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Hartford Baseball Teams Enjoy Big Stage Toward End Of Difficult Seasons

Mike Anthony
Contact Reportermanthony@courant.com

The first thing Capital Prep baseball coach Ray Lynch pulled out of his pocket upon entering the first base dugout at Dunkin’ Donuts Park Monday afternoon wasn’t a lineup card. It was a phone. He took a bunch of pictures as his players chatted, laughed and pointed to different areas of the stadium.

“A legit baseball field,” Lynch said. “They’re just really pumped about the game. That’s all they’re out here for, just to enjoy themselves. They’ve been to a few games here as fans. Now they can brag to their buddies.”

Capital faced Bulkeley/Weaver, a matchup of two teams struggling mightily, before Bulkeley/Weaver stuck around to play old rival Hartford Public. The first game was the latest mercy-rule clobbering endured by Capital, which lost 27-4. Its record is 0-10 and the team has been outscored 183-29 this season.

Bulkeley/Weaver has had a rough go of it, too. Heading into the night game against Hartford Public, Bulkeley/Weaver had won three of four, though, and its record stood at 3-14.

The struggles of these programs underscore that city baseball isn’t what it used to be. Still, they have dedicated players and dedicated coaches – Lynch at Capital, Patrick Mairson at Bulkeley/Weaver – and Monday’s few hours in the sun, at the Yard Goat’s beautiful park where Rockies top prospect Brendan Rodgers launched another home run Sunday, was a reward for their perseverance.

“It’s good for the city, good for the kids,” Mairson said.

Bulkeley/Weaver has played a few games at Dunkin’ Donuts Park since it opened last season, and several were Yard Goats bat boys last season. Others work there during Yard Goats games, selling soda and snacks.

“We just want to have fun and play the game,” said Bulkeley/Weaver senior shortstop Jason “Junior” Bonilla, clearly the best player on the field. He lined three hits to left field early in the game, one off the base of the wall, as Bulkeley/Weaver jumped to a 19-4 lead in the second inning.

Errors piled up. Pitches sailed to the backstop. This is the norm for teams that struggle to win for different reasons. Entering Monday, Bulkeley/Weaver was 8-45 the past three seasons and Capital Prep was 3-43.

Bulkeley/Weaver hasn’t drawn as much interested from students as it would like, and loses others to various family responsibilities. Every Capital Prep student plays two sports, with baseball clearly the secondary sport for most.

“We have most of the O-line from this year’s football team playing,” said senior Ray Ruiz, a center on the football team who plays all over the diamond for the baseball team. “We struggle to make plays sometimes, but we’ve got to learn. We have playmakers. We don’t really have baseball players.”

Baseball fundamentals and instincts are typically learned at a very young age, in Little League. Many of the players in Monday’s game played their first organized game at the varsity level. Neither program has a freshman team or a junior varsity team.

Both teams bounce around to play. While several city fields have recently undergone needed renovations, stepping onto the diamond at Dunkin’ Donuts Park was like stepping into the big leagues.

“It’s good to have a groomed field,” said Ruiz, who is from New Britain. “Especially last year, some were like a city street. We had mad potholes in those fields.”

Most of Capital Prep’s games are over after four and a half innings, due to the 10-run mercy rule. All but one of the team’s losses are by 10-plus runs.

“We’re a really small high school, about 150 kids,” said Lynch, who coaches a team with about half its players coming from Hartford. “They haven’t grown up playing together like at some of the other schools. But they’re out here working their hardest every day, and we’ve got a couple decent players. It’s been a fun year.”

Lynch is originally from West Hartford, Conard Class of 2004. He played football at Endicott College and has worked at Capital since graduating from college. Mairson is originally from Tolland, Class of 1985, and attended Eastern Connecticut, where his plans to play baseball were disrupted by a need to work while a student. He’s been a physical education teacher in Hartford for 28 years.

They got to know each other as assistant football coaches at their respective schools, and talked last year about setting up Monday’s game.

Bonilla is one of the few players on either team who has played baseball since a young age. He grew up in the Dominican Republic. He is being recruited by Division II and Division III college programs. He will participate in a high school all-star game next month.

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