By Johnny Maffei
The Worcester Bravehearts are kicking off their 2021 campaign against the Westfield Starfires in the team’s long-awaited return to Hanover Insurance Park. First pitch is set for Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m.
Last August, the Bravehearts competed for the Futures League Championship in a crucial Game 3, a position that every team certainly wants to be in. But, after winning in 2019, their title defense came up just short as the Nashua Silver Knights got the last laugh.
In an interview on Back To The Futures, Bravehearts OF Nick Martin (Westfield State University), one of Worcester’s few returners, said his team “will be back! And by back I mean in the Championship.”
Martin added that he’s “going to show a lot of people what the Worcester Bravehearts are all about, that (they) can hang.”
The Shrewsbury, MA native is excited to be back so close to home for his third summer with the organization after hitting .269 last summer with eight RBI while swiping six bags.
Stealing bases is something Martin loves doing. “I’ve never been given a steal sign in my college career, I’ve always had the green light, especially with Coach Dion, he lets me run wild,” he said. He stressed the importance of getting into scoring position last summer with teammates like 2020 FCBL MVP Ben Rice (Dartmouth College) in his lineup. Without Rice walking through that door this summer, new bats will have to drive in Martin when he gets on base for them.
Another local player also looking to make a big impact this summer is North Grafton, MA native Jack Choate (Assumption College). Third-year manager Alex Dion said Choate will be on the bump for opening night against the Starfires.
Dion noted how the Bravehearts have built a team with starting pitching in mind. He’s excited for not just Choate, but also some exciting young arms like incoming freshman Dennis Colleran (Northeastern University), Miles Langhorne (Vanderbilt University), and Frank Mozzicato (University of Connecticut), all of whom Dion said have a “super high ceiling, hopefully I have them for the whole summer, but I’m assuming I won’t.”
Arms he expects to have the entire season are guys like junior Bryce Afthim (University of Southern Maine) and senior Aaron Dona (St. Thomas Aquinas College). This spring for the USM Huskies, Afthim is 8-0 registering a 2.66 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 40.2 innings and Dona is 3-0 over 34.2 IP with a 2.08 ERA and 44 strikeouts for St. Thomas Aquinas.
As for the other side of the ball, despite just seven returning Bravehearts, their skipper has high hopes for his new lineup.
“I think one-through-nine we’re going to be better than last year,” Dion said. “We have depth at each position and hopefully can hit the ground running, unlike last summer.”
Obviously last summer didn’t start until July after over three months between the cancelation of the college season and FCBL opening day, so the level of competition across New England should rise overall.
Infielders Randy Flores (Franklin Pierce University), and Sebastian Selado (Palm Beach Atlantic University) and outfielder Rico Riley (Jackson State University) are all players to watch this summer as Dion noted those “guys can hit anywhere two to five in our lineup.”
Rice will not be back with the team this summer, but there are high expectations for catcher Zach DeMattio (Wheaton College) behind the dish. DeMattio just helped take down Babson College for Wheaton’s first NEWMAC title since 2016. Worcester is looking forward to DeMattio creating relationships with his pitchers and of course having his bat in the lineup.
“One thing (DeMattio has) always done is hit,” Dion mentioned. The NEWMAC champ is hitting .333 this spring with four home runs, so if he picks up wherever he leaves off this spring, he should find himself making an impact early.
The Bravehearts are known for their deep playoff runs and huge fan base packing “the HIP.” Martin called his shot, so now we watch and see if he backs it up, showing the new guys the ropes of all the Futures League has to offer, and help Worcester contend again.