By Chris Jones, UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. -- The UConn Baseball team continued their fall season with the annual alumni game on Sunday, Sept. 28. The alumni game is a chance for the current UConn squad to square off against former UConn players in an exhibition game but more importantly it is a chance to bring together a family that continues to grow after every passing season.
“Definitely one of my favorite days of the year, said Head Coach Jim Penders ('94). “You get to unite so many different generations of UConn baseball players and their families to be part of one big giant family again.”
The UConn baseball program has experienced massive success over the past few seasons. In the 2014 MLB season, four former Husky players were in the big leagues; Mike Olt (‘10), George Springer (‘11), Nick Ahmed (‘11), and Matt Barnes (‘11), the most in a season in program history.
Former left-handed pitcher Elliot Glynn (’11) spoke about seeing his good friends realizing their dreams in the big leagues. “On top of them being great players, they are great guys,” said Glynn. They were great teammates and still good friends. There are probably 15-20 of us on a group text. You see a text from Matt Barnes and it isn’t Matt Barnes from the Red Sox but Matt Barnes that was the goofy kid that lived downstairs from me.
“Being around each other at 18-22 years old, it’s a place where we grew up together. Mike, George and Nick they were all humble when they were here and they wanted to be a good friend and teammate when they were here.”
Adding to the success of the others in the professional ranks, Greg Nappo (‘11) and L.J. Mazzilli (‘13) reached AAA for their respective teams this season while Kevin Vance (‘11), Scott Oberg (‘12) and John Andreoli (‘11) finished the year in AA.
“For our current guys to see the significance of that and to see guys coming back to give back, that fourth pillar that we have in the program, that is so important to us. It basically affirms everything that we do,” said Penders. “If those guys don’t give back or come back then we aren’t having an impact beyond diplomas and championships and we want to have a more profound impact and days like today are proof of that.”
Players from the 60’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s all joined in on the fun on Sunday. Five members of the 1965 College World Series Squad were in attendance to watch the action; Tom Penders, Jim Penders Sr., Ray Hartmann, Dave Prybyla and Pete Mottla.
“They were some of the first people here when I was setting up the field,” said Penders. “They were all talking to the players, talking about road trips in 1963 and their experiences in the 1965 College World Series. It is extremely valuable to have them here to share their experiences with the guys.”
Jack Hurley (’87) and Mick Buckmir (’87) represented the 1987 Huskies and were the two oldest players to compete in the game.
“It’s awesome, it shows the program is bigger than what it is at the time,” said redshirt senior pitcher Carson Cross (Brentwood, N.H.). “There is a guy 50 years old playing shortstop out here loving it. For people to want to come back and do that makes it fun. You stop and think that will be you someday coming back with your family to see everyone. It’s the third time that I’ve pitched in this game. I had the most fun in terms of enjoying being out there. It’s fun competing against some of the greats that have played here.”
Pierre LePage (’10), Mike Nemeth (’11), Vance, Glynn, Dave Fischer (’12) and Doug Elliot (’11) all played in the game. The group represented many of the recent accomplishments for the UConn program. The 2010 Huskies won a program record 48 games and hosted an NCAA Regional in Norwich for the first time in school history.
The 2011 team won the Big East regular season title and appeared in the school’s first ever Super Regional after winning the NCAA Clemson Regional. All of the aforementioned players were drafted to the professional ranks after their careers ended at UConn.
“We are all still extremely close and it is fun to be out on this field. We had fun playing the game, played hard and we had a lot of energy. We want that to carry over to every team that comes through here. UConn baseball should consist of lots of energy, playing hard and having fun,” said Glynn. We got guys in the big leagues now, it helps the current guys to see all these former guys rooting them on and wanting them to succeed. We are all just one big family.
For the 2015 Huskies it is a great time to be able to get advice and teachings from a group of experienced and talented individuals who have experienced success.
“You can still pick up things from these guys. Pierre LePage is out there, he might have been the best player out there for either team. It’s a good way to communicate with those guys,” said Glynn. “A lot of us are still around the game and watching the game. I think there is something to be learned, not just a coach in your ear but a former player telling you something. It means something different coming from a former player.”
Cross appreciates anything that the former guys can give him from their previous experiences.
“Oh yeah, big time. I am always looking at guys for advice. [Elliot] Glynn has one of the best baseball brains that I’ve been around since starting college ball. Kevin [Vance] and Dave [Fischer] were also two guys I looked up to as older guys when I first got here and continue ask them questions,” said Cross.
Wins and losses are what teams are graded on to determine success. But in the long run the friendships and bonds that are created through donning the UConn jersey is what the guys cherish the most.
“It gives me goose bumps. That’s something that is so special. We have goals for their academics, their athletic prowess, we even have a goal for their social life that they write down every semester,” said Penders. “We are involved in each of those goals but above all those three is your family. That’s your number one priority and they have their own goals with regards to their family. Those are ones we are going to support and defend, family comes first.
As players grabbed some food after the game you could hear the stories being passed around from each generation of players. The scene reminds of the family at the holidays, sitting around the kitchen table exchanging stories, laughing, joking around and enjoying the company of one another.
As each year passes the stories will continue to grow. The alumni game will be a chance to reunite and recall the memories from the past. A chance for the new guys to be immersed in the UConn family. And for those newcomers, a welcome to what alumni fondly call the UConn “Nation”.