Everything was looking good on June 14 for New Haven American Legion coach Duke Higgins and his team. It was a sunny day, he was passing out the team’s New York Yankee-style uniforms, with pinstripes and an interlocking NH over the right chest, and his team was preparing for its first game since 2009.
Another thing worked out for Higgins’ group, too.
“They played well,” the coach said, smiling. “That always helps.”
New Haven picked up a couple of victories, sweeping Milford Post 196 in a doubleheader. It was the first time New Haven played American Legion baseball since the team disbanded in 2009. Due to a lack of players, the team was forced to forfeit several games, making it ineligible for American Legion play.
Jose Negron, who was named All-Southern Connecticut Conference Oronoque Division for Career last season, said a lack of Legion ball in New Haven made summers a bit tougher for the area’s players.
“It felt wrong,” he said. “Everybody else had a team and we couldn’t even represent where we’re from. We had to play for North Haven or Branford.”
Jahrayn Dewar, who is a sophomore at Career, played for Ansonia’s Legion team last season. Although he enjoyed it, when the chance to play for his city came up, he said it was an easy decision.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to represent where I’m from and play baseball, the game that I love,” he said.
Negron, who was a senior last year, said the choice was easy for him, too. He played for The Grind last summer. Higgins is an assistant at Career and got along well with Negron. He said playing for New Haven just made sense.
“I wanted to play for my city,” Negron said.
Which was a choice he would not have had in the previous four years. Thanks to Fred Norman, an umpire and New Haven general manager, Joe Mattei, the Zone 2 chairman, and donations from the Police Athletic League, Richard Epstein and Wes Alwang, New Haven’s best baseball players can play in the Elm City again. Career coach Brad Chernovetz, Wilbur Cross coach Jeff Farrell and Hyde/Hillhouse coach Steve DeCrosta also played a large role in bringing the team back.
Higgins said players only pay $250 to play, which is less than most Legion teams, due to the generous donations the team received.
With off the field matters being handled, the players took care of business on the field, starting the season 3-0. Higgins said having players who were on Career’s team this past season has paid dividends. Career became the first New Haven school to make the SCC tournament in the conference’s 20-year history.
New Haven is now 3-3 after a three-game slide. Before a June 19 home match-up against Hamden Post 88, Higgins was on the field preparing the pitchers mound after showers earlier in the day. After getting the field ready, he got his team ready with some words of encouragement before they took to the field. A field they plan to remain on for good this time.
“Baseball is here to stay,” Dewar said.