By BRIAN JENNINGS
It was Wednesday evening, June 10 at Muzzy Field in Bristol. The time was 6:30 p.m. and the Southington Blue Knights baseball team is getting ready to play the Amity Spartans in the semifinals of the Class LL high school baseball tournament.
I had spent my first spring season as a sports writer following the Knights’ baseball team, watching home games from inside their dugout. I felt like I was a part of the team. I felt like I was a Blue Knight.
At the time, high school baseball was all I knew and grew to love as the season progressed. The more the Knights won, the more I got involved. The deeper the Knights advanced into the tournament, the more I got addicted.
That night, the Knights were defeated by Amity, 6-3, in the semifinal game and it marked the first time I had ever covered a baseball game at Muzzy Field. Little did I know, Muzzy Field would become my second home for the summer.
Founded by Elliot Scheiner, David Lindland, and Steve Lindland, the Bristol Blues joined the Futures Collegiate Baseball League as the 10th and newest franchise. Originally, I was assigned to cover Southington American Legion baseball during my first summer season with the Observer, but changes were made and I took on the duties of covering both the Blues and Legion baseball. Although I would enjoy my stay at Muzzy Field and would prove to be memorable experience, my initial thoughts on the Blues would prove otherwise.
The first Blues game I covered at Muzzy Field didn’t come until 14 games into the regular season. It was Friday night, June 19, and the Blues were coming off of a 3-1 loss to the Nashua Silver Knights. The Blues were struggling to find their identity as the new kids on the block in the league, as the loss made them a .500 team at 7-7.
I felt like I was struggling to find my identity as well. I had to adapt to bigger crowds, more experienced players, and longer games. I knew very little about the Blues, and was unfamiliar with the faces of the organization. The only player that I knew on the Blues’ roster was Liam Scafariello because he had played for the Knights.
I was unprepared and in uncharted territory. I felt lost in the interviews, and the stories lacked their luster. I felt like I was out of place. Driving home after the game, I thought to myself, “This could be a long summer.” However, there was one person that made me rethink those words.
Intern and director of public relations for the Blues, Joe Boyle, served as a major supporter during my time with the Blues. Whether it was initiating relationships between the media and the players or providing timely postgame notes and information, Boyle was always reliable and on top of things. Boyle performed the position like a veteran, while displaying passion and commitment for the organization.
The Blues turned their season around by sustaining an 18-10 record once they reached the midpoint mark. The Blues had also sustained first place of the West Division, and added a good luck charm along the way.
On July 3, the Blues organization decided to make three-year-old Arley Sage a member of the 2015 Blues roster for the remainder of the season. Arley was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer of the muscles, on April 25, 2014, and had been through numerous treatments. The Blues honored Arley at their Fourth of July game against the North Shore Navigators at Muzzy Field by letting her throw out the first pitch and participate in other on-field activities. 50/50 proceeds from the games also went to Arley’s organization, Team Arley.
By the all-star break, the Blues were 24-16 and in first place of the West Division. On Friday, July 17, eight Blues were selected to play on the West Division’s team in the FCBL All-Star game on Tuesday, July 21 at Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass.
Out of the eight players chosen, five pitchers represented the Blues: Tim Cate, Troy Terzi, Robert Paccione, George Lund, and Ty Robinson. The other three players that were chosen to represent the Blues were Gerrad Rohan, Davis Strong, and Austin Chauvin. Blues’ coaches Pat Riley and Jordan Scheiner have also been chosen to help coach the West Division’s team in the all-star game.
Although the East defeated the West, 4-3, Strong made things interesting for Blues fans. Strong exhibited his talents in front of of baseball scouts and 2,342 people by hitting the only homerun (his fifth of the season) in the All-Star game, which tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth.
Later that week on Friday night against the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, Strong made a diving, sliding catch in center field that no one thought he could even get to. Strong’s catch made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the night at number seven.
