BRISTOL - The Bristol Blues have been led this season by a strong pitching staff but working with those pitchers and helping them find success has been a great group of catchers.
“First thing you want out of your catchers is to take care of your pitchers and be defensively solid,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “Catching has been great.”
The Blues currently have two catchers on the roster in Chris Villa from Seton Hall and James Brown from Wilkes University. Matt Iantosca and Hunter Southerland have also suited up behind the plate this season but have since left the team.
Villa is the newest addition to the team and has fit in beautifully, catching multiple pitchers and contributing with his bat. In 17 games with the Blues since coming over from the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, Villa is batting .214, has recorded five RBI and has stolen two bases.
“The addition of Chris Villa has been awesome,” Riley said. “Chris has been swinging the bat really well lately. He’s a powerful kid and he’s been doing a really good job. I’m very happy that he came to us. A great clubhouse guy and it’s awesome that he’s here.”
The combination of the four Blues catchers that have played for the team this season has helped the Blues pitching staff rank among the top staffs in the FCBL. The Blues pitchers have the second-lowest opposing batting average and are tied for the third-lowest team ERA. Bristol has also given up 287 hits, which is lower than all but one team in the FCBL.
“We’re very important for them,” Brown said. “We need to need to be good for the pitcher to be good so we have to be solid defensively, blocking, framing, all of that and it helps the pitcher be good.
“We definitely play a big part in the success for the pitching, which gets put on the back burner a little bit as a catcher. But it’s okay. We do the dirty work and the pitcher gets all the credit. That’s what we’re here for. It’s fun.”
Throughout the season, Riley has had a decision to make before every game on who to put behind the plate when he’s making the lineup. Fortunately for him, no matter who he has put in and no matter who is pitching, he has gotten solid play.
“It’s important. The catchers really should catch all of them,” Riley said. “Obviously, some of them match up better with other but it’s important to catch them because you never know what’s going to happen. You want to be able to fall back on the fact that the catchers have worked with all the pitchers.”
Having each of his catchers work with most of the pitchers throughout the summer could pay off for Riley, as Iantosca only recently left the team with an injury. The load will now have to be mostly shouldered by Villa, with Brown stepping up and likely getting more work.
For Villa, one of the main things a catcher can bring to the game is consistency and reliability to the game, which keeps the rest of the defense comfortable.
“[We] as a core group of catcher calm the game,” he said. “That’s the most important I think. If you call a good game, you can keep the team to one or [fewer] runs so it’s very important that we call a game, throw guys out and [get] timely hitting.”
One aspect of playing in the FCBL and for the Blues that excites the catchers is being able to work with the pitchers. Because it is a summer league that draws from schools across the country, each of the Blues’ pitchers is at the top of their respective program, which means the pitchers are working with top-class talent each game.
“Definitely fun to catch these guys,” Brown said. “Everybody here is top of the line at their college so it’s nice to catch top of the line guys all the time. That is very fun. It just makes you better as a player.”
As the Blues attempt to rebound from a rough first half, Riley is confident that the catchers can be an important steadying influence for the team as the postseason nears.
“I’m really happy with where we are with the guys behind the plate,” Riley said.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org