NEW BRITAIN - While the New Britain Bees enjoyed a walk-off victory in their first â€śBattle of the Sexesâ€ť exhibition softball game against the Stratford Brakettes at New Britain Stadium on Sunday night, the eveningâ€™s festivities were all about the softball.
Several area softball teams attended the game and some were recognized on the field before the contest started. The official crowd of 3,254 - nearly 500 more people than the announced crowd of 2,762 for the regular Beesâ€™ game Sunday afternoon - appeared to mostly be supporting the visiting team and cheered loudly whenever a Brakettes pitcher left a Bees batter swinging wildly at a pitch he couldnâ€™t touch. Later in the game, members of the crowd also began a series of softball chants, much like what might be heard at any area youth game.
â€śThereâ€™s just a show,â€ť said Brakettes pitcher Brandice Balschmiter, a veteran of four previous â€śBattle of the Sexesâ€ť games, including three with the Brakettes in recent years against the now-defunct Bridgeport Bluefish. â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter, win, lose or whatever the outcome is, itâ€™s purely a show. Itâ€™s all for the fans. It gets people back into this stadium, it gets people into our stadium, builds a fan base, and thatâ€™s what itâ€™s all about.â€ť
A four-time Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year during her career at UMass and a former pro player in the National Pro Fastpitch league, Balschmiter is the type of player the youth players in attendance came to see. She is currently in her 12th and final season with the Brakettes and noted that she has been playing competitively for 20 years.
â€śIâ€™m ready. Itâ€™s been a long, great career and Iâ€™m happy,â€ť she said of her pending retirement.
Among the youth teams present were the Berlin Bombers, a 14U girls travel softball team that is made up of girls from Berlin and New Britain.
â€śIt was just exciting to come to see professional softball, right here in our town,â€ť said Michelle Wieczorek, who helps manage the team. â€śJust to see the professional softball team, something that they can aspire to, if they stick with it and work hard.â€ť
The young Bombers enjoyed highlights such as Brakettes pitchers striking out 14 Bees batters and Briana Marcelino blasting a two-run homer over the left field fence in the top of the seventh inning to break open a scoreless tie to that point.
â€śI like that home run that she hit,â€ť Jazmyn Browne said.
â€śI like [watching] the pitchers striking out the men, because they think itâ€™s going to be easy,â€ť Xandra Silva added.
Wieczorekâ€™s daughter Hailey Wieczorek is a pitcher with the Bombers.
â€śI just like watching the game a lot,â€ť Hailey Wieczorek said. â€śI really like watching other people do what I do.â€ť
She took special note of Stratfordâ€™s four pitchers in the game.
â€śI saw [them] throwing a lot of change-ups, and they were really confusing the men out there,â€ť Hailey Wieczorek said. â€śIt was just cool to see. It was like watching our role model.â€ť
Despite taking the loss after an infield error and a bobbled ball at first base in the Beesâ€™ half of the ninth inning, Balschmiter struck out five batters over the final 2 1/3 innings.
With UMass from 2006 to 2009, Balschmiter was a four-year starter who ended her career with 1,218 strikeouts, which, at the time, ranked 21st in NCAA Division I history. She was in the circle during one of the most memorable games in school history, as she and the University of Washingtonâ€™s Daniele Lawrie combined for 38 strikeouts - the fourth-most combined strikeouts in a single game in Division I history - in the 2009 NCAA Amherst Regional final that saw the Huskies advance to the Super Regional in 15 innings on their way to the eventual national title. Also on that 2009 UMass team with Balschmiter were three Bristol natives: Davina Hernandez, Audrey Boutin and Sara Plourde.
â€śI think that thereâ€™s great softball in this area. New Britain has an amazing program and they do a really good job with their youth sports,â€ť she said.
With a big, enthusiastic crowd, the first â€śBattle of the Sexesâ€ť game at New Britain Stadium was a win-win for both organizations.
â€śI think that itâ€™s going to draw into a different market â€¦ and I think itâ€™s good for us to expose up here and for them to be here, and hopefully this is the first of many games to come,â€ť Balschmiter said. â€śYou never know, I might be in the stands next year cheering [them] on.â€ť
Paul Angilly can be reached at 860-973-1800 firstname.lastname@example.org