July 19, 2013
By Jeff Piascik
The 2013 University of Connecticut baseball team will forever be remembered by Husky fans for its improbable and riveting run in its final BIG EAST Championship, during which eighth-seeded UConn captured its third-ever conference tournament title and played in the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four years.
Often overlooked in Connecticut's historic run was the outstanding performance of the freshmen -- including third baseman Vinny Siena.
Siena is currently spending his summer as a member of the Bourne Braves of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. Less than a week after the team's final game in NCAA Blacksburg (Va.) Regional, Siena was headed to Cape Cod to join his new teammates in Bourne for the start of the league's 129th season.
The Cape League provides players the opportunity to compete with the most polished and dominating talent at the NCAA Division I level and has allowed Siena to see some of the premier pitchers from around the country.
"Everything is starting to come along for me," said Siena. "Coming here, you have to expect to play the best players in the country every single day and there is definitely a bit of a learning curve. I'm learning every day and trying to get a little better day in and day out."
Currently Siena is the only Husky player on a Cape League roster, although many teams in the league make late season roster additions, which included catcher Connor David and second baseman LJ Mazzilli last August. Connecticut has strong ties to the Braves organization as UConn graduate and former player Harvey Shapiro leads the team, serving in his 11th year as manager. Current Huskies pitching coach Josh MacDonald also served for two seasons as the team's pitching coach and the organization has had numerous UConn players in the past, including Mazzilli, who had two homeruns and 12 RBI in five post-season games last August.
Siena credited Mazzilli helping him excel during his freshman campaign and said the second baseman prepared him for what was to come on the Cape. Mazzilli is currently a member of the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League, after being drafted by the New York Mets following the 2013 season.
"He was definitely a role model, a lead by example kind of guy," said Siena of his former teammate. "He really knew the game and he would really help us out, especially being freshman, when we were struggling. Just having his presence around the team was important to our development. He commanded the game and showed us how to play the right way. I think that leadership role is something we're going to miss."
With Mazzilli now in the Mets organization, Siena understands it's his responsibility to pick up where LJ left off, both on and off the field.
"We're all leaders and we're all equals but now that I've been around for a year, I think I have a better idea about how to keep everyone in a good mindset to keep the team mentality together."
One of the unique challenges of playing on the Cape is the transition from using an aluminum bat to a wooden bat. Siena initially struggled with the switch, but believes that he has found his groove with the new equipment.
"I don't think you need to change the way you approach an at-bat physically, it' more in terms of keeping your mentality consistent," the third baseman said. "You never want to doubt yourself or your abilities. I'd say stay within yourself and stick to your game plan. That's something that I had to learn when I first got here but I think I've really started to figure it out over the last couple of weeks."
Despite the long season for the Huskies, and the almost immediate turnaround for Cape players, Siena says that he has never felt stronger than he does right now. Traditionally, Cape League players report to a local gym for an early morning workout each day and then head to the field for practice before officially reporting for pregame activities roughly four hours before a game.
"I think working out in the weight room with the team has helped me to counter some of that fatigue," said Siena "We are in the weight room almost every day here and I'm trying to get stronger. I don't really feel it too much. I don't think fatigue is a real excuse at this point. Most of the guys out here have had to deal with a similar amount of games throughout the college baseball season."
This summer provides an opportunity for Siena to learn from the elite players in the game, and gives him a chance to make the necessary adjustments to step up his game next season. While the freshman had a statistically successful season, he feels that he can elevate his game to a higher level next year.
"I'm going to try as consistent as possible both hitting and fielding-wise," he said. "I have really been working on my defense here on the Cape this summer which I think is something that I can definitely improve on for next season. I want to be a leader for the guys coming in and help get us back to a conference championship."
Siena is a rare player that exhibits leadership both on and off the field and looks to build upon a wildly successful freshman campaign in the 2014 season. As UConn prepares to face off against its rivals in the American Athletic Conference next spring, Siena figures to be one of the biggest weapons in the lineup.
His final month in Bourne will provide him a chance to gain the necessary experience and insight to make him one of the nation's most dangerous third basemen.