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Mystic Schooners are in good hands with new owners

Dennis Long has loved baseball for as long as he can remember.

So Long jumped at the opportunity to take over ownership of the Mystic Schooners, the highly-successful New England Collegiate Baseball League team residing in Groton.

The official paperwork was finally completed just a few weeks ago, allowing Long to add co-owner to his other existing titles of general manager and pitching coach. He's running the Schooners along with Don Benoit, another dedicated member of the organization. Manager Phil Orbe also will be back this summer.

"It's the thing that's been constant (in my life) more than anything, my family and baseball," Long said on Tuesday. "It's never felt like work to me, whether it's lessons or coaching or raising money. Well, it's a little bit of work raising money. But when you're talking about something you love, it's easy to sell it."

"It's baseball and it's something that I can see myself doing for a long time. ... For me, this is not a retirement plan, this is what I want to do."

Long, who lives in Norwich, basically grew up on a baseball field. An all-star baseball and basketball player at East Lyme High School, he recently was inducted into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. After starring at UConn, he reached the Triple A-level as a professional. He's also provided private instruction for years as well as serving as pitching coach for UConn Avery Point.

As part of the Mystic organization for six years, he's been one of the driving forces behind the Schooners' rise from the NECBL's worst team in 2012 to a model franchise and winning its first league championship last summer.

When owners Tom and Michelle Marra decided it was time to step down, they gave the first option to Long and Benoit, a former Mitchell College professor who's been behind Mystic's day-to-day operations and also a member of the board of directors.

They gladly accepted.

"I didn't want the team to leave," Long said. "I think it's a great thing for the community. It was no-brainer for me to take it over. Don is the same way. He's been here four years now. His love for baseball combined with his business knowledge has really been a big, big piece of what we're doing.

"For us to work on this together, knowing we still have Phil at the helm running the team, it really is exciting for us both. It was an easy yes when the Marras offered it to us."

The franchise is in great shape mainly because of the Marras, according to Long.

"They had a plan to help us for five years and it's no coincidence that we just improved with each year, mostly thanks to their support financially obviously, and also their love of the game and love of the guys," Long said. "They helped foster the kind of atmosphere that you want for summer baseball. You have a bunch of guys coming in for two months and all of sudden they're best friends within eight weeks, like a built-in fraternity.

"A lot of that had to do with the Marras. They welcomed players to their home, they supported us at the games all the time. They were very, very generous and caring."

Now it's up to Long and Benoit to continue the successful run. They're looking at making some improvements to their home field at Fitch High School. Long already has met with Fitch athletic director Marc Romano to discuss possibilities.

Fund-raising will be a focus during the offseason. Long plans to reach out to the franchise's former players. Mystic's success has helped bring in a few new sponsors and some unsolicited donations.

"It really holds true that when you win, it really opens some doors," he said. "We'd love to get into the season comfortably set on the financial side."

Mystic's roster is basically set. Its reputation has helped them land college players from as far away as the Cal-Santa Barbara, Nevada and Alabama.

"It's been easier to recruit every year, to be honest with you," Long said. "And we get the calls. Six years ago, we would have been struggling to get somebody from a local eastern school."

There's plenty of work for Long and Benoit to do before opening day in June, but it's an exciting time for both.

"We're going to continue what we started and what we've been growing," Long said. "The baseball part is actually the easiest part.  ... I'm confident that it's going to be a success and continue to grow."

g.keefe@theday.com

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