BRISTOL - As the Bristol Blues finished clearing out their lockers at Muzzy Field for the final time of the season on Sunday afternoon, there were the customary hugs, handshakes, good lucks and thank yous.
There was plenty of laughter too, even though the Blues didn’t end their summer with the final result they had hoped for - hoisting up the FCBL championship trophy. That distinction belonged to the now four-time champion Worcester Bravehearts, who bested Bristol earlier in the afternoon by a score of 12-2 after taking Game 1 in the best-of-three series 2-1 on Saturday.
But when the Blues look back on the summer of 2019, it will certainly be remembered as an eventful one.
And how could it not? There were the comeback victories, the All-Star appearances, end-of-season accolades, the long road trips and the thrills of the postseason. In the end, this was the group that helped Bristol reach its second championship series since the team’s inception in 2015.
“Obviously, we won over 30 games this year,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. “The boys made a good push at the end of the year to get a bye to get to the semifinals series, so really pleased with how the regular season and the semifinals went. The championship series [on Saturday], we just weren’t opportunistic enough. We had the bases juiced a couple of times and couldn’t get the hit we needed. Same thing with [Sunday], we had the opportunities to get momentum and didn’t.”
Sure, Bristol had its chances in the final weekend of the season. The team left 10 runners stranded on base and had just five runners in scoring position from the fourth inning on in Sunday’s game. But as the players were adamant about, this summer was more than just the final 18 innings. It was about learning and growing as both ballplayers and people.
It’s part of the reason why, after struggling at the beginning of the season with a 5-8 record, the Blues went on to tie the Brockton Rox for the best record in the league at 31-23; why the Blues had eight All-Stars at the break - Will Nowak, Mark Faello and Dominic Niman (from CCSU); infielders Buddy Dewaine (from CCSU) and Zeke Diamond; and outfielders Brandon Miller, Parker Upton and Austin White - or why even after losing 10 players toward the end of the season due to injuries and innings limits, the team was able to add nine more players and continue to roll. Bristol finished the regular season winning seven of its last 10 games.
It’s also why the Blues led the league in so many offensive categories - on-base percentage, runs scored, stolen bases and batting average. And why most importantly, the team was able to rally not once, but twice to beat the North Shore Navigators in the semifinals. Bristol rallied from a 7-2 deficit to win the second game of that series 12-7, only to rally from a 6-0 deficit in Game 3 to win 8-5.
“Honestly, coming in, I felt good about everybody,” White said. For summer ball, it’s always exciting to meet and to play with new players. We kind of struggled a little bit at the start, but I’m impressed. We showed we’re good at baseball, that we came up big in small situations and big situations. It shows that we never gave up.
“We were down 6-0 to North Shore at their place and any team would have folded and said, ‘OK. We can go home now.’ And it’s like, ‘Why? Another couple days of baseball, who’s that going to hurt?’ I’m really happy with everyone’s play. Some things didn’t go our way, but baseball is a hard game. You don’t want to make it harder than it needs to be, so I’m just proud of everyone.”
Added Miller: “I couldn’t have asked for a better team or a better group of guys, a better host family, a better coaching staff. Just a great experience for me to just let loose and play the game the right way. Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we had people saying we weren’t even going to make it this far.”
And that was perhaps was the point everyone wanted to stress the most. No matter the final result, it was always about the team that spent the summer in Bristol and took the Blues to their second-ever championship series.
So after the players offered up the last good-byes, hugs and handshakes, there was nothing left for the Blues to do other than exit Muzzy Field for the final time in 2019. But this summer was certainly something special for those involved.
“It was an awesome season,” Blues catcher Jordan Laske said. “There were a lot of ups and downs that we had to battle through. We had a great group of guys who started to mold together as everyone from [the NCAA] regionals came and filled out our team and we ended up making it here. It’s tough to end it this way [with a loss in the championship], but making it here is still an accomplishment in itself. I’m proud of the guys I played with. They’re a bunch of great guys and I love them.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org