It was the type of situation that might only be seen in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League or others like it.
Christian Budzik, a Cromwell native who recently completed his junior season playing baseball for Division III Eastern Connecticut State University, went up to bat against Austin Hansen, a fireballing right handed pitcher from Lenexa, Kan., who plays for Division I University of Oklahoma.
In his freshman season, Hansen was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 17 relief appearances, holding opponents to a .231 average and striking out 27 batters in 27 2/3 innings. By comparison, Budzik batted just .177 in 40 games with ECSU, collecting 12 RBI on 20 hits.
On paper, it might look like a mismatch. But the FCBL is all about giving players an opportunity to show what they can do, and Budzik was up for the challenge.
With the Blues trailing 4-2 in this past Thursday’s game at Muzzy Field against the visiting Pittsfield Suns, Budzik, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, came up with the bases loaded and two outs and drilled a line drive base hit past the diving Suns second baseman, sending the tying runs across the plate. The Blues went on to win 8-5.
“That was an incredible opportunity, and he really stepped up and delivered,” Blues manager Pat Riley said.
“Kind of the purpose, a little bit, of summer baseball, especially this league, it’s a developmental one, and it’s for guys to play every day, get a lot of at bats, get a lot of innings, and see what they can do,” he added. “You’re going to have individuals who have played for their college teams, who start, but there’s also a lot of guys here who are getting that chance.”
Budzik, now in his second year with the Blues, relished the chance to hit in that situation.
“It’s a great opportunity to face a kid from Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s kind of neat to see how I stack up against those kids, because it’s not every day at Eastern you get to see a 92, 93, 94 [mile per hour fastball]. … I’m not going to go up and face a kid from Oklahoma in Willimantic.”
More than just the chance to play with and against players from larger college programs, Budzik said just getting plenty of practice and playing time - another opportunity playing in the FCBL provides - is a key factor in developing as a player.
“It helps, because you’re at the ballpark six days a week,” he said. “You’re here early [and can] take as many swings as you want, as many ground balls.”
In terms of competing with ECSU after playing here last summer, Budzik added, “It helped a lot, for sure. It definitely helped a lot, being able to get reps every day. It was a great opportunity.”
Riley noted, “You got guys competing at the Division I, Division II, Division III levels, we got NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] guys and you’ll see junior college guys as well.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity. For guys who play Division III, Division II, maybe some of them have a little chip on their shoulder, maybe some of them don’t, but they’re being exposed to a pretty high caliber of baseball. It’s different situations and it’s only going to help their game to improve.”
Riley noted that Logan Greene, a Coventry native who plays college ball at UMass, is another player who has taken advantage of his opportunities to shine with the Blues in recent games. He had a 3-for-5 night against the Seacoast Mavericks last Wednesday and went 2-for-4 with a run scored against the Pittsfield Suns on Friday night.
“He’s gotten opportunities as of late and he’s taken advantage of it,” Riley said.
While the primary focus of the players and staff in Bristol is to bring home the FCBL championship they were so close to last season, it’s not their sole purpose.
“It is about winning and losing,” Riley said. “We’re all competitive people, this is a competitive organization, but there’s a lot of deeper meanings, and it’s about giving people some opportunities and exposing them to a high caliber of baseball, and it’s just a great experience all around.”
Budzik credited the Blues owners with creating an environment that allows players to be their best.
“They really give us every opportunity to work hard and be in a comfortable environment,” he said.
Paul Angilly can be reached at (860) 973-1800, or firstname.lastname@example.org