Mystic pitching staff thriving in NECBL under Dennis Long
Groton — About an hour before first pitch on Monday, Dennis Long is talking baseball while hanging out in the Mystic Schooners' bullpen.
A little bit later, Long's one of the first people out of the dugout to greet starting pitcher Joseph Rivera after a successful first inning against New Bedford.
"You can tell, this is what he was meant to do," said Willie Rios, a starting pitcher and former St. Bernard School standout. "He just loves being around a group of guys that love to play baseball and he loves the game."
Long is enjoying his fourth summer as general manager and second year as pitching coach for the Schooners.
"It's baseball and it's summertime," Long said. "We've got some great kids who are always trying to learn how to play. When you want to learn more, that's when the game gets fun – at any age."
Long is one of the architects of Schooners, working with manager Phil Orbe to assemble a competitive New England Collegiate Baseball League team. They focus on bringing in quality players as well as quality people. It's been a successful formula. The playoff-bound Schooners (2415) set a Mystic franchise record for regular-season victories with a 4-2 win on Monday at Fitch Senior High School.
Four pitchers, including starter and winner Rivera, combined on a two-hitter.
Stellar pitching has carried the Schooners this season. They own the league's best pitching staff, ranking first in earned run average (2.56) and strikeouts (300).
Orbe credits Long for the staff's success.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the job that Dennis has done the last two years as our pitching coach," Orbe said. "There is not one pitcher that we've had in the last two years that hasn't left here better in some aspect, either the mental side of things or the physical side. That's really a tribute to Dennis and his work ethic."
Baseball has played a huge role in Long's life. After starring at East Lyme High School and U Conn, the two-time Cape Cod League all-star was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1980 and spent four seasons in the minor leagues, reaching as high as AAA.
He left the sports world for the business world, working in the banking industry for 16 years. On the side, he gave pitching lessons and eventually couldn't resist returning to his first love.
With the blessing of his family, Long traded his suit for a uniform.
"He got out of (banking) to chase what he loved," Orbe said. "I always look up to people who chase a dream."
"It was an educated leap of faith," Long said.
As a teacher of the game, he's gained a loyal following in the community and grown his business called Developing Baseball International. He also has the respect of the college-aged players on the Schooners.
Rios, who pitched at Maryland last season, calls Long a mentor. He's thrived under Long's direction, earning NECBL all-star honors and posting a 4-0 record with a 1.80 ERA.
"He makes sure everyone feels comfortable," Rios said. "He works with everyone's strengths. He's not one of those pitching coaches that tries to go in and change things because he knows after this we're going back to school.
"He takes what everyone has and refines it. ... He really helps mental aspects, too, which is big especially when you're on the mound."
The bullpen serves as a classroom. Long encourages his pitchers to exchange ideas. He watches them throw and offers advice.
"If you're not asking questions, you're not trying to get better," Long said. "That's the key to baseball. Some of my greatest learning was done in the bullpen with my teammates, just talking and observing." Long's approach is working. Mystic is considered a serious contender to win its first NECBL crown due in part to its quality pitching depth.
Twelve pitchers have made at least seven appearances this summer. Rarely does a starter go beyond six innings. The Schooners have allowed two or fewer runs in five of the last six games.
"Fortunately, guys are throwing strikes so we've been able to get by throwing two, three, four guys a game and not really losing a beat," Long said.
"We've kind of become the envy of some of the other (general managers) and coaches. ... Everybody in the league notices that we have 16 pitchers still here when a lot of pitchers have already gone home on other teams. ... I'm really proud the way we've handled that."
When summer baseball season ends, Long will continue to teach. He's been hired as the pitching coach at U-Conn-Avery Point. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @GavinKeefe