NEW BRITAIN - Kevin Noyola should be considered a seasoned veteran in the Connecticut Twilight League.
A member of the league for the past six years, the New Britain native has made stops with teams in Newington, East Hampton and Portland, seeing the CTL from numerous perspectives. But heading into the 2020 season, Noyola wanted to see his home city have its own team.
So Noyola called his childhood friends who graduated from New Britain High School with him back in 2011, and quickly built a foundation that would become the New Britain Hurricanes, who are currently playing in their inaugural season as part of the Connecticut Twilight League.
“There hasn’t been a team here in the last 11 years in New Britain, mainly because of finances and field situations, but I’ve been playing with a lot of these guys since we were about seven years old,” Noyola said. “This is mainly the 2011 team from New Britain High School. We just wanted to come together and make a team and play baseball all summer.”
Among the friends Noyola recruited was Nestor Velazquez, who played at the College of St. Joseph in Vermont after his career with the Hurricanes and Matt Martinez, another 2011 grad who helped lead UConn-Avery Point to the NJCAA Division II Baseball World Series by leading the team in batting average, hits and home runs before transferring to CCSU. Noyola and Martinez were teammates with Newington during last year’s CTL season and Noyola was the league’s batting champion in 2018.
“It was easy to get the guys,” Noyola said of putting together the new Hurricanes team. “But it was a process getting approved by the managers of each team, but luckily my seniority in the league helped a lot.”
Of course, once the team was assembled, fear of losing the inaugural season entirely began to set in. The coronavirus outbreak shut down all spring sports, including the College World Series, and summer collegiate leagues, like the New England Collegiate Baseball League canceled, their seasons entirely. With the Futures League postponing its season indefinitely, directly impacting baseball in New Britain, Noyola wasn’t sure if the 11-year drought of New Britain baseball in the Twilight League would come to an end in 2020.
“January was when we were starting the team up and had the meetings, and COVID took over,” Noyola said. “It became difficult for teams to come together and discuss if we were going to have a team and a season. There were a lot of regulations that we all had to come to terms with.”
Among those regulations was the home plate umpire now being positioned behind the pitcher’s mound. When the two umpires needed to get together to discuss a call, both immediately put on masks. It’s a few of the precautions that have been put in place, but those regulations were able to salvage a shortened season and bring summer baseball back to the Hardware City.
“I was definitely nervous,” Noyola said of starting a new team in the wake of a global pandemic that threatened the season. “It was a lot of hard work and difficult to get sponsors, especially with COVID and people struggling with money. It was really difficult to get everyone together and make sure everyone had enough money to join the league.”
But Noyola made it work, and has been able to get some help from familiar faces to fill the roster.
For Monday night’s game against the Southington Aftershock, 2019 New Britain graduates Justin Adorno and Michael Gajda were in the Hurricanes’ lineup. Adorno, now playing for CCSU, was getting some reps in before heading to Virginia for AAU, while Gajda, now at American International College, was also getting some extra swings in to get through the summer. Noyola, Martinez and Velasquez all helped New Britain High School head coach Roberto Mercado with the Hurricanes for the past two years as part of the team’s coaching staff, and worked with Adorno and Gajda during their time in high school.
“They’re both great guys,” Noyola said. “We love having them around.”
Noyola and the rest of the Hurricanes also love being back on the diamond, especially this season, where they’ve been able to represent their city with home games at Stanley Quarter Park, marking the return of a New Britain team to the CTL.
“Everyone’s happy to be out here playing baseball,” Noyola said.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org