By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Bristol Blues are only in their third year with the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL), but Muzzy Field was already selected as the 2017 all-star game site before the franchise was even established. On Tuesday, July 18, the locals delivered on the promise.
It wasn’t what league commissioner Chris Hall probably envisioned when they selected Muzzy Field back in 2014, but Blues co-owner Elliot Scheiner was inspired when he attended the 2015 all-star game at Fraser Field in Lynn, Mass.
But Scheiner wanted to raise the bar when the game came to Bristol.
“We went a little further than most people. We had stuff that a lot of people might not have had,” said Sheiner. “We offered a fair amount of entertainment, besides baseball.”
A portable pitching cage was brought in so youngsters could test their arms. Fans arrived to a carnival atmosphere, complete with a face painter, a balloon artist, stilt walkers, and even a chin-up contest. Meanwhile, a local band—Sharp 5 Jazz—was enlisted to play outside the gates as fans arrived.
“We were opening the gates at 3:00, so that parents could come in and see how their kids were doing,” said Scheiner. “We didn’t know if anyone else was going to come in, but we thought we’d have music to lighten up the atmosphere and make it relaxing. I don’t know many bands in Bristol, but these guys play excellent jazz and were phenomenal.”
Then came the field events, and Bristol players delivered once again.
Blues infielder Jayson Gonzalez was added to the home run derby as a last-minute selection, taking the field when another player was scratched due to injury. Gonzalez came through.
“I was just trying to relax as much as possible in front of the home crowd,” he said. “There’s nothing to lose, so I just wanted to have fun and hit the ball hard.”
Gonzalez finished second in the first round with 12 home runs, but upped the ante in the final round with 15, becoming the first Blue to win the derby in the franchise’s history.
“I had my teammates behind me,” said Gonzalez. “Every time out, they came and gave me water and tried to make me relax. It was also a lot of fun hearing the crowd chant, ‘Let’s go Jayson.’ It gives me goose bumps.”
Gonzalez defeated reigning champion, Don Walsh of the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, who hit 16 home runs in the first round and six in the final. Was it a surprise to his team manager that Gonzalez won the derby? Of course not.
“If you’ve ever seen Jayson take batting practice or you’ve watched him in the games, he’s got something you can’t teach,” said Palmer. “And that’s just raw power. When he hits, he can hit it out to any part of the ballpark to the right field foul pole to the left field foul pole. He’s got uncanny power.”
Outfielder Ben Maycock also represented the Blues in the derby, but his six home runs weren’t enough to make it an all-Blues final. Zack Tower of the Dirt Dawgs hit 12, and Joe Caico of the Worcester Bravehearts hit six in the first round.
The pageantry continued with the main event. Frank Whaley from “Field of Dreams” threw out the first pitch of the game in an unadvertised bonus. Scheiner’s wife, Diana Canova, is friends with Whaley and talked to him about making an appearance at the all-star game.
“He said that he was working on a TV show, but would come out if he didn’t have to work that day,” said Scheiner. “We didn’t announce it because we didn’t know if he could make it, but sure enough, he was cool for the next few days and came up.”
In the main event, the Blues held their own with Maycock and infielder Jake Frasca starting for the West Division. Frasca finished with a hit and helped turn two 4-6-3 double plays at shortstop, including an over-the-shoulder catch. Maycock started in left field and went a perfect 2-for-2 at the plate, stealing a base.
Outfielders Chris Davis and Mitch Guilmette came off the bench. Davis entered center field in the top of the sixth inning, drawing a walk and stealing a base in just one plate appearance. Guilmette earned a spot in the all-star game as the West Division’s “fan vote” selection and entered right field in the top of the seventh.
Three of the four hits for the West came off the bats of Blues. The East finished with six hits, as the game was dominated mostly by pitching with a total of 14 strikeouts and just one walk.
The Blues did their part on the mound, too. Relief pitcher Jacob Wallace (0-3) took the mound with one out and one runner on base in the top of the sixth and escaped the scoring threat with two-straight outs.
Closer Tommy Curtin finished the game with a scoreless final inning.
The Blues led the West, even though the East came away with a 2-0 decision off a two-run home run by Joe Silva of the Brockton Rox.
“I think our guys played and showed extremely well in the game,” said Blues Manager Ronnie Palmer. “Obviously, they’re comfortable here at Muzzy, and it was fun for them to play here, especially for the all-star game. We certainly expected that because that’s what they’ve been doing all summer for us.”
The night culminated in a crowd favorite: a fireworks display.
“It’s pretty thrilling,” the part-owner said. “Whoever’s doing it this year is really good. The finale is always amazing.”
The game was well-attended. The grandstands sold out, and the bleachers were about half full.
“I think we did okay,” said Scheiner. “The league expects you to raise prices for all-stars, but I didn’t like the idea of charging more than we normally charge. There are so many players that are all-stars with no more than five or six players from each team, so a lot of their parents showed up.”
Scheiner said that feedback was good throughout the league, but the Blues could be looking at another four to five years before they host another all-star game. Scheiner said that it will be worth the wait.
“We would probably have more entertainment, maybe a different kind of band thing,” he said. “It wouldn’t be necessarily any one band, but we would definitely do stuff differently. When we do get this again”
Scheiner said that, when it returns to Bristol, the biggest change he’d propose is a discount for locals to bring in bigger crowds. All tickets were $10 per person, but ticket prices are set by the league.
“Maybe we can go more along the lines of $6 for reserved seats and $5 for bleacher seats,” said Scheiner. “Or maybe we can make it that if you’re a season-ticket holder or a Bristol resident, you qualify for that.”
Either way, it was worth the price of admission.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.