NEW BRITAIN - To say that Cody Charneski took an unconventional path to a pro baseball contract would be an understatement.
“My story’s kind of crazy,” Charneski said.
The 2014 Plainville High graduate spent a year at Western Connecticut State University for a year, then transferred to Central Connecticut, but never played varsity baseball in college.
Over the past three years, in addition to helping coach the Plainville High baseball team with head coach Lou Mandeville and assistant Ryan Raponey, Charneski had served as an intern and bullpen catcher with the New Britain Bees. His duties included working in the front office, doing videography for the team.
But when former Bees catcher Josh Thole was signed by the Detroit Tigers organization and assigned to Double-A Erie of the Eastern League, New Britain was left with just one catcher on its roster, creating a surprise opportunity for Charneski.
“[Bees manager] Wally [Backman] came up to me and said, ‘Hey, how are you feeling?’ And I was like, ‘I’m good. Why, what’s up?’ He goes, ‘OK. Go upstairs and sign your contract.’ I was like, ‘Wow, well, all right, well, let’s go,’” Charneski recalled.
Officially signed by the team on June 21, he became one of the youngest players in the league at age 21.
“We really needed a catcher, and Cody had been very valuable to the organization,” Backman said.
With his work as bullpen catcher with the team, Charneski also had the advantage of already being familiar with the Bees’ pitchers, he added.
“We were in need at the time, and since we actually signed him as a player, he’s done a fine job,” Backman said. “Fortunate for him, the kid has been really dedicated to the organization.”
Charneski made his pro debut as a pinch hitter at New Britain Stadium on June 21. His second appearance came as a substitute at Lancaster on July 7, then he got his first start and first professional base hit the next night in a 6-3 victory over the Barnstormers.
“It’s definitely a really cool experience for myself,” Charneski said. “I don’t think too many guys have my kind of experience and are able to be in this league in this position. It’s really a blessing for me.”
His signing, he noted, was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
“It just so happened that I was still working out here and getting some reps in,” he said. “I’m just taking it day by day. I’ve got a lot of great people in this locker room that have been helping me tremendously as far as my mind set and my everyday approach. I get to look at all these professionals here, including our trainer, who’s kept my head going in the right direction, telling me when to relax and when to get it going. I have a great supporting cast here. This is a great group of guys, and they’ve made this transition for me, that some say would be a little bit tough, very, very easy.”
While he was signed due to an emergency situation, Backman believes Charneski could have a future as a player with the team.
“I really do, I see a future for the kid. He’s dedicated and he’s a hard worker,” Backman said. “To watch him grow and to watch him get better day in and day out, I think it’s a sign of his work habits. He’s an asset on our team right now.”
While Charneski has not really had time to have a major impact on the field with the team yet, New Britain has gone 13-6 since he was signed and he’s enjoyed the ride.
“We’ve really turned it around from the start of the season,” he said. “We gave Somerset a run for their money in the first half and we’re looking to just carry over that good baseball into the second half and keep doing what we’re doing, try and pack this place and get some W’s.”
Charneski is hoping to play a key role in getting the Bees into the playoffs by winning the second half divisional title.
“Our coaches do a great job with me. I love these guys, and they give me a ton of confidence. They have a ton of confidence in me and I just want to do more to go out there and help them win ball games,” he said. “This ball club is about a bunch of guys in here that just want to win. And we have a great, great thing going here.”
Backman said signing Charneski was a key move for the team.
“He’s done a nice job for us, he really has,” the manager said. “I mean, we were in trouble and he stepped in and picked up the slack. We got a good team here and he’s done a fine job for us.”
Win or lose, Charneski is enjoying being a part of the team in the dugout and on the field.
“There’s guys here that care. They care about their craft, they care about their game and they care about winning,” he said. “Top to bottom, this place feels like home.”
Paul Angilly can be reached at 860-973-1800 or firstname.lastname@example.org