NEW BRITAIN - Every year, New Britain High School baseball coach Roberto Mercado takes his Hurricanes on a trip, offering the team another opportunity to come together as a group. Last year, the destination was Citi Field, where the Hurricanes took in a major league baseball game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals.
For New Britain, watching nine innings in a sun-splashed ballpark was only part of the team’s eventful trip.
On the roster for the visiting Nationals was outfielder Andrew Stevenson, a former second-round pick out of LSU and former member of the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, where Mercado has served as an assistant coach since 2014. Stevenson played for the Y-D Red Sox during that 2014 season, and he and Mercado had kept in touch ever since, leading into last season, when Mercado reached out to Stevenson and asked if he would give his Hurricanes a pep talk.
“I asked him if he would take 10 minutes to talk to my guys, and he said ‘absolutely,’” Mercado said. “He talked to them about what it takes to make it in the major leagues.”
For Mercado, treating his high school kids to a look inside the major leagues is only part of what has made his experience with the Cape Cod League so beneficial. Having just completed his sixth season as a coach for the Red Sox, Mercado’s time in Cape Cod offers him an opportunity to take in the game of baseball from a greater scope, while helping further develop some of the brightest young talent in the country.
“We’re in a little bubble here in central Connecticut,” Mercado said. “When you see these guys that come out from all over the country, you can tell how talented these guys are. I met a lot of great players and coaches that arrived from all over the country. It’s fun. Just like every year, it was absolutely amazing. There’s a lot of personalities and a mix of talent. It’s a great family that we build in a short amount of time. I’m definitely going to keep in touch with this group, like I have in years past.”
Like he does every year, Mercado plans to maintain contact with the baseball minds and talents that he comes across in Cape Cod, and also plans to bring a piece of Cape Cod back with him to the Hardware City, when the high school season ramps back up and the Hurricanes look to make another run at the state tournament.
“I bring a ton of stuff back with me,” Mercado said. “I’ve learned different drills and different ways to explain certain things that will help my program out. I’m always bouncing ideas off of the guys there. It’s a learning experience.”
It’s an experience that Mercado initially feared would be a bit one-sided, but once he overcame the uncertainty of what he had to offer to players that planned on playing professional baseball, he was able to truly embrace the opportunity that he now takes advantage of every summer.
“My first year, I was a little intimidated,” Mercado said. “I thought I would be asking all the questions, but it was the total opposite. Guys from past years still text me questions and it’s awesome. I’ll always follow them.”
Players like Shane Bieber, now in the starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians and a former roommate of Mercado’s during the summer of 2015, are some of the names and success stories that Mercado can keep an eye on and bounce ideas off of. He also fields calls from scouts and college coaches asking about kids he coached during the summer in the Cape Cod League, and he never hesitates to let his Hurricanes know the nature of those questions, using it as one of many helpful tools that he’s gained from coaching in one of the nation’s biggest collegiate summer leagues over the past six seasons.
“When they call, they never ask about stats,” Mercado explained. “They ask how they are with host families and how they make adjustments. They want to know how they are as people. I think it’s good for high school kids to know that numbers are great, but big-time schools are still looking for good people.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org