TORRINGTON - There's the pitcher who just started a game for a national championship, the hometown hero coming off an All-American season, a knuckle-baller who has thrown for major league teams in recent weeks and the returner looking to polish his game.
There are as many stories as players on the Torrington Titans roster this season and they will all start to write the next chapter of their baseball lives Thursday night when they host the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs at 7:05pm, at Fuessenich Park.
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League has grown to nine teams this season and is picking up steam as far as being a summer destination for college ballplayers. The dream of every ballplayer is to take things to the next level and for Titans players the next couple months will be huge in regard to them achieving that goal.
And it's a goal they all have. Whether they come from Division I programs or a local Division III school, this season's roster of Titans all hope to get noticed, to put it all together and start that climb toward the top that others have come to Torrington to do.
There may not be a Stephen Strasburg on the roster this year, but who knows, and manager Misha Dworken sees major league potential when he looks at his team.
"There is not one kid on this team that can't play in the big leagues," Dworken said. "There is not one person on the team that there is not a comparison for at the major league level. The biggest thing is some of these kids maybe wonder where they fit in and also why they are not at a certain level. The type of players they are aren't the type of players that get picked up early. They are the type of players who have to grind to the end."
That's no knock on any of the players as there are many different roles on a major league club and there will be on the Titans as well. Dworken pointed out that not every players has 40-homer power or can throw a 98-mph fastball but not everyone has to, you just have to find your role.
"They have to figure out what they do well and perfect it," Dworken said. "It's like a job, if you do a job and do it well you can have a long career with a company. So these guys have to find their job, do it well, do the little things it takes to play a position well, not try and do to much and they could find that they get to keep on doing that job for a long time."
The first major job will be handled by Alec Palioca, who will get the start for the Titans Thursday night.
Palioca went 9-1 for Wheaton College this season and helped lead the Lyons to the Division III College World Series. He was the winning pitcher in the Lyons's first college World Series win since 2006 and started the championship game which was won by Marietta College.
Having just pitched for a national title, Palioca is more excited than nervous for the summer season to start.
"I'm excited to get back out and start playing again," Palioca said. "It's been good to meet the guys and get some work in. Now I am hoping we can get a ring. At the end of the summer we want to be the last team standing,"
If the Titans do indeed end up as the last team standing it will likely mean it got a number of quality innings out of Jordan Scheiner. A knuckle-baller who pitches for Colby Sawyer College, Scheiner comes to Torrington this summer looking to perfect the pitch after getting some major league pointers.
It started a year or so ago with an on-field meeting with former Boston Red Sox hurler Tim Wakefield. More recently, Scheiner got to throw in a session with N.Y. Mets starter R.A. Dickey, who is 8-1 so far this season.
"Both of those guys were great, I got a chance to meet with Tim Wakefield before a Red Sox game and he gave me a lot of good pointers about throwing the knuckeball," Scheiner said. "Meeting with R.A. Dickey was awesome as well because I got to work with him and actually throw with him. He showed me a lot of stuff because we actually got to throw together."
Talking to a pair of major league pitchers would be a great experience for any player but it's especially true for Scheiner as he tries to master a pitch that seems to have a mind of its own. The tips paid off and Scheiner has thrown for the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates recently and has garnered some interest from a few other teams as well.
"It's like a fraternity," Scheiner said if knuckleballers. "When they heard I threw a knuckleball they were really cool about talking to me, helping out. Now I am just trying to gain command of it and see how far I can go. Maybe get drafted next year or sign with someone after the summer."
Another player looking to see how far he can go is Torrington native Conor Bierfeldt.
Bierfeldt did it all for Western Connecticut State University this past spring as he was named 1st Team All America by D3baseball.com as well as being named 1st team All-American on the ABCA official NCAA DIII All American team.
Bierfeldt had already been named 1st Team All Region and Little East Conference, as well as Player of the Year in both the LEC and New England.
Now Bierfeldt is looking for a chance to prove himself against even tougher competition.
"I'm here to play high quality baseball, take a step up and prove I can play against better competition," Bierfeldt said. "the competition will be better than what I faced last summer, just being around more higher quality players will be good."
It will also be good to be home again, at least for a while. Fuessenich Park was a frequent destination for Bierfeldt as he grew up and he'll be calling it home once again this summer.
"I can't wait, it's been three or four weeks since my last game so it will be good to get back to playing again," he said. "Even playing Babe Ruth and stuff, I grew up playing on this field and I used to watch the Twisters so it's nice to be playing here again."
Although not a Torrington native, Ryan Plourde is familiar with Fuessenich Park having played for the Titans last season. After a strong season with Fairfield University, Plourde looking forward to another summer in Torrington.
"The team is made up of a bunch of great kids," Plourde said. "It's a great time playing on the team. It took a little while for people to realize what was going on with the team coming together last minute but as the season went on we had some good crowds and a lot of support."
One of five Stags playing in the FCBL this summer, Plourde is hoping for more support from the fans as he looks to build on a solid sophomore season at Fairfield where he hit .328 with 10 doubles and six home runs and walked (32) nearly as many times as he struck out (33).
"My goal is just to develop overall as a baseball player," Plourde said. "I know I'll probably catch some, play the outfield since I'll play there in college. I also want to develop some more hitting skills. I know the coaches will help with that, especially going from metal to wood bats."
From metal to wood bats, from schools like UMass, Fairfield, William & Mary and Columbia to Torrigton, the Titans are ready to start the season and all the excitement that comes from a summer on the diamond.
Many new stories will unfold for all involved but what they are remains to be seen.
"I'm excited, not just for tomorrow but for the season," Dworken said. "We've gotten some good work in, we have a good group now it's time to try and win a championship. Let them experience the season, what its like to play everyday. Hopefully through that experience they will gain confidence and take that back with them and raise some eyebrows."