NEW BRITAIN - Last season represented a rebirth of baseball in New Britain.
The newly-formed New Britain Bees debuted in the Atlantic League and soon a group of young men came together for the first time and created a bond on the field and with fans in and around the city.
Not surprisingly, it took a little while for the chemistry to form completely, but the team still came close to qualifying for the playoffs in their rookie season. But in Year 2, the team is ready to take the next step in their quest to win a league title.
The Bees return 14 players that were on the roster a season ago, including almost the entire starting lineup, so the players believe having that familiarity right off the bat will be helpful.
“The fact we have the experience from last year and we have played next to each other on the same team we’re more comfortable,” returning third baseman Jovan Rosa said. “I feel like we are that much more confident in our teammates and now we have roles. We know what we have to do and you know your teammates have your back. So I think we are going to be stronger this year because of the experience and we have a year under our belts.”
Last season the players had to spend the beginning portion of the season doing simple things like learning each other’s names, in addition to their strengths and weaknesses. There is some of that going on again this year, with some new faces joining the team, but having more than half of the roster returning makes it easier to form a bond quickly.
“It definitely helps,” Rosa said. “It makes it easier to come out here and know that you have your teammates from last year. We have a core now; we got the boys back. It’s not like it’s going to take the first month or month and a half to learn about everybody.”
Baseball may not seem like the type of sport where team chemistry is important, considering most aspects of the game are individualized, but don’t tell that to the Bees players. They believe not knowing much about their teammates, along with other factors, played a role in the team not starting as strong as it potentially could have.
“Having almost 60 percent of the team return is huge,” said returning pitcher, and Berlin native, Anthony Marzi. “Last year it was a first-year team and there were a lot of unknowns, but this year we will come in and have that camaraderie already there and it should make a huge difference.”
While the lineup is filled with returnees for New Britain, the pitching staff is littered with new faces. Only five of the 13 pitchers on the roster played for the Bees a season ago, so they will have to get acclimated, but the good thing is they will be throwing to catcher James Skelton, who is a well-liked returnee.
Last season pitchers raved about Skelton behind the plate, and he should help speed up the process of the new guys getting comfortable. Whether it’s with scouting reports of players he has seen, or anything else he can do to help, his job is making it so the pitchers can thrive.
“It’s good to have a lot of guys back because our team chemistry is going to start off with a bang,” Skelton said. “We all get along with each other already and the guys that Stan [Cliburn] brought in, he brought in some really good arms like Joe Beimel, and our starters look pretty good from catching them in the bullpen. It’s going to be an exciting year and I’m going to do what I can to make all of these guys successful.”
The dynamic on an independent baseball team is always interesting because players are always coming in and out of the locker room due to being signed by other organizations or with trades. It’s no secret the goal of all players is to be picked up by a major league organization, but at the same time, the Bees all appear to have their minds set on having a successful season, while letting the other stuff take care of itself.
“I don’t really like to think like that,” Rosa said about his individual goals for the season. “I just want to do whatever it takes to help my team and I really just want to get a ring, man.”
Most of all, however, is they all just can’t wait to get the season started tonight.
“It smells like baseball season,” Marzi said. “We have some nice weather here right now and you’re seeing the big leaguers play on TV already. So I think we are all just kind of anxious in the clubhouse to get to game one.”
Baseball in New Britain returns tonight at 6:35 p.m. against the York Revolution.