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    Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    Donovan keeping EL kids together at ‘The Clubhouse’

    East Lyme — Local baseball has no apparent connection to the National Basketball Association, aside from perhaps this: Traveling is inevitable.

    And this is what inspired Todd Donovan to take his swing at the concept of community, soon opening “The Clubhouse,” a 5,500 square foot extravaganza dedicated to teaching baseball to the kids in East Lyme and, more importantly, keeping them together.

    “The main reason I'm doing this,” said Donovan, who grew up in East Lyme and pays the bills now as a scout for the Phillies, “is because the travel world in any sport has become inevitable. I see it on the ground level as a dad and as a coach. Travel baseball has killed Babe Ruth. It's killed American Legion. But this is an idea dedicated to the idea of community.”

    The two-minute drill version of Donovan’s dream:

    The Clubhouse, located in the East Lyme Industrial Park next to ABC Gymnastics, will open in November, Donovan said. Under its roof, Donovan plans to offer pickle ball courts and baseball and softball training, memberships, court and rental facilities, youth programs, individual and group lessons and camps led by college coaches and Major League Baseball staffers.

    “Some years ago, Rob Tukey and a bunch of dads started the Connecticut Warriors, a team of East Lyme kids,” Donovan said. “Little Johnny would come to his Little League game on Tuesday and say, ‘Coach, I can't pitch today, I threw for my travel team last weekend’ or ‘I can't pitch for us today because I’m pitching for my travel team in a few days.’ Those dads saw what was coming and started their own travel team, just East Lyme kids.

    “Nobody's made money on it and nobody will make money on it moving forward. They've just sent it down to the next dad. I’m the next dad. I have a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old year old and a 5-year-old. I've asked everybody in town and other towns, what's the right way to do it? What's not the right way to do it? And trust me some of those conversations get contentious, like why do we need to travel? I’ve learned it’s inevitable.”

    Donovan has much in common with Waterford Babe Ruth League president Lucas Beaney, who rents a winter facility and plays travel ball during the regular season before sending teams into the Babe Ruth state tournament. Beaney’s 14-year-old team won the 2023 state title.

    And who knows? Who’s to say there’s not a partnership potential here for two rival towns? “Water Lyme” anyone?

    “How the travel ball world has worked in the past was we didn't have a facility we called our own,” Donovan said. “So we had to rent a facility in the wintertime. Now every Connecticut Warrior player will have a membership year round. They’re the only people getting memberships. But others from other towns are 100% welcome for rentals, lessons and everything else we’ll have.”

    Donovan has opted for “The Clubhouse” based on his experiences in professional baseball. Clubhouses are the de facto kitchen tables of baseball stadiums.

    “I'm calling it The Clubhouse because I learned more just about myself and my friends in the clubhouse,” Donovan said. “Clubhouses and on the bus rides to and from the game. That’s where it all happened.”

    For now, Donovan has undertaken an organizational rebrand to rename the Warriors. He received 150 entries for the new team name. The final five have been established.

    “The intention was to use this as a community building project and in the end, pick a name that represents our local heritage, interests and history,” Donovan said.

    Donovan wants The Clubhouse to have tentacles, not the least of which are tethered to the Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut.

    “We have officially partnered with them,” Donovan said. “Boys and girls on the Miracle League spring baseball teams will share our team name. Their rosters will be posted on our travel ball website along with pictures and stats. Our travel players will begin to volunteer time at each Sunday spring Miracle League game. Everything our travel team does, the Miracle League will benefit from the proceeds.”

    Donovan has done a half gainer into the many details despite his job, also quite busy this time of year as the Phillies have a chance at the playoffs.

    “I have no intention of leaving the Phillies,” he said. “My season schedule compliments this type of business very well. When it's cold and people are inside, that is when I'm home. I work from spring training until the Phillies win the World Series. From November to March, I'm home.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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