Fran Regan was honored with the very first John Crawford moment of the season for his incredible work with Drew Crook to help him stay healthy for the first season of his career. Dana Vermilya was honored with our second John Crawford moment of the season when she stepped up and changed Rob Thayer’s life, helping him shed weight, medications, insulin and digits of his A1C count. They have both reflected the spirit of the John Crawford awards. We set these up to honor volunteers going above and beyond and surprised us with their contribution like never before. All of our volunteers are amazing and do so much for this team and we can’t thank them enough for their hard work. The spirit of this recognition is to say “wow”! We hope this this recognition helps pull back the curtain and show others how much these people did for the team and its players. Now we move to our third honoree of the season.
Peter Connolly becoming a Renegade
Peter Connolly is one of the few Renegade Volunteers in team history with family ties. He is a cousin to one of our long time players, Joe Yee. Joe started playing for the Renegades in 2014. Joe often invites his family to come see the team play. “Peter was playing softball for work and he knew I played beepball. I just told him about the sport and he came to watch us play. I never asked him to be part of the team but his interest grew to the point he asked if he could volunteer”, said Joe.
Peter Connolly joined the renegades in 2016 and was part of a youth movement on our coaching staff. He joined Max Goder-Reiser and Ben Coiner to give us three baseball guys in their twenties. These three guys gave us some life on the field for sure!
Peter started off on the team as our big bat. He was one of our primary fungo guys. Using his softball power, he was often crushing balls at the defense preparing them for top notch teams. We made the championship game that year and his fungo helped us prepare for that level of competition.
Connolly takes the mound
Over time, his role began to expand as he took to the team and the sport. He had a desire to pitch and we got him reps in 2017. He pitched a few innings against the Long Island Bombers and the Rochester Pioneers. Larry Haile scored the very first run off Peter against the Bombers in Peter’s nine batters faced in 2017.
For those who may not know what pitching entails in this sport, it’s not what you think. First, you are pitching to blind players who are on your team. Afterall, how hard would it be to strike out a blind player on an opposing team? Second, you stand 20 feet away from home plate, and in reality after releasing the ball, you’re less than 15 feet from the hitter. Yes! FIFTEEN Feet! We know what you’re thinking….Don’t pitchers get hit by the ball, YES they do. It takes guts to play this position. It is also the biggest role a sighted player can play on this team. Our pitchers throw thousands of pitches a year at practice, exhibition games and competitive games.
Pitching in 2018
Heading into the 2018 season, the Renegades had three pitchers. Jamie Dickerson was unavailable for the first tournament of the year in Rochester and Peter prepared to pitch in that four game weekend. He even got a start on a Friday night game vs Rochester and had the highlight of being on the mound when David Sanchez and Melissa Hoyt scored their first career runs. Overall, in his first tournament, Peter pitched to 47% of the hitters. The Renegades hit .361 and he put 67% of the balls in play in his first weekend of work!
Our next trip in 2018 was to Philly and the Renegades would be without Cochran. Jamie Dickerson and Peter would split time evenly this weekend with each pitcher facing 47 hitters. Peter’s stats included a .468 batting average and he put 70% of the balls in play. He also helped the Renegades hold off a 10 run inning by the NJ Titans who took an 11-9 lead. Peter, Dickerson and the Renegade bats dug deep and outscored the titans 12-2 in the last three innings of the game. He was able to connect with Joey Buizon, Guy Zuccarello and his cousin, Joe Yee.
Peter then parlayed this experience as he attended some of the 2018 World Series and pitched in the first four games against Philly, Toronto, Long Island and the BCS Outlaws. His World Series stats were a footnote in league stats as he faced just 22 hitters.
Soto and Yee have a lot of success
During the 2018 season, his cousin, Joe Yee, fell in love with Peter’s pitching hitting .647 with him (11-17) while putting 89% of his at bats in play. When asked about their connection, Joe states, “His pitch came in fast, hot and flat. My timing with him was very different than with other pitchers. With his flat pitch and my flat swing, we made solid connections.” Joe Continues, “His success was my success. When the both of us were doing well, it was a great feeling. Our styles seemed to match very well. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so with his pitching style and my swing, that ball went sailing.”
Luis Soto also developed a great hitter/pitcher relationship hitting .385 (5-13) which boosted his confidence, having his best season of his career to this point. In a year where Jamie Dickerson was less available (Dickerson is the 4th most tenured pitcher in team history), Peter was on the map as a future pitcher for the Renegades and really stepped up.
