Schooners back for another summer with a new look
Groton — One hour before first pitch, there's a flurry of activity at the Shipyard, home of the Mystic Schooners.
General manager Dennis Long is mowing down things on his pre-game check list. Fellow co-owner Don Benoit is helping set up the concession area. Tom Petty's Runnin' Down a Dream is blasting from the speaker.
On the field, first-year manager Rob Bono is preparing for his team's New England Collegiate Baseball League game against the New Bedford Bay Sox on Wednesday at Fitch High School.
The eighth summer of Schooner baseball is underway.
Long is willing to do whatever it takes for the Schooners to continue the tradition into the future.
"We're here to stay," Long said. "We want to be here. I don't want these guys to leave. It's just a good resource for college kids. It's a great place for kids to come. Every team that comes in I can see them really enjoying the experience.
"And you can see the guys bond and get more familiar with each other and joke a little bit more with each other. That's the fun part from the baseball side."
Bono is new to the Schooners but not to collegiate summer league baseball. He spent four summers as an assistant on legendary coach John Schiffner's staff at Chatham of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
So Bono knows the routine.
"Nothing new," Bono said. "It's just baseball. That's it."
What is new to Bono is coaching in the NECBL. He's learning about the caliber of players and quality of teams.
He already knows what to expect from his team.
"Our kids play very hard every day," Bono said. "We compete. We've been in almost every game, which is all you can ask for, right down to the last three outs. We've been playing better lately. And the kids are doing a good job."
It's a good night for Bono and the Schooners.
Mystic rallies from a 4-0 deficit to post an 8-4 win, improving to 6-7. Matthew O'Neill's second home run of the season — a three-run shot from the Penn player — sparks the comeback and highlights a five-run fifth inning. Reliever Thomas Girard (Duke) closes out the game with four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while striking out five.
A positive step for the Schooners, who've yet to find their groove. Long is encouraged by the progress so far.
"I see a great athletic team, a team, I think, will be in the hunt all the way through the season," Long said. "They're as talented as any team we've had in the field. ... I couldn't be happier with the starting pitching."
Yale's Kumar Nambiar (2-0, 0.00) and Princeton's James Proctor (1-2, 0.00) are the two early standouts on the mound.
Their roster is still undergoing some changes and recently lost two pitchers to injury. The newest addition is pitcher Chris Troye, who arrived on Monday after playing for University of California Santa Barbara.
Bono's connections in the CCBL will likely result in picking up a few more players to fill out the 33-man roster. A few former Schooners are there right now on temporary contracts and may become available.
Mystic's strong reputation also aids the organization's cause.
"Our relationships at the Cape are just strengthening with Robbie's knowledge," Long said. "Phil and I forged relationships from our seven years prior. So between Robbie already being there and us already developing a little bit of a reputation for being a quality place to bring kids, these guys have no problem sending a kid to Mystic."
Ideally, the Schooners are looking for an athletic pitcher with a good arm and low mileage from his college season.
Karl Johnson, who earned the win in his first start as a Schooner on Wednesday, is a perfect example.
Coming off a redshirt year at UConn after transferring from Army, Johnson needs the work to shake off the rust. Johnson had an interesting outing, striking out seven in five innings but allowing eight hits and four runs — three earned — and walking two.
Two other Huskies contributed to the win. Chris Winkel had a single and scored a run while Conor Moriarty belted a solo home run and added a single.
Mitchell College's Bryce Bedard, who's from Gales Ferry, is part of the bullpen.
With a mostly new roster and a new coaching staff, it should be an interesting summer for the Schooners.
Bono is off to good start.
"Rob is kind of old school for a young guy," Long said. "So he's been perfect for what we need. He lets the guys play but he holds them accountable and he's trying to teach the game every day to whoever is listening. He's been great. We couldn't be happier. He's a good hire for us, no doubt."