NEW BRITAIN — Mike Caruso and Kyle Brennan still talk about that baseball game.
Spring 2017, senior year of high school. Caruso’s Lyman Hall Trojans against Brennan’s Sheehan Titans. Breast Cancer Awareness game, May 4, under the lights of West Side Field.
Even now, in 2020, in a new season, at a new ballpark, talk of that game resurfaces around the batting cage.
“I did play against Kyle Brennan,” Caruso tells a visitor. “My senior year when we played Sheehan, it was his senior year, and he struck me out and he’s not really a pitcher. It was funny when it happened and we still joke around about that.”
“Honestly,” Brennan tells the same visitor several minutes later, “he’s the one who brings it up all the time. I’m not even the one boasting about that. But, yeah, I struck him out twice in the Breast Cancer game. I see him smiling over there about it right now.”
“Dude,” the visitor says. “He said just once.”
The visitor calls out to Caruso. “Hey, he struck you out twice!”
“Once!” cries Caruso.
“It was twice!” Brennan replies, laughing.
“Was it twice?”
A pause, a grin. “All right,” Caruso concedes. “Twice.”
“We joke about it all the time,” Brennan says. “Mike and I have always been good friends. We’re both competitors. Stuff like that, we bust each other’s chops a little bit.”
These days, there’s plenty of time for Brennan and Caruso to bust chops and rehash games past and present. They are teammates on the New Britain Bees, the Connecticut franchise in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England.
The two Wallingford natives are the lone area players in the Futures League, a wood-bat summer circuit for college players that features four teams in Massachusetts, a northern outpost in Nashua, N.H. and a southern rampart at New Britain Stadium, home hive for head coach Ray Guarino and his Bees.
Brennan and Caruso can now be found in the same lineup — Brennan in the outfield or at first base; Caruso behind the plate — and often in the same car. They share rides to away games, to and from which the players are responsible for driving themselves.
It’s a lot of baseball. A lot of time to talk it, a lot of time to play it. Forced into a late start by the coronavirus, the Futures League is cramming 42 games into a seven-week window between July 2 and Aug. 19.
That means teams are playing six games a week, with a lot of back and forth on I-84 and the Mass Pike and 495 to Bay State ballyards in Lynn, Brockton, Worcester and Westfield as well as to Holman Stadium in New Hampshire.
“It doesn’t matter,” Caruso said. “We could be going to California and we’d be driving.”
Indeed, it is a beautiful grind. College baseball players lost their 2020 season to the pandemic and the Futures League is one of the few college loops playing this summer. There is no Cape Cod League this year, no New England Collegiate Baseball League.
“I’m just happy to be back out here,” said Brennan, who might as well have been speaking for all Futures League players. “I didn’t think I’d be able to play this summer. Then I got the call from Coach Guarino. I’ve never been happier to be back out on a baseball field.”
Brennan and Caruso are both coming off their junior years — Brennan at Division III Endicott in Beverly, Mass. and Caruso at Division I Fairfield.
Brennan and his Endicott teammates were packing for a trip to South Carolina when they got word the season was cancelled. Caruso and his Fairfield teammates were in Tampa, about to the play the final series in a 15-game swing through North Carolina and Florida.
“We got to the hotel after driving in the morning and it was just done,” Caruso recalled. “I felt horrible for seniors. Most of them, they’re done. Their baseball careers are over.
“It’s a tough thing to not to be able to do,” Caruso continued. “We’ve been playing ball our whole lives and all of a sudden it gets taken away. It was something out of our control.”
Caruso was in his second season as Fairfield’s starting catcher. Brennan was in his third in the Endicott outfield and at first base. He was off to a 10-for-32 start with two home runs and nine RBI.
“We were hearing murmurs from other conferences cancelling, other teams’ seasons being cancelled, so we were all kind of worried at that point,” Brennan said. “Had to unpack the suitcase. It was depressing. We were having a good start. We had a really great team this year. I was just excited for the season.
“I’m going to miss the seniors, the fifth-years who aren’t coming back,” Brennan added. “That hurts the most. Those are all friends and it stinks for them.”
By NCAA decree, Brennan and Caruso, like all spring athletes, did not lose a year of eligibility for the cancelled 2020 season. They both can play for two more years.
Caruso plans to at Fairfield. He’s majoring in Public Health — “What a time to be in the profession, right?” — and intends to complete his Masters in Health Care Administration at Fairfield after his upcoming senior year.
Brennan is majoring in Business Management at Endicott, a school renowned for its internship program.
Brennan has already done two: freshman year at Davenport Associates, the family-owned sales and marketing firm in Wallingford, and sophomore year at Bose Corporation, the audio equipment manufacturer based in Framingham, Mass.
“I got to experience a small business and a big business, different aspects of each,” Brennan said. “It was pretty cool. Good hands-on experience.”
Brennan is looking to go into sales or wealth management, lines of work that could very well land him in New York City or keep in the Boston area. If it’s the latter, Brennan would be fine with that.
“I love it up there,” he said of Endicott. “I wish I could be up there 365 days a year.
“I have a lot of friends who live in that area who go there. I love the campus, the beaches. Great business school, internship program. I’ve made some friends for life that I’ll always be happy I met.”
This summer, there have been new teammates and new opponents on the diamond. All three divisions of college baseball can be found in the 2020 Futures League. Division I is especially well represented.
“We’re the only New England collegiate league still going on,” Caruso remarked. “We’re getting a lot of Cape guys, a lot of guys who wouldn’t be in this league in the first place, so we’re seeing some good competition.
“I’m having a great time out here,” he added. “Anytime you’re able to play, especially now, it’s a blessing. You have to take advantage of it.”
Caruso did just that in the game that followed. So did Brennan. They both had monster nights in New Britain’s 14-0 dismantling of the Brockton Rox on Wednesday night.
Caruso went 4-for-4 and drove in four runs with a home run, a double, two singles and a sacrifice fly. Brennan went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs with a triple and two singles.
Caruso’s home run was a 400-foot blast that kissed a light pole above the left-center field wall, so it earned points for style and power while also putting two runs on the board in the seventh.
Brennan’s triple boomed off the base of the right-center field wall in the fifth. His run-scoring singles both came in the eighth, when the Bees put the game to rout with an 8-spot.
Brennan also made five put-outs in right field. Caruso caught the shutout, working with starter Brendan Kirck of Hamden and a trio of relievers, including the side-arming Yanni Orfanidis, whose delivery is so funky it should have a dance named after it.
A great show all around for the local boys. July 22, Futures League. Bees-Rox, under the lights of New Britain Stadium. Brennan and Caruso, they’ll be talking about that game for awhile.