As a New Britain High School graduate, Danniel Rivera has a strong sense of familiarity with New Britain Stadium. During his historic four-year career with the Hurricanes, which included setting the program record in runs scored, Rivera played at the stadium more than five times when the New Britain baseball team would make the trek from Beehive Field next door.
Despite that familiarity, Rivera’s season with the New Britain Bees has brought on unexpected adjustments that have been presented on a daily basis as the 2020 Futures League season rolls on.
The season began on July 2, completing a postponement that lasted nearly six weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak. Rivera and the Bees were able to take the field at New Britain Stadium this year thanks to an encouraging trend in virus cases in the state of Connecticut, as well as a number of new regulations to help prevent the potential spread of the virus on the diamond and in the dugouts.
For Rivera, every day at the ballpark is a reminder of the current climate that the global pandemic has created. Baseball is often the ultimate distraction, but it’s hard to ignore what has to be done to make the game possible this summer.
“It's definitely a change and definitely something I'm not used to at all, having to come into the dugout and automatically put a mask on and stay six feet apart from my teammates,” Rivera said. “Usually we're always on top of each other trying to motivate each other, but having to do that six feet apart is very different.”
For the Bees and the other five Futures League teams, the precautions begin as soon as the players arrive at the stadiums. For Rivera, his temperature is taken and logged as soon as he arrives at the stadium, whether the game is home or away. Immediately, he puts on a mask and sanitizes his hands before heading through the stadium and to the field, assuming his temperature reading was at a normal level.
“I definitely give all the teams and organizations props, because they're taking it very seriously and make sure all of us are safe and sanitized,” Rivera said.
One of the major differences for Rivera this season is the trip to the stadium for road games. Instead of piling into a bus with the rest of the Bees, Rivera, and every other player, makes the trek on their own to prevent crowding in confined spaces. Normally, bus rides would be a prime opportunity for team bonding, especially for a team like the Bees that is filled with players from different colleges, many of which have never played with each other in the past.
“It would have been such a better scenery if we could have taken the bus together to away games, but we're doing everything we can and adjusting to anything they give us because we're fortunate just to play this season,” Rivera said. “These regulations, it is what it is, and it just takes an adjustment.”
Fortunately for the Bees, team bonding hasn’t suffered too much, with each player arriving in their own cars to games more than two hours before first pitch, allowing plenty of time to take batting practice and get acclimated with each other.
“That gives us plenty of time to get our batting practice in and bond with our teammates and just mess around and have fun pregame, so the aspect of driving alone doesn't really take away from that,” Rivera said. “It's just become a relaxation period and to get mentally ready. The bond between all of our teammates has been great to be at the park pregame, all of that is still there. The fact that we all drive solo doesn't really take that away.”
During the game, when a big moment occurs that would normally spark physical celebration, is when Rivera needs to practice the most restraint.
“Normally, when there's a big hype situation in a game, it's hard not to get up and salute our team and celebrate that accomplishment,” Rivera said. “It's hard with the masks on, but we do the best we can to congratulate our teammates without giving each other high-fives. We can't do handshakes and certain huddles. We improvise and do what we can to congratulate our teammates. It's hard, but we do the best we can to make it work and make the game as normal as possible.”
Away from the dugout and on the field, the game remains mostly the same, though Rivera has noticed the intensity spike this season. After losing their spring seasons and most of their summer season, Rivera and the Bees are embracing the ability to compete again, and the rest of the Futures League seems to have followed suit.
“It's actually been playing like a normal competitive season,” Rivera said. “Usually summer ball is about having fun and getting reps in, but now it's at a whole different level and kids are taking it really seriously because their seasons were cut short. The baseball aspect is still there.”