Rams boys baseball preview
The transition has begun, and it has been swift.
After the guidance and tutelage for nearly two decades under head coach Mark Rearick, the boys baseball program at New Canaan High is quickly learning how to play and pitch with Mitch.
Mitch Hoffman, the 34-year-old who scoots over to the other side of town after being a part of the St. Luke's program, is energetic and busy. Very busy. He spoke to the News about his team while hollering out directions during a practice late last week. From the outside, it doesn't appear Hoffman has let himself a moment to stretch since he took over the program in the offseason.
With a new head coach and a recent history of underachieving baseball, the best news, according to the first-year coach: This group is already starting to jell.
"We've worked hard this week and we've gotten some good weather, so we've gotten a lot of work done with having no school," Hoffman said during last week's Spring Break period, and he added an interesting comparison to what this group compares to this season.
"We're like the Colorado Rockies," he said. "We don't do one thing really, really great and we don't do one thing really badly. If we play mistake free baseball we should be in good shape."
Though he's currently injured, No. 1 pitcher Willie Ouellette will command the cowhide and the team's attention this season, as he's a co-captain. Others leading with him are shortstop Nick Bamatter and second baseman Alex Freeman.
The batting order could end up looking like this: Ouellette leading off, Jeff Spindel (catcher), Tom Krieger (first base), Freeman, Bamatter, Peter Gronseth (third base), Cameron Armstrong (left field), Alex Farina (center) and Casey Ouellette (right field).
Hoffman couldn't say how solid that lineup will be a month from now, but he does like the power he's seen so far, given the team's reputation -- or lack thereof -- of offense coming into 2010. Spindel (attending Skidmore) will be the No. 2 pitcher behind Ouellette, and when he's on the mound, Casey Ouellette, a freshman, will be catching while his brother will move from the rubber to the outfield.
Hoffman said the greatest thing about his new job was how he was able to tool his lineup. The level of interest at NCHS greatly outweighed what was presented at St. Luke's.
"The program has a lot of depth in the ranks," he said. "The difference I have at New Canaan opposed to St. Luke's is 74 kids trying out. I don't think I had 74 kids in almost 10 years at St. Luke's. The ability to work with a vast majority of kids is tremendous. And the history of good baseball at the eighth-grade level and below speak to what talent this town has."
So with power in numbers, Hoffman won't insist on a specific philosophy when coaching this team.
"We want to play mentally mistake-free baseball," he said. "I'm not a small-ball guy, not a big-ball guy. If you try to swing for the fences and your bats are cold, you're in big trouble."
If Hoffman should choose the small-ball route in a game, it's a safe bet that Armstrong will be a factor. Armstrong, who holds the record in the 200-meter for New Canaan High, will be the preeminent bag-swiper for the Rams.
"He's the fastest kid in the school," Hoffman said. Fortunately for the baseball team, he only participates in one running-dominated sport: indoor track.
As far as defense is concerned, Gronseth at third base is a name Hoffman did bring up as having the best glove. Spindel's name was the other he mentioned among all-conference talent with the leather. Backing up Gronseth at third base is Robbie DeWaele, and other infielders, such David Priebe and Sam Lavieri, should see some time.
John Sammarco, Jeff Sztorc and Peter Meadows are the reserve outfielders. The pitching bullpen will be loaded with Krieger, Meadows, Andrew Tropiano, Priebe and Lavieri. Farina is the team's closer. With a short season, just 20 games, the Rams are somewhat concerned with injury. Ouellette missed his start against Norwalk, and Andrew Casali, the younger brother of Curt, who is currently spraying the ball at Vanderbilt, has a stress fracture in his elbow. With no time to waste, Hoffman's outlook remains positive and he seems as pepped as the players.
"We've got four games in five days to start the season already," Hoffman said. "They're ready. As ready as we can be."