New Britain City Journal

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The Sports Journal

Baseball Program Is Year Long at New Britain High School

The balls and bats are in storage, but the sun never truly sets on the New Britain High School baseball program, even more so with head coach Roberto Mercado running the show.

Mercado, recently named to new Mayor Timothy O’Brien’s refurbished Parks and Recreation Board, absorbed the program’s rich tradition as a player for legendary coach Ken Kezer in the late 1990s.

The program’s roots date back to 1896, making 2012 its 116th season. And never have its needs required so much proactive work on the part of coaches, players and the program’s legion of fervent alumni. Mercado is taking on the sluggish economy the way he once attacked a first-pitch fastball with the idea being to enrich the culture for his players and the city in general.

To help the budget, Mercado is staging the 2012 Baseball Social on Friday, January 20, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars headquarters just a loud foul away from Willow Brook Park (41 Veterans Drive). The festivities begin at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $25. The event will be catered by Salute Restaurant of Trumbull Street, Hartford. The event is for adults 21 and over since beer and wine will be available for consumption.

“We usually do two fundraisers a year,” Mercado said. “The first this year was the golf tournament but with the weather that weekend, we lost people and didn’t make as much. The Baseball Social is our second.

“Last year we had over 300 people. It was a huge success. We were able to take 32 players to Washington, D.C. We went to an Orioles game and toured Camden Yards. A lot of the kids had never seen a big league stadium. You should have seen the looks on their faces.”

The Social also includes a raffle for a gift basket. Anybody bringing a canned food item to the Social will be given a free raffle ticket. The canned food will go to the St. Mary’s Pantry.

“I figure that we should help out another organization in need,” Mercado said.

Mercado would like to bring this year’s team – all eligible varsity players and some freshmen who are showing promise athletically and academically – back to Washington, D.C., for another tour. The National Mall, nearby museums and a Washington Nationals game are all on the proposed agenda.

Mercado pointed out the intangible benefits from the trip, ones that not only supplement what he’s trying to accomplish on the field but also the social ramifications among the players.

“We always talk about building. There are always life lessons to learn. There are so many teaching moments,” he said about the trip. “It was amazing how some of the older kids – Allen Nunez, Mike Sturges, Matt Martinez, Kian Downes – got along with the freshmen. The freshmen have someone to look up to.”

Mercado explained that the interaction between seniors and first-year players goes a long way toward perpetuating the program. Last season, New Britain went 18-6. The ’Canes earned the sixth seed in the Class LL tournament and advanced to the semifinals before losing a 6-3 verdict to arch-rival Southington on June 7 at Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium.

Mercado anticipates that the Baseball Social will generate a good time for fans and alumni while assuring continuity within the program and even restocking shelves at the pantry. Win-win situations may be impossible on the field but he makes a great case for their plausibility during baseball’s hot stove season.

“People are going to eat, hang out and have a good time,” he said. “Teachers will come from the high school and a lot of former players. We’re trying to get the alumni back supporting NBHS.”

Mercado added that the team’s can-shaker promotion at Stop and Shop has always been met with generosity. He is also meeting with Avery Soda to come up with a special flavor and colorful bottle that will represent the team.

“Last year it was pineapple, this year we’re not sure yet,” he said.

But the bottom line with Mercado and many of his peers and constituents is that whatever flavor the soda is, the taste of what he’s trying to accomplish couldn’t be sweeter for New Britain grass roots baseball, the city in general and its youngsters.