Before Saturday’s game against the Silver Knights on Aug. 1, I sat down with Scafariello for an extensive interview to write a feature story on his transition from high school to collegiate baseball. I felt like his journey with the Blues was similar to mine in a way.
Scafariello was a big hitter for the Knights, as one of the few players on the team to hit multiple home runs in a season. Before his high school career with the Knights ended, Scafariello had committed to play college baseball for UConn in Storrs. As he was getting off the bus to play his last high school baseball game at Muzzy Field against Amity, Scafariello received a phone call about getting drafted by the Atlanta Braves— as a high pick though.
Scafariello said that he was unsure about where he would play entering the summer with the Blues. He showed inconsistency at the plate with a low batting average throughout the first half of the season. However, when I sat down with Scafariello that day, he told me that his mind was made up on playing college baseball for San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas. He spoke with confidence, and his confidence carried over to his play on the field, as his hitting greatly improved and he became a team leader after his decision was made.
Aug. 1 was also the last game that Barry Lyons was seen in a Blues uniform. Lyons was let go by the organization after managing the team to a 28-21 record, and missing two regular season games with the team.
The team’s pitching coach, Riley, managed the team during Lyon’s absence for those two games, and stepped in to manage the team for the remainder of the season. Elliot Schneider’s son, Jordan, took the role of the team’s pitching coach. Things only got better from there. The Blues went 6-2 for the remainder of the season, putting together a seven-game win streak.
Riley was referred to as a “player’s coach” by multiple players on the team, and was a pleasure to talk to in postgame interviews. Riley was knowledgeable about the team and knew what the team needed to do to win. That showed in the playoffs after the Blues earned a No.2-seed by winning the West Division, finishing the regular season with a record of 33-23.
The Blues also lost a few players to injuries during the season, but welcomed the arrival of players Willy Yahn, Dillon Burke, Tom Curtin, Dylan Morris, and Troy Stefanski. They proved to be key contributors for the remainder of the season.
In the Blues first home game of the season at Muzzy Field, the Blues recorded an attendance of 2014 people. By the last game of the regular season at Muzzy Field, the Blues recorded their highest attendance of 3,088 people.
Everything was coming full circle for the Blues organization and I felt like I was a part of it. I was familiar with the team and organization. The interviews were filled with laughter, and the stories had their meaning. I felt like I was a Blue. The people of Bristol were happy and wanted to see their Blues compete.
In the playoffs, the Blues defeated the No.7-seed Torrington Titans, 3-1, at home in the quarterfinals. The Blues advanced to the semifinals where they shutout the No.5-seed Nashua Silver Knights, 7-0, at home. The Blues were going to the championship series (best of three games) in their first season in the league. The only team left standing in their way was the No.6-seed Worcester Bravehearts.
The Bravehearts knew what it was like to be the new kid on the block, coming into the league in 2014. The Bravehearts were the defending league champions after winning the 2011 FCBL title in their first year in the league. They were back for another.
The Blues were defeated in game one of the series, 2-1, at Fitton Field in Worcester, but bounced back with a 1-0 win in game two at home. Game three at Muzzy Field made me realize what it had meant to cover the Blues and be a part of their organization. I looked around and saw a packed house that were cheering and held up signs with player’s names on them. It was like the city of Bristol had found their identity with the Blues.
Game three was one of the best baseball games I had ever been a part of. The Blues trailed Worcester 4-1 after the seventh inning. In the eighth, the Blues stormed back to tie the game after putting up three runs. I cheered for the Blues and felt like a fan as the place went wild, eventually sending the game into extra innings.
It only took one inning to decide a winner though. With two men on and one out in the 10th, the Bravehearts won the game with a triple to the center field wall that drove in the two runs to win it, 6-4. The Blues may have lost the championship, but boy did they make a statement in their first year in the league. It is definitely a season that I won’t forget.
Brian Jennings is a staff writer for The Observer.