Old-fashioned baseball, where you can still hear the players talking

For sports fans starved for high-quality baseball in this summer of the coronavirus, there is now a nearby option. 

Thursday, June 25, marked the debut of the Great Falls Gators in the Connecticut Twilight League. The team was formed by Willy Yahn, a graduate of Housatonic Valley Regional High School and a Baltimore Orioles prospect. 

I am a product of the Housatonic baseball program, where Yahn is rightly spoken of with a kind of reverence uncharacteristic of brash high school athletes. I went to the game, at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, to see how baseball had changed in the pandemic.

Around 50 mask-wearing fans were scattered among the empty seats. Soon after the game started I noticed an acoustic difference. In the quiet stadium, the players could be heard calling out to one another on the field, or howling with displeasure after a bad call. A few rows behind me, a play-by-play announcer called the game for a livestream. 

Balls and strikes were called from second base, as the home plate umpire (normally positioned behind the catcher), peered down at the strike zone from behind the pitcher’s mound. 

The players, it seemed, had not yet internalized this new reality. It did not take long for infield dirt to blanket home plate, and the catcher turned around to ask for help that was not there, before grudgingly dusting off the plate with his palm. 

The outfield seats were roped off, as were the seats on the third base side of the stadium, so spectators watched from the first base side. I sat behind home plate, finding it impossible to pass up the opportunity to kick back in the most sought-after seats in the park at no charge.

The Gators’ opponent, the Terryville Black Sox, scored three runs in the first inning, but their bats fell silent after that. 

The Gators only managed one hit until the bottom of the fourth inning, when third baseman Caleb Shpur, of the Housatonic Class of 2019, belted a solo home run into the left field bleachers to give the Gators their first run. The ball rattled around in the empty seats. Shpur’s home run was the last time the team’s offense registered a pulse, as they were held scoreless in the next two innings. 

Yahn, having flown out to centerfield and grounded out to shortstop, struck out after a long at bat to end the sixth inning. As the Gators prepared to take the field, the umpire sauntered over to their dugout. It was nearing 5:30 p.m. and another game was due to begin. Left fielder Matt Perotti pleaded with the umpire. 

“That clock is three minutes fast,” he exclaimed, pointing to the scoreboard. But it was no use. The umpire declared the game finished after six innings.

The Gators will play their second game of the season on June 30 at Glastonbury High School.

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