The core of coaches and managers dedicated to the continued vitality of baseball in New Britain has long used a triple-tiered Hartford-based association as a lifeline to the future.
The New Britain Parks and Recreation Department sponsors teams in each of the divisions within what is now called the Farmington Bank/Vantis Life Baseball League. For 60 years from its inception in 1946, it came to be known as the Jaycee-Courant League and subsequently received sponsorship from TD Banknorth before the current arrangement took shape.
Randy Brochu manages the team in the Senior Division. The Junior Division manager is Dom Paventi and Justin Dorsey guides the youngest group in the Prep Division.
Brochu, a New Britain High graduate and currently a full-time member of Sacred Heart University’s sports information team, identifies the camaraderie between the teams, values the relationship with the American Legion program and above all stresses on-the-field solutions to life’s intricacies in the inner city.
“In an urban community, there’s a lot going on with these kids’ lives,” Brochu said. “Growing up can be a lot more challenging. We want them, at least for the summer, to be part of a family. They have a responsibility to the family and we have a responsibility to them.”
The links between the league, the Legion and the high school team have never been stronger. Mike Torres and his son Tommy continue to operate the New Britain Stingers, which have representatives in the Legion and the Greater Hartford Twilight League. NBHS coach Roberto Mercado and Brochu, 31, are close friends since their playing days.
Rifts had developed between the three factions a generation ago, impeding the progress of baseball in the city, but Brochu said any impediments have been relegated to the pages of history.
“We’ve never felt there was controversy with the Legion,” he said. “We want any player to go as far as he can and play at the highest level possible. We root for the Legion, the Legion roots for us. We’re one big New Britain baseball family. We just want kids to play the right way. The New Britain baseball family is first.”
Brochu has priorities for his players in a definite order.
“I tell our team that we have three goals,” he said. “Number one is to come to the ballpark every day and have fun. Number two is to get better, get as well-prepared for the season as you can. Number three is to win ballgames and ultimately a league championship.
“But you have to be having fun and working hard to get better as players and people. Take the lessons of baseball and apply them as members of the New Britain community.”
The relationship with the NB Parks and Recreation Department also features the kind of synergy that powers successful ventures.
“They’re wonderful sponsors. They do a lot to make sure the kids have a great experience,” Brochu said. “We’re so proud to have that great partnership right in our name.”
Most of Brochu’s Senior Division starters mirror what Mercado’s lineup will resemble next spring. Catcher Kevin Dukes continues to draw rave reviews after a solid season starting for the Hurricanes as a sophomore. Miguel Ortiz Jr. is the consummate center fielder/leadoff hitter. Roderick Green is doing some pitching, serving as an extra hitter and playing some first base.
Pitcher Bobby Turka, who just graduated from NBHS, provides Brochu with a blueprint for what his program is all about.
“He came to us undersized and quiet and is leaving after four summers as a guy that pitched well for [NBHS], earned scholarships and is going on to college [DeSales University] as a great representative of New Britain. We’re ecstatic to have him be a leader and get across to the younger guys what it means to be a New Britain baseball player,” Brochu said.
Infielder Manny Gonzalez falls into a similar category. He was cut from the NBHS team three times before making it as a senior and he relishes his role, no matter how the coaching staff defines it.
“Whatever he does, he gets in there and never complains,” Brochu said. “He’s the epitome of what we’re about.”
The team also offers summer homes for those who attended other high schools but live in the city. Eddie Kieltyka and Sean Carroll played scholastically at Xavier, but have been vital to Brochu’s squad. Kieltyka, playing shortstop competitively for the first time, will play ball next year at St. Joseph’s College in Maine.
“He’s a true ballplayer,” Brochu said. “He approaches the this team like he’s a 15-year-old trying to make the team, not a high school star going on to play in college. He’s a great example for the younger guys.”
Carroll is part of a deep pitching staff that also includes Danny Annear, Malcolm McLeod and Sunday Okoro Jr. Brochu said starting third baseman Julio Jimenez is emerging as a future leader. Starting left fielder and number two hitter Tony Labas has impressed the coaching staff with his scrappy approach. Juaniel Santiago is a gifted defender at second base and is working hard to refine his offensive skills.
Other players on the team are: Tyler Gamber, Rafael Gonzalez, Hugh Crundwell, Kevin Fazio, Chase Morales, Mark Santiago, Tony Taradeina and Brandon Saucier. Brochu’s coaching staff includes Ray Arroyo, Dave Lazicki, Frankie Camacho, Robbie Kilduff and two well-known war horses – retired school superintendent Ron Jakobowski and venerable scorekeeper