HARTFORD — Southington’s Chris Denorfia was all smiles Thursday at Dunkin’ Donuts Park as he put on a Hartford Yard Goats jersey for the first time as the team’s new manager.
Denorfia was formally introduced by Yard Goats GM Mike Abramson at a press conference before the team’s annual Hot Stove Luncheon.
“I grew up just down the road,” Denorfia said. “I’m a Southington kid, born and raised. We have a baseball tradition there. We have so many kids that teach the game the right way. I took that with me no matter where I went.”
Denorfia, 39, is the fourth manager for the Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
He enjoyed a 10-year Major League Baseball career that started with the Cincinnati Reds, who drafted him out of Division III Wheaton College in the 19th round of the 2002 Draft. Denorfia, an outfielder, also played with the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Chicago Cubs.
San Diego Padres' Chris Denorfia hits an one-run double against the Milwaukee Brewers during a spring training game on March 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
“I love the game so much and I feel a responsibility as a whole to pass on everything that I’ve learned over the last two decades, and to be able to do that here so close to my house is great. And we are here to win,” Denorfia said.
Denorfia’s final pro stop as a player was with the Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, N.M. in 2017.
A year later, Denorfia rejoined the Cubs as special assistant to the president/GM. This past season, he was quality assurance coach on manager Joe Maddon's staff.
Denorfia, who grew up a Red Sox fan, said managing was a natural progression for him.
“The last couple of years of my career I became closer in age to my coaches than my teammates,” Denorfia said. “You start to develop relationships and you start looking at the game like the coaches are looking at it. As a guy coming off the bench, you’re always thinking along with the manager. It became appealing to me. I like playing baseball through that lens.”
Denorfia mentioned learning from the managers for whom he played, including Bud Black and Joe Madden. He’s still
unsure what kind of manager he will be.
“We’ll see," Denorfia said. “I know what I feel about this game and what I feel is important, and I’m going to try to pass it on to these guys. I’m never going to forget how hard it is to play this game and the lifestyle of being away from your family. I will understand what they are going through.”
Denorfia graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford before playing at Wheaton in Norton, Mass., where he was a NCAA Division III All-American. When he was drafted by the Reds, he joined the ranks of pro baseball players from Southington.
“My town, in particular, we have great baseball tradition with Rob Dibble, Carl Pavano, Sal Romano and myself,” he said. “It’s a testament to the people around there. The fathers and the mothers and the time and the effort to make sure they have fun and learn to play the game the right way. Connecticut is a great baseball tradition and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Southington Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Chris Denorfia (center) shakes hands with Tony Terzi (left) alongside his mom Debbie Denorfia (right) and brother, Andy Denorfia (center left) Nov. 9, 2011. (Sarah Nathan/Record-Journal)
Denorfia said his father Tony was his first coach.
“How he did it? I don’t know. He had two jobs and he found time to coach almost every team I was on,” Denorfia said. “He was very generous with his time. Obviously, coming from Southington, (former Southington High School baseball coach) Mr. John Fontana, God rest his soul, was a great influence over everyone. He worked so hard to get his guys to go wherever they could.
“Playing at Choate, I had the great Tom Yankus,” he added. “He was a great baseball man and molded me as a person.”
Denorfia said his entire family was overjoyed when he got the job. He said his parents are excited as well as his two brothers, nieces and nephews.
“I was happy I didn’t have to pack up my life for the 18th time and going out to spring training. It’s going to be a special year,” Denorfia said. “My wife is a trooper. She’s gone through this her entire life. She grew up in a baseball family. I got to sign my kids up for Little League in Southington a few days ago. It’s a special thing that I’m not taking for granted. I get to get them off to school in the town where I went to school. That’s really special.”
Denorfia and the Yard Goats open the 2020 Eastern League season at home on Thursday, April 9 against the Portland Sea Dogs, Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
Denorfia recently received his travel itinerary from the Rockies and said he’s happy to have much less to pack this year, being so close to home.