UConn's Winkel spending another summer in Mystic
Groton — Chris Winkel has been playing baseball in Connecticut for as long as he can remember.
From youth leagues in Orange right up through Amity Regional High School, Winkel hasn't strayed far from home.
That includes this year. After helping UConn qualify for the NCAA tournament last month, the 6-foot-5 first baseman is spending his second summer with the Mystics Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where he has been joined by Husky teammates Karl Johnson and Conor Moriarty.
"Chris came out of high school with all the accolades," said Dennis Long, co-owner of the Schooners. "You see him take swings and you know that's a high-level guy.
"There are a lot of great guys in the world, and there are a lot of talented athletes. There aren't that many that are both, and Chris is one of the few that is both."
Amity won four consecutive Class LL state championships during Winkel's high school days, with Winkel playing a vital role in the final three — including serving as team captain in 2016 when he earned all-state and All-Southern Connecticut Conference honors.
Naturally, Winkel had plenty of college suitors, but one in particular stood out to him.
"Once I heard UConn was recruiting me, it was kind of a no-brainer," he said. "It's really cool being able to represent Connecticut since I'm from there."
Winkel first caught the eye of UConn head coach Jim Penders during the CIAC tournament, where his athletic talents were on full display. "The shortstop threw the ball really high, and (Winkel) jumped higher than I think I've seen a first baseman jump," Penders recalled.
Like Long, Penders has also come to appreciate the intangible elements that Winkel has brought to the program.
"He's been a leader from the beginning. A 24-7 guy when it comes to leadership," Penders said. "You don't meet many 18-19 year-olds who know who they are, and know how they want to represent themselves and their family."
Winkel said that attitude has made his transition to the college game smooth.
"Our player motto is ACE: Attitude, Concentration, and Effort," he said. "Coach Penders says you can't control everything, especially in baseball, but those are things you can control."
"He epitomizes ACE," said Penders. "We do a vote at the end of every fall, and the guys rank each other's ACE, and he's near the top in every one of those categories. As a sophomore that's really impressive. They acknowledge that he has all the attributes that we hold dear in our program."
Winkel played in 57 of 58 games for the the Huskies this spring, batting .264 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 33 RBI. Primarily a first baseman at Amity, Winkel did spend some time in the outfield, although Penders admitted infielders missed Winkel's big target at first.
"We call him a condor because he can reach everything in the infield," Penders joked.
Winkel has played in 13 of 18 games for Mystic, which is off to a 10-8 start under first-year coach Rob Bono. He has struggled so far, batting .208, but hopes to get untracked before returning to UConn this fall, where he will be joined by his brother, Pat.
The younger Winkel, a catcher, was Connecticut's Gatorade Player of the Year and a 31st round draft pick by the New York Yankees, but has opted to attend UConn instead of signing a professional contract.
"I'm really excited," said Chris. "I was lucky enough to play my junior and senior year of high school with him."
After reaching the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game and the finals of the NCAA's Conway (S.C.) Regional before losing to eventual College World Series participant Washington, the Winkel brothers are hoping for even more success in 2019.
"We proved a lot in the last two years," Chris said. "We have a lot of great kids coming in ... I think we're primed for just as good, if not better, of a year."