Peter continued to hone his craft pitching in 2019, but with limited availability and Dickerson and Cochran available for the series, Peter pitched a lot of batting practice to improve and helped where he was needed on the field.
Back from a lost season to COVID – Time to Call!
In 2021, the Renegades entered the season with a loss of defensive caller depth. With Ben Coiner gone to med school, Joe Bourque gone to grad school, Aaron Proctor retired and Jamie moving to New York, a big part of the team focus was training new callers. Peter, Teigan Weissman and Gina Devenish all started to learn the role. Laura Ward also came out of retirement and found herself re-learning how to call as well. Peter quickly picked things up even though his defensive reps were less than the others due to the time spent throwing batting practice to the team as the personal pitcher of choice for Melissa Hoyt, Joe Yee, Luis Soto and David Sanchez. The players named him one of the top three callers that season. Peter was all in on both sides of the ball.
Ok again, if you’re new to this sport then you likely have no idea what a caller is. Let’s break it down with only the basics. There are two sighted callers on the field with the defense. Their job entails helping the players to set up in the right positions (remember, they are blind). They are there for safety reasons to help stop collisions. Our callers have to keep track of the offensive lineup and know what the defensive strategy is. They are also called a caller because they say a number between one and six to give the players an idea of where on the field the ball has been hit so the defense has a plan of attack.
Confidence building and a can-do attitude
Ok, Let’s get back to the man of the story. Before we jump into Peter as the pitcher and caller in 2022, let’s discuss Peter as a person and volunteer. Peter is selfless which is the definition of a Renegade volunteer. He puts the team first and is always willing to do anything needed at practice. That is clear from the many hats he has worn over the years. He has the ability to create relationships with the players and help them build their confidence. Often times that confidence extends beyond the baseball field into their life. David Sanchez had this to say about Peter, “He always tries to do the best for the players in any capacity needed and he always goes the extra mile for the players. I often see him talking to Soto to boost his confidence and helping him out a lot.”
Heading into 2022, Peter was committed to Beast of the East play but he had limited vacation time and only planned to attend three days of the World Series. This was pre-determined before the season began. Knowing what he could give us, we devised a plan. We hoped we could grow his skills and have him take some of pitching load off Ron Cochran and keep the legs of Bryan Grillo and Jason Lenicheck fresh for the hot and humid, July Texas heat.
Calling – Peter Can Do it!
Defensively, Peter continued to grow as a caller. He worked on both sides of the field pairing up with different personnel at practice. In the first tournament of the year, he called every inning of every game on the right side. In the second leg of the Beast of the East, he called every inning on the right side for the first two games and then switched to the left side in game three. Boston was 5-1 in those games. He also called in three wins at the Series against the Braille Bandits, Long Island Bombers and Houston Hurricanes. Splitting time on the mound with Cochran at the same time as honing his craft as a caller and learning the defense is no easy task as the focus is constantly changing.
Pitching – Peter Can Do it!
Entering the season on the offensive side of the game, Peter picked up more players who wanted him as their primary pitcher like Ivan Rodriguez. With Peter’s success, Weissman also suggested Shayne Cantan start the year with Peter as his pitcher. With Cantan splitting time living in Philly and staying in Boston with his brother, he had limited practice time. Weissman trusted Peter and suggested he may have more time for Shayne and would be able to give him the focus needed to help him succeed, even though Cantan had years of success with Ron Cochran. Shayne trusted the decision and fell in love instantly.
Peter finished 2022 on the mound with his best season ever. He set personal bests in every category. Facing 139 hitters, we scored 59 times, the
team hit .424 with a 23.7% strike-out rate on the year. However, Peter and Ron ended up doing something rare in NBBA history as both pitchers finished the World Series with sub 20% strike-out rates. Connolly at 19.8% and Cochran at 15.7%! This placed Ron second in the league (behind Jarred Woodard of the Indy Thunder who was at 12.3%) and Peter, 5th behind two other pitchers who pitched in the championship game! There were 21 pitchers credited with at least 30 at bats at the series, placing Peter as one of the top pitchers of the week. Peter, amazed everyone, except the Renegades!
Luis Soto Impact
Luis Soto has benefited so much from Peter’s work on the mound and off the field. Heading into the 2021 season, Soto was a career .320 hitter striking out 52% of the time. The past two seasons with Peter constantly giving him pep talks on the field, on the bench and in the car, Soto saw dramatic improvements. He improved to a .375 hitter cutting his strike outs nearly in half to 29%!
