MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: In Year 2, Southington’s Denorfia is ready for Season 1 with the Yard Goats

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: In Year 2, Southington’s Denorfia is ready for Season 1 with the Yard Goats

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HARTFORD — Southington’s Chris Denorfia had to wait an extra year, but he will finally get the chance to manage the Hartford Yard Goats this spring, and he can’t wait to get on the field.

All of minor league baseball was wiped out in 2020 by the pandemic. The 2021 season will start on May 11th. 

Denorfia, 40, was hired manager of the Eastern League's Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, on Jan. 7, 2020. He is the fourth manager in team history and he was reappointed on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be great to get back out there,” Denorfia said during a Zoom call later that afternoon. 

Denorfia said the team was immediately sent home on March 13 when baseball shut down in the midst of spring training and everyone scattered back to their homes to stay safe during the pandemic.

“Since then, the Rockies have been fantastic about being in touch with these guys,” Denorfia said. “We did a lot of this (Zoom) in large groups and individually. Number one, we were making sure they were OK. It was a trying time for everyone mentally and physically.

“We made sure everyone had everything they needed. We wanted to make sure everyone's heads are in the right spot and on the right track.”

Denorfia spent 2020 at home with his family in Southington.

“I got home and hunkered down like everyone else,” Denorfia said. “I spent time with family, which is something I hadn’t had the chance to do. I would have enjoyed it more under different circumstances.”

Denorfia, who grew up in Southington and went to Choate, played 10 years in Major League Baseball, then transitioned to coaching with two seasons in the Chicago Cubs' front office. 

Denorfia’s 2021 staff with the Yard Goats will include pitching coach Frank Gonzales and hitting coach Tom Sutaris. Hoshito Mizutani is the team trainer and Mason Rook is the physical performance coach.

“At this point, you are going to see a lot of very, very grateful people when we get over that mountain,” Denorfia said. “The players can’t wait to put their uniforms on again after missing a year.”

Denorfia said the full impact of the lost 2020 season remains to be seen. He noted that youth has had even great value in the game in recent years and losing a year hurts.

“We are still trying to gauge the fallout,” Denorfia said. “To have a whole year taken away from the guys on their birth certificate and development, no doubt it will have an impact on the game.”

On the Major League level, the Rockies traded star third baseman Nolan Arenado in the offseason and the vacancy could produce more opportunities for Yard Goats players. 

“My goal is to get as many players as I can to the next level,” Denorfia said. “That’s never going to change. There’s probably more opportunities going up and guys are going to have to seize them.

“It’s going to be tough for Rockies fans to see Nolan playing on another team. Hopefully, we will see a couple of Yard Goats make that jump this year.”

The Yard Goats open the 2021 season on the road in Richmond, Va. on May 4. Their home opener is May 11 at 7 p.m. against the Portland Sea Dogs. Information on tickets, hospitality and events at Dunkin’ Donuts Park will be made available at a later date.

During the offseason, Major League Baseball revamped its minor league system, eliminating 40 teams and spreading the remaining 120 teams — four per MLB team — across four tiers, from Low-A to High-A to Double-A to Triple-A.

Player salary structures were raised and the professional development contracts between MLB teams and their affiliates were expanded from two and four years to 10.

League alignments were made on a regional basis, with an eye to keeping minor league teams in closer proximity to their parent clubs. Traditional league names, such as the International League and Pacific Coast League and Eastern League, were eliminated.

The Yard Goats, for example, will compete in the "Double-A Northeast Division." They’ll be joined by the Double-A affiliates of the Boston Red Sox (Portland Sea Dogs), New York Yankees (Somerset Patriots) and New York Mets (Binghamton Rumble Ponies).

There is a major new look to the schedule. In an effort to reduce travel and cut expenses, minor league teams will now play six-game homestands against the same team, with a league-wide day off on Mondays.

“I am excited about some of the changes that I feel were well overdue,” Denorfia said. “Having six games at home and six on the road is fantastic. Having one day off is going to be great for the players and their health. We hope the Hartford fans will see the players at their best with less injuries. That’s the hope.”

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