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CCBL carves out summer niche

The Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League offers the local college baseball player competition similar to more prominent regional leagues like the New England and Futures circuits, but is geared toward those who wish to stay at home for the summer.

The CCBL is in its sixth season. It was organized by commissioner Tim Vincent of Simsbury with considerable help from Southington High baseball coach Charlie Lembo and representatives from the circuit’s other cities — Glastonbury (Kevin Chase and Paul Steiner), Manchester (Jim Bombria) and West Hartford (Nick Marsh). Vincent operates both the Simsbury and Tobacco Valley squads in a loop that’s held steady with six teams since its 2009 inception.

Its conception was borne from philosophical operational differences with the Greater Hartford Twilight League as it relates to the college athlete with aspirations for professional opportunity. Its path differs from the bigger summer leagues.

Teams in the New England, Futures, Hamptons and Perfect Game leagues, all of which have local players, increase their visibility through sponsorship money. They have general managers who shoulder the burden of game-to-game operations and preseason preparation, like finding players from out of the region places to live. Tickets are sold, concessions are available and souvenirs can be purchased off nicely constructed websites.

The operation of the Southington Shock falls almost completely on the shoulders of Lembo, who accepts the responsibility through pure love of the college games and a determination to help young players achieve their goals. There are no admission charges. Games are not highly publicized.

“There are a couple of things,” Lembo said. “I want our former players to have a place to play and improve before getting back to school in the fall.

“Also, I love being around the kids. I have such fun going to the field. We have kids from New Britain, Southington, Bristol, and Berlin but once they’re together on this team, they become friends. It’s pretty cool.

“I think it’s a good league. I think there’s a need for it in our area.”

Lembo doesn’t regard the NECBL or FCBL as competition.

“Sometimes kids want to go away for the summer. Our league is for kids who want to stay at home for a job, family reasons, whatever,” Lembo said. “It’s a place to give them competitive baseball to play. If a kid wants to go to the NECBL midseason, go! Go get more exposure. That’s fine with me.”

Playing for the Shock costs $350, which Lembo says covers the expenses incurred by the need for equipment and umpires’ fees. The fee hasn’t risen over the years. He saves on the cost of field rental by playing games directly after Legion and Junior Legion home games.

“We don’t have any sponsors, at least I’ve never had any here,” he said. “When I first started, I funded it.”

Lembo has four ex-Knights on the squad, one from Cheshire and one from Wallingford. Alex Roger was captain of the 2011 Knights team — Lembo’s first — that went to the Class LL finals and lost to Newington in 10 innings. He played two seasons at UConn-Avery Point and is heading into his senior year at Western Connecticut State University. He saved three games and posted a 2.38 ERA as a junior this spring.

“He has a really live arm that touches 90,” Lembo said. “I thought he was one of the best defensive outfielders in the state his senior year.”

Right-hander Craig Frobel will be a junior at WCSU, where he was 3-1 with a 3.88 ERA in 2014. Frobel, a Little East Conference Pitcher of the Week in March, helped hurl the Southington Legion to the state finals last year. Dave Palladino, primarily a catcher but quite versatile, will be a sophomore at WCSU.

The WCSU connection is due in large part to the relationship between Lembo and veteran Colonials coach John Susi, father of former Blue Knight Brett Susi and current SHS catcher Zac Susi.

“John knows the kids because they grew up playing with his sons and it’s a good fit for some of our guys,” Lembo said.

IF/RHP Matt DiNello, a 2013 SHS captain now at Merrimack, gives Lembo “valuable versatility.” Tyler Robertson, son of Cheshire Legion coach Bill Robertson, is in his third season with the Shock. Robertson plays his college ball at Albertus Magnus, where he batted .305 in 22 games as a junior.

“He’s done a great job for us,” Lembo said. “We’ve had him leading off and he’s a solid second baseman.”

Sean Brennan, who played at Sheehan, splits the catching for the Shock after his freshman season at Western New England University.

While the other leagues market their logos and their presence in communities around the northeast, Lembo says the CCBL remains comfortable and successful in its role.

“To [operate like an NECBL team], we would have to get into billeting kids who come in from other parts of the country with host families,” Lembo said. “Still, we’ve had a number of really good players come through.”

WCSU grad Conor Bierfeldt, for example, is an outfielder in the Baltimore Orioles’ chain, presently playing with Delmarva in the Class A South Atlantic League. He batted .264 and hit 12 homers last year with Aberdeen of the New York-Penn League after he was drafted in the 29th round.

Former Southington and WNEU star Joey Griglun was a Division III All-American first baseman. Pitchers Michael Johnston of Thomaston and Kyle Cummings of Hamden had strong college careers at Avery Point and then Southern Connecticut.

A.J. Pollock, George Springer, Mike Olt and most recently UConn’s Nick Ahmed are in the big leagues. Others, like Tyler Olmstead of Greenwich and Zach Risedorf of Northwestern Regional, are poised to be among the next wave.

Lembo points to the proliferation of ballplayers with ties to Connecticut in the professional ranks, which in part justifies all the hard work he and his CCBL colleagues do. After all, he says, you never know who may be next.

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