WALLINGFORD — A squall is looming on this summer’s baseball horizon in Wallingford.
Under the guidance of Sheehan coach Matt Altieri, the Wallingford Silver Storm will begin play in the Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden-bat league for college underclassmen.
The CCBL, using the time-tested template of higher-level circuits like the Cape Cod League and New England Collegiate Baseball League, came on the scene with six teams in 2009.
“It started back in January,” said Vincent. “I was contacted by Joe Fontana, coach at Hamden Hall. I was looking to move Tobacco Valley. I wanted to go further south to tap into the New Haven area talent. I was getting several players, but it is a heck of a ride, whether to Southington or Farmington.
“Originally, [we were] moving to Hamden, but things fell apart. Administrative roles weren’t being done. I connected with Matt and he’s been a great ambassador and great organizer. Ready to roll with Wallingford Silver Storm.”
“Tim gave me a call over the winter and said he was trying to put a team in Hamden, so I pursued it,” Altieri said. “They were going to play at Rochford Field, but they would allow only 10 night games. Albertus Magnus had one or two and Hamden High had one or two, so I started to explore Wallingford. I went to [Parks and Rec Director] John Gawlak and he said he thought we could work it out.”
Altieri seeks to share Pat Wall Field with the American Legion teams and the Wallingford Twilight League. He said games could also be played at West Side Park or Robert Neubauer Field, Sheehan’s home diamond.
Altieri has begun recruiting players, but many of the highest level of college players from Wallingford are destined for other leagues.
Brandon Rentas, for example, a pitcher on the Titans’ 2015 Class M champion team and now at Southern Connecticut State University, is slated to play for the Bristol Blues, members of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
Zach Hart, another pitcher on the 2015 Sheehan club now at Franklin Pierce University, likely will play for Keene in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
A third ex-Titan moundsman, southpaw Turner French (St. John’s), probably will play for the NECBL’s Mystic Schooners.
The CCBL enhances its recruiting power by providing geographical regions for each team.
“I can recruit any player south of Middletown — any player who played in the SCC, Shoreline, NVL or even FCIAC, but it’s a longer ride,” Altieri said. “We’re not going to get Division I kids like Paul and Sal Gozzo (Tulane) because they’ll be playing at the Cape or in the NECBL. [Vincent] told me the Futures League also has a step on us.”
The Shock, which has won six of the eight CCBL titles, is guided by Southington High coach Charlie Lembo. Vincent felt that Lembo, with the state’s entire southern tier as a recruiting field, had an advantage, so he worked on establishing a new team south of the Meriden area.
“I want to make it clear that I don’t want to take anything away from Charlie, but that’s why we needed a franchise further south,” Vincent said, pointing to such rich baseball towns as Branford, North Haven, Hamden and West Haven as prime areas for the Silver Storm.
The CCBL plays a 22-game schedule followed by playoffs that wind down at the end of July. The league avoids games on weekends, weather-permitting.
The Futures League, entering its sixth season this summer, has a 56-game slate. The NECBL, founded in 1993, plays 42 games over eight weeks. The attraction for the CCBL is proximity for players who prefer to stay sharp while living at home.
“We basically started it because we had a lot of high school kids going off to play college baseball and not really having a place to play in the summer,” Lembo said. “The NECBL has their niche. They’re getting kids from all over the country. It’s very tough to get in the Cape Cod League. We were looking to fill a need.”
The CCBL emerged as an alternative to the Greater Hartford Twilight League, which is enjoying a rebirth under the guidance of league secretary Wes Ulbrich and new president Bill Holowaty, the former Eastern Connecticut State University coach.
“Some of the older guys wanted to keep playing, which is fine, but some of the younger guys weren’t getting much time,” Lembo said in regard to the GHTBL. “That’s where this idea came from.”
Altieri said he has spoken with Lembo about the Silver Storm’s start-up campaign.
“He gave me some ideas to go on,” Altieri said. “We’re in similar situations because we both have high school teams. We may not be as competitive as the Shock, but that doesn’t bother me. We’re looking for catchers. I think everybody’s going to be in that position.”
The Hamden team was nicknamed the Hurricanes, but Altieri wanted a theme central to Wallingford.
“I asked people what they thought Wallingford is famous for. All of them said silver,” he said. “My grandfather worked for International Silver, so I thought that would be great.”
Altieri said he has commitments from ex-Lyman Hall outfielder Joe Cassella (Western New England University), ex-Maloney infielder Joe Golino (Roger Williams University) and former Sheehan third baseman Pete Abate (Mitchell College). He’s also spoken with former Cheshire pitcher/first baseman Adam von Fischer.
The CCBL has avoided shifting a franchise to southern Connecticut due to travel issues.
“That’s the only downside, but we have to go to West Hartford, Glastonbury and Manchester,” Altieri said. “We’ll deal with it. We’ll travel.”
Vincent encourages teams to line up extra players because the FCBL has lured away some the CCBL’s top players during the season.
“[Our success has been both] a good thing and a nightmare,” he said. “Last year, we had 16 kids taken off rosters by the Futures League. By us getting better, it’s almost like we’re a farm system for them. I have no leverage to stop it from happening. I told Matt he’d better have 22 kids because then you afford to lose four or five of them.”
Altieri has three assistants — Hamden High coach Chris Borelli and two of his Sheehan assistants, Vin Morgillo and Dom Lombardozzi.
Vincent encourages potential players, coaches or administrators to contact him via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (860-836-8356).