NEW BRITAIN — The players are still in college and the stadium will be limited to 25-percent capacity.
All the same, there will be baseball this summer at New Britain Stadium, and a few familiar faces will be playing it.
The New Britain Bees launch their first season in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League next Thursday, July 2 with a 6:35 p.m. home date with the Worcester Bravehearts.
And, quite possibly, among the Bees taking the field that night will be three area players who gathered at New Britain Stadium one May evening in 2017 for the All-Record-Journal Baseball Team photo: Jack Rich of Meriden and Kyle Brennan and Mike Caruso of Wallingford.
The three locals are playing for the Bees this summer after junior collegiate seasons cut short by the coronavirus. Caruso, a catcher, comes in from Fairfield University. Rich and Brennan, both outfielders, come in from Eastern Connecticut State University and Endicott College, respectively.
All three had gotten off to strong starts this spring. Caruso, a Lyman Hall grad, started eight of Fairfield’s 11 games. Rich, a Wilcox Tech product, was 9-for-19 through Eastern’s first five. Endicott had nine games in the books and Brennan, a Sheehan alum, was 10-for-32 with two homers and nine RBI.
The trio will look to pick up those threads when the Bees follow next Thursday’s opener with additional home dates on Friday, July 3 and Sunday, July 5. It’s the start of a seven-week, 39-game regular season that leads up to a playoff in late August.
The opening of the Futures League coincides with the belated launch of amateur baseball across Connecticut, where COVID-19 case numbers are down and Phase 2 of Gov. Ned Lamont’s reopening plan is now in effect.
The Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League, which features the Wallingford Silver Storm and Southington Shock, opens Wednesday night. At the high school level, an independent league made up of American Legion teams kicks off this weekend.
The Greater Hartford Twilight League starts July 7. The Record-Journal sponsored team, the Expos, remain in the fold under the helm of one-time pro pitcher Charlie Hesseltine.
For the Bees, it’s all new terrain as they head into their fifth season of operation. Some changes were planned. The Bees were switching to the Futures League, a New England-based summer circuit for college players, after spending four seasons in the Atlantic League, an independent professional organization spread across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
Other changes, forced by the coronavirus, were unplanned. The pandemic postponed the season’s original May 28 start date. And, even as the season begins, an array of safety and health measures will be enforced both on the field and in the stands at New Britain Stadium. Primary of which: Seating will be limited to 25 percent of the stadium’s 6,146-person capacity.
Six-foot social distancing will be designated by markers at the ticket windows, entry gates and throughout the stadium. Traffic flow through the concourse and into bathrooms will be defined.
Those are a few of the features of the re-opening plan the Bees drew up that has been OK’d by New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and New Britain Health Director Sergio Lupo.
“We are extremely pleased to be able to provide the community of Central Connecticut with an affordable, family entertainment option this summer,” Bees general manager Brad Smith said in a statement. “We appreciate the spirit of partnership the City has shown during this process and are excited to be able to be part of the healing of our region as we all try to get back to enjoying recreational time with family and friends again.”
All tickets to 2020 Bees games are $7. Parking is free.
The Futures League, based in Weymouth, Mass., features seven franchises, most of them based in Massachusetts. At least 50 percent of the players on each team must be from New England or attend college in New England.
The Bees take up the reins from Connecticut’s original Futures League franchise, the Bristol Blues, who are now in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.