Luis says this about their relationship, “The respect I have for Peter is as a little brother, I enjoy every moment I have with him on the field. On so many of the drives to the field, Peter continues to tell me how I have the skills to be a good player and that I need to believe in myself” Every Renegade knows that Soto has a tendency to be very hard on himself, but things have turned around the past two years, mostly due to Peter. Luis feeds off of Peter’s energy “when Peter tells me what is going on, I try to inject his excitement into my game to help keep myself positive when things get hard. I talk to myself as a way to remind me what Peter has told me.”
David Sanchez Comeback Season
David Sanchez and Shayne Cantan had two of the biggest comeback seasons in the league in 2022 and a lot of it was due to the pitching of Peter Connolly and his ability to boost a players confidence when they are down.
For David Sanchez, he entered the 2022 season as a career .385 hitter striking out 28% of the time. We knew he had the talent and the swing but he needed to clean up some mechanics and get confidence. In 2022, Sanchez hit .512 and struck out just 20.9% of the time. He scored more runs in 2022 (22) than in his previous three seasons combined (15) and he also had his first ever five run game against the Gateway Archers! When David was asked about how they worked together as a team, David states, “we talk to each other on the bench about our approach to do better and come up with a strategy. This helped me get better at bats. Peter helped improve my in-game confidence because we were locked in and this helped me have my best season ever.”
Shayne Cantan’s Comeback season
Shayne Cantan had a different path. He was a full time player for the Renegades from 2009-2011 before he left the Boston area for a job. In 2013 and 2015 he played with us when we had injuries to other players and needed his help. His last year with the team was a cameo in 2017, getting just 6 at bats. With the Renegades not attending the series in 2021, Cantan played for Philly and hit a paltry .087 for them. “I struggled terribly last season, I worked all off season changing my swinging, and I struggled terribly during practice”.
In 2022, Shayne and Peter caught fire. Shayne had a hot start against him on Long Island (5-9 with 1 K). Shayne had this to say about their start, “Working with Peter was instant magic, I had one day to work with him prior to the first leg of the Beast of the East, he trusted I could make changes after I took a bad swing, and I had full confidence he would eventually find me, I was right, he was right, and it’s just going to get better.” At the series they connected. Shayne hit .545 (18-33 with just 5 strike outs).
The John Crawford moment is more than stats & confidence, it’s about being there!
But again, we have to go beyond the stats and look at Peter, the man. As we mentioned earlier and multiple times from our players, he goes above and beyond for the team. Peter’s flight was booked to leave on Tuesday for the World Series. The rest of the team was leaving on Monday. However, on Sunday, the day before the team was scheduled to depart, Coach Mike Marciello suffered a terrible injury. As he left in an ambulance, the team tried to determine how to handle its upcoming trip. Down to four coaches for the first day of the trip, Peter volunteered to pitch in for the loss of Mike. He took an unplanned vacation day on ZERO days’ notice and worked to reschedule his flight to be with the team on Monday in Texas.
Not only was his help critical to get the team from Houston to the hotels in Beaumont (once again, he was a key driver), he was now there for day one to get Shayne, Soto, Ivan and Sanchez stability for the entire week to provide a consistent cadence and delivery on the mound for all their at-bats.
How do our players feel?
When asked about how the guys felt about Peter’s contributions Luis Soto stated, “I just need to express my deep gratitude for the dedicated work Peter does for me, week after week. My heart is filled with gratitude. I thank him so much for his kindness and I sincerely appreciate him. I’m deeply appreciative for his support and encouragement. I thank him for cheering me on to victory. I’m very grateful.”
Shayne has a funny spin but a similar message, “Peter is a competitor, and we are the exact same way. We have the same sense of humor, interest in food, and the innate ability to tell Weissman to be quiet. As much as we are similar in terms of competitiveness, I just trust him as a person. He’s given me rides to events, I can text him anytime and he’s always as pumped as I am, and he’s just easy to talk to. While on the way back from the World Series, Peter talked to me about hinging my elbow during my swing, a fact I did not understand until after the Series. After I had my aha moment, we were in the airport, just working on that hinge, he works so hard to make us better, I can’t help but match that intensity, caring is contagious, Peter cares”
Thank you for this John Crawford moment
Peter caring is what this is all about. His desire to compete and care for the guys has really helped their confidence. That improvement helped three guys have turn around seasons at the plate while also helping the team excel on defense. Few guys in the league can play on both sides of the field and excel as Connolly did. His ability to see a need and fill it is a thing making him so special to this club. We can’t thank him enough for stepping up in 2022. This John Crawford moment is about Peter’s incredible work ethic, competitive fire and willingness to help when another coach was injured!