College baseball: Wheeler grad Stefanski went from walk-on at UConn to senior standout

College baseball: Wheeler grad Stefanski went from walk-on at UConn to senior standout

NORTH STONINGTON — Troy Stefanski knows how to close out a baseball career in style.

In his last high school game, in 2014, the former Wheeler standout pitched a no-hitter and went 5 for 5 at the plate while hitting for the cycle.

Earlier this month as UConn's starting center fielder, Stefanski went 5 for 5 in an NCAA regional finals loss to Washington in what was his final collegiate game.

Now resting at home and contemplating his future plans, which could include pursuing a master’s degree or playing more baseball if a minor league offer comes, Stefanski has pondered the irony of the bookend 5-for-5 days to end both careers.

“I've been making a joke that you don't want to play me in last games of my career,” Stefanski said. “Although we lost a very disappointing and interesting baseball game (9-6 to Washington) and didn't advance, to be able to go out with a 5-for-5 game is a memorable last hurrah."

Stefanski made his final UConn season one to remember during a year in which he was arguably one of the most valuable players on a Huskies team that was ranked in the top 20 nationally and went 37-22-1. He was second on the team in batting average (.326), base hits (75), runs scored (45), homers (5) and RBIs (35).

Not bad for a walk-on, non-scholarship player who wasn't sure if he was going to play collegiate baseball four years ago. The 6-foot-1 Stefanski didn't get any recruiting offers despite putting up excellent stats at Wheeler. The fact he chose to attend UConn and its Division I program suggested perhaps his organized playing days were over.

But after winning American Legion Zone 6 MVP honors in the summer of 2014 for Ledyard-Pawcatuck, the left-handed hitter listened to advice from associates that he should attend UConn fall practice as a freshman and try to impress Husky coach Jim Penders. And with his self-confidence rejuvenated, Stefanski went out for the team — and made the varsity as a freshman, getting nine at-bats.

He emerged as a part-time starter as a sophomore and junior, hitting .259 and .220, respectively, during injury-plagued campaigns, highlighted by a game-winning hit against Southern California. After a strong 2017 summer season in the New England Futures League, Stefanski won a starting outfielder’s job as a senior with an excellent fall and winter session at UConn.

“I owe a lot to coach Penders and all the coaches for looking at me and giving me a chance when no one else was giving me any opportunities,” Stefanski said. “I didn't take a normal route to get to this point, but I always felt I belonged.”

Stefanski refused to take no for an answer. The player who didn't make All-State, All-Area or attract small-college offers did not let any biases against small-town athletes get in his way.

“Some people feel you can't get here from Wheeler,” Stefanski said. “I wouldn't trade my path to get here with anyone’s. I just had to believe in myself.”

Penders said he liked the fact that Stefanski played with a “chip on his shoulder.” Stefanski always strived to prove that he was the equal of players who hailed from state-champion teams, big-time travel squads or athletes from baseball hotbeds like California and Florida.

Even in the midst of his standout senior year, Stefanski felt disrespected. Batting fifth in the lineup, Stefanski found opponents walking cleanup batter Isaac Feldstein, who hit 13 homers, to get to Stefanski. South Florida did just that in an Amercian Athletic Conference tournament semifinal. Stefanski responded with a walk-off RBI single en route to making the all-tournament team.

“That hit was like redemption for me,” said Stefanski, who said the moment was similar to a final I’ll-show-you statement to all his doubters.

Stefanski wasn’t picked in the Major League Baseball draft, but his senior-year success will stay with him for some time.

“I'm transitioning to the real world,” said Stefanski, who earned his bachelor’s degree in May. “Pro ball is out of my hands now, but I'm using this time to visit my friends and family that I've neglected due to my busy baseball schedule. This might be a good time for me to get a master’s degree. I'd like to be a high school history teacher and coach baseball.”

And you can bet the first lesson he’ll teach his players is to believe in yourself — just like he did to rise from a freshman walk-on to a senior standout.


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