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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Joyces, Joyces everywhere in East Lyme

    East Lyme — The memory remains vivid, especially to the dad, because, well, dads get this way a lot. Sure, life’s rhythms naturally create memories for dads and sons, but there’s just something about sharing them through sports that fills the heart by releasing the tear ducts.

    This is the story of Jeff Joyce and his twin sons, Dylan and Liam. This was eight springs ago now, the twins were eight, tagging along at ballgames behind their dad, like the blanket to Linus. And there was the last game of 2017, the state semifinal when the dad was the head baseball coach at Fitch, an agonizing 1-0 loss to North Haven at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford.

    Jeff Joyce knew it would be his last game at Fitch. And he left the field that night forlornly, with his boys in tow, wondering if this would be the last time they’d occupy a baseball field together.

    “I remember walking out after the game with the boys, just taking in the whole environment,” Joyce was saying last week. “I felt like this was it. It's the last time I'm going to be on the field. Especially with my guys. But then maybe the universe was kind of giving us a taste that maybe there's a chance we'll be on the field again in a different way. And it's funny how life works. I thought that it was going to be wearing a Fitch jersey. Not East Lyme. But here we are.”

    Here they are indeed. The Joyces are back together. Liam and Dylan, now high school juniors, combined for two wins and two saves last week for the surging Vikings, under the eye of their dad, the pitching coach. East Lyme coach Jack Biggs reached out to Jeff Joyce in the offseason to help with a staff headlined by league Player of the Year candidate Alex Dreyfus.

    The answer would seem to have been affirmative, almost reflexively so, for Joyce. But then, sometimes, even fate’s hopeful plans of redemption need a little shove.

    “Dad called us first,” Dylan Joyce said, recalling the phone call the twins received from their dad making sure this Coaching Redux was permissible. Jeff Joyce understands it’s challenging enough for twins to establish identities, let alone with bearing the responsibilities tethered to their last name.

    “I've had my time as a player and as a coach. The Joyce name has been around for a while,” Jeff Joyce said, alluding to his time pitching at Fitch, Avery Point and the University of Hartford. “It was time to kind of let these two rebrand the name again. It’s not me and it’s not Mike (the twins’ uncle, once drafted by the Yankees). They had to know it was OK to do this without me.

    “I've never heard a dying man ever say that he regretted spending time with his kids. So for me, it was just more on the human scale. It's more time with my kids. So there's that. But I also called (youngest son) Drew as well. And I needed to because it was going to be time away from him. Dylan was the one that was initially and immediately okay with it. Liam was a little more suspicious.”

    Liam Joyce, the more analytical of the siblings, said, “it just wasn’t a decision I wanted to rush into.”

    But now here they are, happily trading the scarlet hue of Fitch for the maroon of East Lyme. The twins, often packaged as many twins are as a package deal, are very much their own people and personalities, have created part of their identities through pitching.

    Dylan Joyce’s fastball reached 90 consistently in late March during an indoor session. Liam Joyce’s first start of the season last week yielded 6.2 no-hit innings before the CIAC-mandated pitch count ended his day. They are receiving Division I interest already.

    “These kids have grown up with the family philosophy of ‘no leadoff walks, one-out strikeouts and close out your innings’ not ‘be a good person’ or ‘go volunteer for the community,’” Jeff Joyce said. “Now that I'm coaching them at this level, I see them evolve as pitchers and as people. I can't tell you how many times we’ve had really good life conversations while I'm sitting on a bucket playing catch.”

    And yet while this is a very human story, this is an intriguing baseball story, too. Jeff Joyce learned baseball from Ed Harvey, Jim O’Neill and Roger Bidwell, compiling a belief system with many old school mores. But Joyce, an English teacher at NFA, also understands the value of communicating with kids at their level, which necessitates adopting some new school routines.

    To wit: One son is throwing 90. The other is in high speed pursuit. Speed guns have all but hijacked every pitching conversation. So how does dad, also the coach with the deep pitching resume, communicate that pitching is more than velocity without sounding 1) like dad; and 2) an old coot?

    “It’s a lot of time trying to get the kids to understand that the gun isn't everything, but the fact that they're pushing 90 right now is a good thing,” Joyce said. “It’s sort of a mixed bag. Pitching is more than just throwing hard. It’s about location and command. It’s throwing different pitches. It's been a tricky balance because at the same time, the velocity is also generating a lot of looks.”

    Jeff Joyce likens himself more to Dylan, who often needs something external to motivate him. He says Liam is more like Mike Joyce, sturdy and steady.

    “If I don't see Dylan (ticked) off, I'm nervous,” Jeff Joyce said. “I was joking that with Dylan, I'm just going to tell every umpire to blow a call just to ignite him. Liam's a lot more surgical with the way he throws, which is very much like my brother was. It's that fine line of trying to stoke the fire to get the velocity, because it generates a lot of swings and misses.”

    This is a significant week for the Joyces. Dylan gets the call Wednesday at No. 9 Guilford. Liam will go the following day at No. 5 Glastonbury. This is real now. Quality competition, collegiate inquiries and a chance to rewrite that final scene from Dunkin Donuts Park.

    “The East Lyme community has embraced us, all of us. I can’t thank Jack (head coach Jack Biggs) enough for reaching out,” Jeff Joyce said. “I love coaching both my boys and they're both so entirely different. I have to coach them differently. I feel like I'm coaching my little brother again. And then I feel like I'm coaching myself again. And I also empathize with all the coaches who had to deal with me.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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