NEW BRITAIN - Spring is looking to be awfully quiet in the local area, at least in the realm of sport. CCSU and UConn have already canceled their remaining spring sports, and the CIAC is meeting Wednesday morning to discuss the fate of high school spring sports, which are already headed for at least a postponement due to school closures and suspensions of practices through at least the end of the month.
But the New Britain Bees are hoping summer will bring baseball to the Hardware City and provide a return to normalcy amid the coronavirus outbreak that has brought the sporting world, and the world as a whole, to a screeching halt.
The Futures League, which the Bees joined last fall and will be playing in for the first time this season, is scheduled to start in late May, with the Bees opening up in Worcester, Mass., on May 27 and holding their home opener the following day, also against Worcester.
For now, those dates are still scheduled to be the beginning of the Bees’ new era, as the team and the league as a whole hopes that the coming months will bring a containment of the virus that has already affected countless sports leagues, from youth to the pros, around the world.
“We’re scheduled to start on May 27, so that’s still two and a half months away,” Bees general manager Brad Smith said. “Right now, we’re planning on having a right-on-time start. Obviously, everything is subject to change and we want everyone to stay safe and healthy, but from our standpoint here, we’re fortunate that our season doesn’t start until the end of May.”
Many Bees players have already had their springs affected by postponements and cancellations, but are holding out hope for a summer on the diamond.
Infielder Derek Tenney and pitcher Tim Blaisdell are teammates on a University of Hartford team that called off the remainder of its spring season, while one of its more recent additions in Newington native and Goodwin Tech graduate Tommy Hughes is waiting for updates from Southern Connecticut State University, where his sophomore season with the Owls was interrupted by cancellations that are scheduled to last through April 13, and possibly even longer after that.
Still, Hughes hopes that no matter what becomes of his second collegiate season, his second campaign in the Futures League (he pitched for the Bristol Blues last year) will be uninterrupted.
“I’m thinking it’ll start on time,” Hughes said. “But I don’t know how long it could get dragged out, because things are getting pretty serious. I feel like there’s really no hope for the spring season, but hopefully we can start the summer on time and get going. It’s been a long layover without baseball and it stinks that we can’t get to the gym or gather on the field together and everything like that.”
Hughes may not have any in-game action for the time being, but the righty reliever is still operating as if the Bees will take the field on May 27, which is what the team is shooting for as well.
“I’m just staying home and throwing on the field and running, and just working out with one or two guys,” Hughes said. “I gave my arm a rest for about a week or two, and now I’m building it back up if the spring were to resume, but also to build it up for the summer.”
The cancellation of many spring sports hasn’t changed preparations for the Bees’ season, but it could affect how the game looks if it indeed does start on time, when players normally coming straight from collegiate seasons could potentially be getting into game action for the first time in more than two months.
“I expect everyone will be a little rusty,” Hughes said. “Usually you’re prepared from spring, but it’s still going to be a good season. I’m sure everyone is doing what they can individually to be ready for the summer. If we transitioned right from spring, pitchers’ arms might be more in shape and pitch counts would be higher, but I’m sure they’ll have to ease into everything because spring was pretty much canceled.”
Given how quickly updates have funneled in from the sporting world over the past week, the outlook for the Futures League season could change quickly. But with more than eight weeks before Opening Day, no meetings are currently scheduled for the league to discuss the upcoming season, and all teams are hoping to take the field when late May arrives. But commissioner Joe Paolucci has been in contact with owners and managers across the league and will be prepared to make any changes, if they were to become necessary.
“Right now, everything is business as usual, and it will be until it’s not,” Paolucci said. “We’re listening to our local and state health officials, and if we have to make any changes, we’ll do that. But for right now, it’s unfortunate the NCAA had to shut down and the players lost their seasons, but our May 27 start date is past the eight-week CDC recommendations for shutting down groups of 50-plus. So we’re operating like we’re going to have a full season.”
Hope is still prevailing for the Bees that the commissioner’s plans to start the season on time will be a reality, but with each passing day, sports that are scheduled around the time of the start of the Futures League season are being postponed.
The College World Series, which normally takes place in the middle of June, has already been canceled, but for baseball players so firmly entrenched in routine, preparing for a regular summer filled with baseball provides a sense of comfort while also helping ramp up for a season that plans to begin on schedule.
“Just seeing all of these higher levels of baseball and sports getting pushed back, it shows they’re doing everything to keep everyone safe, and that could mean pushing back into the summer or as far as they have to, and possibly cancel things if it doesn’t die down like we hope it will,” Hughes said. “But I’ll just keep working and be ready.”