By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington American Legion Post 72 entered the 2019 postseason looking to defend its 2018 state championship.
What happens if you’re a Southington player and your Legion eligibility is up? There are various summer wood-bat organizations like the New England Collegiate Baseball League and Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England. Those leagues are more restrictive in their selection of players, and those players come from throughout the Northeast U.S. and the country.
There is a local option. If you’re college-aged and want to face same-level competition, there’s the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League, home of the Southington Shock.
“It’s just to the point where that’s what you need in the summer. You need to get your reps, you need to get your work,” said Charlie Lembo, former manager of the Shock and a co-founder of the CCBL.
The Shock play on weeknights, allowing a player to work and then come play a game. There’s also no travel out of state like there is in the NECBL and FCBL.
“We got the kids that wanted to stay home in the summer,” Lembo said.
The Shock are led by a local baseball coach, Frank Naples. Naples has been a long-time assistant to Berlin High head coach Leo Veleas.
“Frank knows his baseball, he’s a great guy,” Lembo said.
If a college league doesn’t do it for you, you can play for the Southington Aftershock of the Connecticut Twilight League or the Southington 66ers of the Connecticut Tri-State Baseball League. The Aftershock and 66ers extend well beyond college-aged players, however, and offer a place to continue playing the game you love.
“I think especially in a town like Southington, it’s a big baseball town, so you’ve got a lot of guys that have played, they love the game, and I guess this is one outlet for them to keep playing the game,” said Aftershock coach/player Jonathan Blais.
“The 66ers provide an opportunity for primarily college-age and post-college-age baseball players to compete in a high-level, well-organized, competitive, wood-bat league with long-standing state and national affiliations, the American Amateur Baseball Congress or AABC,” said 66ers manager Joe Santovasi.
If you have been out of college for a few years but still want to play competitive baseball, you can go to the Twilight or Tri-State leagues, but they are not the only options. There’s also the Connecticut North Senior Men’s Baseball League’s over 25 division, which is home to the Southington Navigators.
The Aftershock, 66ers and Navigators all play different schedules.
“Our last league, we played Sunday mornings, and not everyone wanted to give up one weekend day,” said Aftershock player Nick Blais. “This just works out better because it’s right after work and at a good time any way, way more convenient.”
The Aftershock, who were members of the National Adult Baseball Association, generally play on weekday evenings in the Twilight League.
“You can finish your day with a baseball game rather than having to dedicate an entire Sunday around that, so it’s kind of nice to get enough guys together,” added Jonathan Blais. “That’s always the challenge. This is convenient, you can get enough guys together.”
The 66ers play on weekday evenings and on weekends during the day, usually Sundays.
“Weekend games enable most players to participate in games on Saturdays or Sundays,” Santovasi said. “Weeknight games played at 5:45 or 6 p.m. are more of a challenge for some players due to work commitments and travel to away games.”
The Navigators play doubleheaders on Sundays, which allows for work and family time the rest of the week, according to manager Shaun Wyman.
“The MSBL also has special rules to help keep aging players on the field,” Wyman said. “They have courtesy runner rules, offense and defense are run separately, and you can bat as many players in the lineup at once which helps spread out playing time. We’ve had guys who only want to play defense or only want to hit. That’s possible with the MSBL rules.”
Wyman said the league is also competitive with former college and minor league players involved. There are others who play in another league like Tri-State or Twilight as well as the CNMSBL, Wyman said.
What if you don’t want to play a doubleheader every Sunday? There’s still an option out there, and it’s the Southington Indians of the Northeast Baseball Association Over-38 League. Games are mostly on Saturdays at 4 p.m., and there’s only one per week unless a makeup needs to be done.
“It’s great for us, because we’re all in our 40s and 50s, some of us 60s, and we’re still playing baseball,” said Indians manager Chris Lynch. “If I went back 30 years in my life, I never would have thought I would still be playing baseball. For all of us, it’s just keeping that dream alive, still playing the game that we love.”
Some in the Over-38 league played in college, but for most, their competitive playing days ended with high school.
“The best guys I’ve ever played with, not just saying that. We always say that to each other,” Lynch said. “We look forward to the aftertime hanging out as much as we do playing, because everybody gets along, there’s no jerks on the team, there’s no egos. We just really do it to have fun. We try to win, but the main goal is have fun.”
The league is competitive, with two to three teams standing above the rest. Still, it’s a chance to play ball and hang out, and that’s what the Indians are looking for.
“It’s fun man, I love it,” Lynch said.
So, when do these leagues start their seasons? The CNMSBL and NEBA Over-38 league begin in mid-April. Tri-State and Twilight start in mid-May, and the CCBL begins in late May. The bottom line is, everyone wants to be on a diamond somewhere in Southington, playing the game they love.
“It’s guys that love baseball, and they’ll do a lot to make that happen, especially when you get a team with a good group of people. It’s easy, it’s fun,” said Aftershock coach/player Jonathan Blais.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com