NEW BRITAIN – The New Britain Bees are early into the 2020 season and playing their first competitive baseball games since March, when most of their collegiate baseball seasons were shut down as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
During those four months without normal competition, many players kept in shape by working out at home or traveling to a local field to throw off of a mound or take ground balls. But without actual game situations, it was more difficult to stay sharp against live pitching, especially when a global pandemic obstructed the ability to face pitching at that level.
Given this reality, Bees head coach Ray Guarino won’t be surprised if hitting is the final part of New Britain’s machine that shakes off the rust as the 2020 season progresses.
“They've been away for so long, and they're really tardy as to where they are offensively,” Guarino said. “That'll be the last thing to come.”
Guarino has seen some of his hitters look noticeably late on some swings in the box over the first two games, but the team has still been able to push across some runs, scoring six in a 6-0 win on opening night against the Worcester Bravehearts before falling 6-4 in 10 innings to the North Shore Navigators on Sunday afternoon, both at home. It’s a very small sample size so far, but over the first two games of the season, the Bees are hitting .227 as a team over 66 total at-bats. For context, the team with the worst batting average last season in the Futures League was the Nashua Silver Knights, who hit .243.
Of course, Guarino and the Bees feel they have nothing to worry about when it comes to their offense. Every other team in the league is in the same boat, and as more games pass, New Britain will begin to feel more comfortable in the box as the grow familiar with opposing pitchers and regain familiarity of seeing live pitching in game situations.
“I feel like once we see more pitchers and the season starts getting on a roll, live at-bats will get a lot better,” Bees second baseman Danniel Rivera said. “As we keep seeing and recognizing more pitchers, I feel like we can only get better from what we're seeing.”
Rivera felt the rust on opening night, going 1-for-5 with four strikeouts in the leadoff spot. Rivera opened the game with a single, but like most of the Bees, still needed time to get his swing right after facing only batting practice velocity for the past few months. The Bees as a whole have struck out 29 times through two games, accounting for nearly half of their total at-bats so far. Fortunately, timely hitting from the likes of Andrew Cain and Noah Martinez helped the Bees pick up a win and put themselves in position to win another before the bullpen faltered on Sunday. Guarino expects those strikeout numbers to come down as the season ramps up, and expects to see much more quality contact in the weeks to come, as four months of inactivity is gradually overcome.
“We struck out a few times which we need to improve, but overall, l I'm really happy,” Guarino said. “With pitching, so many guys have been throwing this whole time and have their own personal coaches, so I'm not worried about those guys. The defense has been great since day one, and [Thursday] we got some key hits when we needed to. That'll come in handy as the season progresses, so I'm happy with that.”