Pictured: Tyler Baldwin (foreground) and Nick Polizonis keep their arms limber at Cromwell High’s Fran Monnes Field.
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – Except for one jogger, two kids on bicycles and wind whipping the treetops, the sports complex at Cromwell High School was unnaturally quiet on Saturday.
And then two guys with baseball gloves and a ball showed up at Fran Monnes Field.
Cromwell seniors Tyler Baldwin and Nick Polizonis, doing the best they can to fill so much idle time, dropped in to have a catch.
They threw long toss. You know, to keep in step with social distancing.
In today’s COVID-19 world of no school, no sports and general awfulness, these two Panthers were a sight for sore eyes.
“I’m just hoping the season will come soon,” said Polizonis, eager to begin his third varsity season at catcher.
“We’re just trying to stay ready just in case we get to have a season,” said Baldwin, Cromwell’s right-handed ace.
Baldwin and Polizonis have been on the right side of the rules – staying indoors mostly, relying on a baseball group chat to keep tabs with teammates.
For teenagers especially, this odd way of living is not easy. Baldwin and Polizonis are competitors who mostly want to play ball. No one knows at the moment if there will be enough time to have some semblance of a high school spring sports season, let alone a graduation ceremony in June.
“It’s been tough,” Polizonis said. “I’m trying to stay in shape, get bigger, stay in a baseball mindset.”
He and Baldwin hope for baseball beyond spring. Both play for the Post 105 club representing Rocky Hill, Cromwell and Portland. This summer will be their fifth together in the program. They have been classmates since middle school and were in Little League together.
“If the high school season is canceled, we can still get ready for summer,” Polizonis, who will go on to play collegiately at NCAA Division III Southern Maine, said.
In Portland, home of the defending Shoreline Conference champion Highlanders, senior outfielder Grant Collins is passing some of the time throwing bullpens with his brother, Harrison.
Collins said the CIAC’s decision on Wednesday to postpone the start of the spring season gave him hope that he will get to wear a Portland uniform one last time.
“Obviously, we would love to get together and have workouts with five, six, seven guys and even the whole squad, but right now it’s not possible,” said Collins, who also writes about sports for the online Highlander Report as its editor-in-chief.
“We understand that in order for us to play the game we love with each other this spring, we need to follow the social distancing protocol,” he added. “As long as we keep our arms loose, stay sharp with the bat, and maybe get a little stronger, we’ll be ready when the time comes.”
As they had last year, Baldwin and Polizonis were going to launch themselves out of basketball season and into baseball. On the morning of March 10, with Cromwell scheduled to play its state tournament opener that night, the CIAC canceled the remainder of winter tournaments out of rising concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
Baldwin got the news from Polizonis, who got the news while in class via a text from his sister.
“When we found out about basketball, it did bother me a lot,” Baldwin said. “I remember it took me a couple of days of thinking about (the end) and not really doing much to get through it.”
During their 10 minutes of long toss, talk turned to the upcoming season and the Shoreline Conference race. Baldwin and Polizonis, the only two seniors on the 2020 team, are confident that the Panthers will contend despite a 5-15 season in 2019. They also expect Portland, Coginchaug and Haddam-Killingworth to be in it with them.
“We really believe we should be a top Shoreline team and we should really have a shot at making a run in the state tournament,” Polizonis said.
“Last year was a learning year for the younger guys,” Baldwin said. “This year is kind of a prove-them-wrong year for us.”
“I’ve seen teammates hitting in the cage and throwing,” Polizonis added, “and you can see a difference in what they looked like last year and what they now look like this year already.
State schools are closed until March 31, but it’s expected that closures will last well into April. This is not good news for spring athletes.
Hope is all they’ve got.