Bases Covered

Bases Covered

T he first thing Bob Turcio wants me to know is he tells people exactly what he thinks. And they don’t always like it. We’re sitting in his no-frills office, where a lone window overlooks the gym area of Batter’s Box, the baseball training facility Turcio opened 30 years ago in Hamden. In gray sweatpants, a denim baseball cap and a black pullover emblazoned with letters “CB,” Turcio looks like an ordinary guy. But he’s got a big voice and even bigger aspirations for the Bombers.

The Connecticut Bombers, that is—the training center’s baseball travel team. Established in 1998, a brochure calls it “one of the top-rated programs in the country and the #1 program in the Northeast.” Baseball, Turcio maintains, is the hardest game to play. “Round ball, round bat,” he says. “It takes athletic skill to do everything… You’ve got to catch a ball, throw a ball, run after a ball, hit a ball, throw strikes… It’s a tough game.”

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A graduate of Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Turcio went on to play baseball for the University of New Haven. From 1981 to 1985 he played professionally in Italy, including an appearance in the 1984 Olympics. Italy came out with a 1-2 record—not good enough to make the finals—although “walking in the opening ceremony,” he admits, was “pretty cool.” But enough about him. He wants to talk about the young athletes who’ve arrived for their afternoon training.

We’re not far into our conversation before I see what Turcio means about speaking his mind. “We push very hard,” he says. “Many parents come here for that. Many parents also want to be told everything’s good, and there’s the door,” he says, signaling the way they can leave. There are no participation trophies here and no excuses for not doing the work. “You have to work for everything you get here. We don’t hand you anything,” Turcio insists. That’s not just about baseball, he adds. That’s life.

James Newman of Hamden, whose son plays with the Bombers, likes Turcio’s style. When the coach raises his voice, Newman says, “it makes the kid realize, you know, what he’s worth and how the coach is pouring [effort] into him.” Turcio, he says, is invested.

Out on the floor with the 13- and 14-year-olds, who are practicing together this afternoon, Turcio’s method shows. He yells. He calls them out. He wants to know why they’re not moving faster, why they’ve set the pitcher’s ramp too close to the end of the gym. Some of the boys look a little bit scared, others more quizzical, as if they’re trying to figure him out. No one looks relaxed. That, of course, is the way Turcio wants it. If a player “blows a sign, forgets his cutoff, forgets the play, you’re going to hear [about] that because that’s a mental mistake. Mental mistakes are minimized by paying attention and listening,” he says. “Mechanical mistakes are bettered by working harder.”

The young players spread out inside different moveable cages created by nets that hang from rods on the ceiling. Some pitch and catch with a partner. Others bat or pitch solo. Their first game of the season is coming up on the weekend. Over the course of the season, the team will play up to 70 games throughout the Northeast and, if they win a berth, a national championship tournament in New Mexico.

Coach Tony Gallo of West Haven has worked for Turcio in the past and is back now for what he hopes will be a long run. After playing college baseball at the University of New Haven for two years, Gallo played independent professional baseball, which he calls “a rough road, but a good learning experience for me.” He seems to approve of the idea of toughening up these kids for what’s to come.

Gallo calls what happens at Batter’s Box “good, competitive baseball.” But competition, he adds, isn’t really what it’s about. Not surprisingly, I hear the same thing from Turcio. What’s most important isn’t trophies (there are a few on the windowsill in the office) or winning records or even Major League alumni (the Batter’s Box website lists 18). So, what is?

“100 percent of our players go to college,” Turcio says. “Not 90. 100 percent.” Some go on to play baseball at “some of the best academic institutions, too. Division I, II or III, doesn’t matter. Your education is first and foremost.” If kids stay with the program (tryouts are required for the spring team), Turcio will be keeping an eye not just on their swings and their pitches and their fielding but also their grades.

The Connecticut Bombers aren’t the only game at Batter’s Box. With a staff of a dozen coaches, Turcio offers classes, individual lessons, camps and clinics. Little League teams and athletes from “pros and down” rent cages for training. Turcio also hopes to get a girls’ softball team going in the fall.

As spring finally arrives, the Bombers will head outside. But in Batter’s Box’s batting cages, other kids will keep on batting, and Bob Turcio will keep his eye on the ball.

Batter’s Box
21 Marne St, Hamden (map)
Mon-Fri 2-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
(203) 248-2398
www.battersboxct.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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