the area looking to play. I knew if I committed to a team in Newington, I wouldn’t be able to organize pick-up games or batting practice sessions as frequently as I would like with those players. Quite possibly not at all. I was not sure what to do.
The date was June 8th, Minor League Baseball was still in limbo. At this point in time, a Major League season looked less than likely with the direction those negotiations were going. So I came up with an idea that I presented to my roommates and our friend who we were hanging out with that night, Chance.
“We could make a team of players from the Northwest Corner to play in that league with the Elmers Angels,” I said sort of thinking out loud. No one thought too little or too much of the idea. It was not a bad idea, but even to myself, it seemed pretty far-fetched off the bat. We began to spitball team name ideas.
“What if we used Great Falls?” Lindsey suggested. We all were excited about the idea because we thought if we used that name, we would be able to ask the Great Falls Brewery to be our main sponsor.
“Oooooh gotta do Gators with that, gotta be like the Florida Gators that’d be heat!” If you knew Chance, you can probably hear this sentence. But I liked it, a lot. The Great Falls Gators. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
It was late that Monday night and I grabbed a silver Sharpie and my laptop to think of designs for the logo. I traced parts of a large generic G and made the inside look like a Gator Tail. Then I traced a random Gator illustration I found from a Google search and put it on top of the G.
The excitement of choosing a great team name and creating a quality logo led me to call Scott Dickens the next morning. Scott is the chairman of the (CTL) and the league made it known that they were looking to add new teams for 2020. I had called just in time. He informed me that the season was kicking off at Dunkin’ Donuts Park on June 25th. I had little to no idea what I was doing running a team, but now I found myself in 2020 as the General Manager and shortstop for the Great Falls Gators.
I had to recruit a roster in a short period of time. The task was made a little bit easier due to the fact that the Tristate Adult Baseball League was canceled. This is a league I have played in before with the debunked Lakeville Firemen and with the Tritown Trojans. I asked my friend Bobby Chatfield, a fellow Sharonite and Trojan southpaw, to pitch for the Gators. Luckily for the Gators, this led to us recruiting six more guys from the talented Trojans team; a team that has been near the top of the Tristate Baseball League since I first played with them during High School in 2013. We also got a few other players who play in the Tristate League, as well as some young college players from all of the divisions. We were able to put together a really quality squad in a short period of time. The Gator Gang was officially born.