By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Bristol Blues (33-23) played their last regular season game at home on Sunday, Aug. 9, and enter the postseason as the winners of the West Division with a No.2-seed. The Blues also will enter the postseason with a new captain navigating the ship.
This past week, the Blues let go of manager Barry Lyons, which was the result of a mutual agreement between general manager, Rick Muntean, and team owners Elliot Scheiner, David Lindland, and Steve Lindland. The Blues’ front office issued this statement upon Lyon’s departure from the organization:
“The Blues have decided to part ways with Barry Lyons due to a lack of commitment that we signed a contract for. As the Blues finish their inaugural season we expect all hands on deck as we make an attempt to deliver a championship to the dedicated Bristol Blues community. The Blues would like to wish Barry Lyons the best of luck as he heads forward.”
Lyons was absent for two games during the regular season. Reports say that the team waited for Lyons when they were preparing to travel up to Brockton, Mass. on Sunday, Aug. 2 to take on the then-first place Rox (34-22). The bus left without Lyons and the Blues’ pitching coach, Pat Riley, managed the team instead. Lyons also missed the Blues’ 6-4 home win over the Seacoast Mavericks (15-41) on Thursday, July 23, which was the first regular season game the team played after the All-Star game.
“We have asked all involved with the Blues for a commitment to excellence,” said Muntean. “That commitment meant attending and working every game. Barry did not follow through on his commitment. We have tunnel vision in providing a championship for our great fans in our inaugural season. Barry was a great manager and helped the Blues get to the FCBL West division title. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Lyons’ last game as manager of the Blues was a 3-1 win over the Nashua Silver Knights (28-28) at Muzzy Field on Saturday, Aug. 1. Since then, 24-year-old Riley has stepped into the managerial role for the Blues with Scheiner’s son, Jordan Scheiner, assisting Riley as the team’s pitching coach.
“It’s been going well,” said Riley. “We’ve been playing really good baseball down the stretch here. We haven’t really missed a beat. We’ve been really fortunate and I’m thankful of the organization for giving me the opportunity. We have a great squad and great group of guys, which has made my job as easy as it could be, in terms of baseball, with the amount of talent we have.”
Tyler Packanik said that Riley is definitely the type of guy you want at the top.
“He’s very positive and is a player’s coach, who wants to be there for us” said Packanik. “He obviously has great baseball knowledge and we can pick his brain. Guys have definitely rallied behind him and we want to win for him. That’s the most important thing. We want to win for him and the city. He’s rooting for us.”
The Blues ended the regular season at home the next night, but were defeated by the Worcester Bravehearts (26-30), 8-1.
Octave (2-for-4) scored the Blues’ only run of the game when he hit Strong in on a RBI single in the eighth. Tom Curtin (0-1) was given the loss after starting his first game for the Blues on the mound. Curtin went five and two thirds innings with two strikeouts, allowing seven hits, seven walks, and five earned runs.
The Blues have dealt with changes in their roster toward the end of the regular season, replacing familiar starters that have been lost for the rest of the season. Some of those new faces include infielder Yahn (UConn), outfielder Morris (UMass-Amherst), outfielder Stefanski (UConn), and pitcher Curtin (plans to attend CCSU in the fall). With the addition of Yahn and Stefanski, the Blues now have four players that attend UConn.
“They’re all great buddies already,” said Packanik. “We’re always hanging out. It’s pretty cool when a new guy comes in because we learn about them, their school, and where they come from. It’s kind of unique. We all like to pick their brains and all that stuff with baseball knowledge. They definitely grow on us as a team pretty quick. They’re already rooting for us, wanting us to win, and trying to commit to the team. They’re here to do whatever it takes to win, and win a championship.”
Stefanski is one of the new players that Packanik has taken under his wing.
“Troy is struggling a little bit at the plate,” said Packanik. “He came from Legion and now he’s playing against some of the top college guys in the country. He’s struggling a little bit, but we’re telling him, ‘Hey, keep going out there swinging. You’re going to find it. You play at UConn, you’re a great player, and we all know it. Just go out there, relax, have fun, and we know you’re going to be there in the end. If a big moment comes up, we believe in you and have confidence in you.’”
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League playoffs will feature eight teams in a three-round format, leaving the last-place teams of the East and West Divisions eliminated. The first and second rounds (knockout round) will be played as single-elimination games, followed by a best-of-three championship series.
The Blues enter the postseason as the No.2-seed, after finishing the regular season as the first-place team of the West Division. The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks come in on top as the No.1-seed, followed by the Brockton Rox (No.3-seed), the North Shore Navigators (No.4-seed), the Nashua Silver Knights (No.5-seed), the Worcester Bravehearts (No.6-seed), the Torrington Titans (No.7-seed), and the Pittsfield Suns (No.8-seed).
Round one started Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Blues hosted the Torrington Titans at Muzzy Field. The other matchups are as follows: Suns at Sharks; Bravehearts at Rox; and Silver Knights at Navigators.
“Every game matters, obviously, with the single elimination format,” said Riley. “We’re going to play all the cards we have from here on out. There’s no saving anything. We’re going to go with the best lineups and arms. This is what you’ve played for. You’ve played 56 regular season games and it’s tough that it boils down to one playoff game, but we’re going to embrace that. I think the guys are going to be ready to go. It’s going to be an exciting time for the Blues organization and the city of Bristol. Hopefully we can make them proud.”
By BRIAN JENNINGS