BRISTOL - For Steve Gaudet, this week was supposed to be his first chance to take the field as Bristol Eastern’s head baseball coach. With the Lancers slated to host Terryville for a scrimmage Thursday, it was going to be his first time at the helm of a high school baseball program.
That, of course, changed abruptly when the CIAC announced last Wednesday it was suspending all spring sports indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, as excited as he is to get started, Gaudet will just have to wait like his players are.
“[I was looking forward to] the challenge [of] being a head man in charge of a varsity baseball program,” Gaudet said. “Getting to deal with all of the great kids at Bristol Eastern, I’ve been there for the last three years as an assistant, so just being able to work with them some more and hopefully have a good year and follow in the footsteps of [longtime head] coach [Mike] Giovinazzo.”
But running a program is nothing new to Gaudet. He just completed his 15th season as the head coach of the Bristol Central girls basketball team. He’s also had the chance to learn from whom he describes as two of the best baseball coaches from his time as a player at Bristol Eastern under Giovinazzo, the 13 seasons he spent as an assistant on Bunty Ray’s staff at Bristol Central to joining Giovinazzo’s staff.
“I had two of the best mentors I could ever possibly have in coach Ray and coach Giovinazzo,” Gaudet said. “[They are] two of the best baseball minds around, not just in town, in the entire state. To have learned from them and to have had some varsity [coaching] experience with the basketball program, it puts me in a good starting position.”
That certainly works out well for the Lancers. A regular in the Class L state tournament, Eastern is coming off of an 8-12 regular season in 2019 and qualified for the 30th seed in the bracket. where the Lancers were able to reach the second round before being eliminated. And despite having no one with much pitching experience returning from last season, he believes he is more than ready to take on the challenge.
So too does Ray. He’s seen in up close. During their time together with the Rams, the program reached the Class LL state championship game in 2006, was the top-seeded team at the end of the 2009 regular and reached the LL semifinals in 2010.
“Me and Steve go way back to Little League,” Ray said. “He has extensive baseball knowledge. He does a great job with pitchers. When he was with our program, we were very successful. He was an integral part of what we were doing when we were making a huge run for a good 12-14 years. He does a phenomenal job, not just with his pitching, but relating to kids. He’s a baseball guy and I think he’s going to have a lot of success over there.”
And while Gaudet doesn’t expect many changes from his former mentor, Giovinazzo sees where his protégé has room to be different and the game continues to evolve. The longtime Eastern head coach won 602 games over the course of 45 seasons leading the program where things were expected to be done a certain way.
“I’m kind of an old-school guy,” Giovinazzo said. “I think Steve would be a little bit more inclined to think out of the box in terms of game strategy. I think you may see something a little bit different from what we were doing in past years.”
But with the prospect of playing a season this year looking less likely with every coming day, Gaudet will have plenty of time to prepare for the actual start to his run as a baseball coach. That has become secondary as of late, but when he does get his first chance to take the field as the Lancers’ head coach, he’ll certainly be excited.
“Important people make those decisions and I think spring sports are at the bottom of the list of importance right now as far as education and health and wellbeing of our students,” Gaudet said. “It would be great to get back to normalcy, just to be around the kids and doing something that I love would be unbelievable.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org