For three local college freshmen, their first season of NCAA Division I baseball will be one they will never forget.
Ben Dellacono and Kevin Ferrer of Stonington had earned starting positions for Holy Cross and UConn, respectively. Ken Turner of North Stonington, who later went on to be an All-State pitcher at Ledyard High, made the University of Hartford's starting rotation. All three had experienced various levels of success — including Dellacono being named Patriot League Player of the Week — until something bigger than a slump hit them.
Like many college, high school or even weekend athletes, the coronavirus outbreak has put sports on the back burner. The Patriot League was one of the first collegiate athletic conferences in the country to cancel its spring sports competitions, and the NCAA followed suit by canceling all spring sports last week. Now gyms and workout facilities are closed, meaning the pandemic has affected games and training.
"Kevin and I were at the house recently, looking to make a spare room into a gym," said Dellacono, who played with Ferrer in youth baseball and at Stonington High until transferring to Avon Old Farms, a boarding school in Avon, Conn. "We're scrambling to find dumbbells, weights, mats and bars to do pull-ups. You have to get a lot more resourceful now."
Dellacono and Ferrer have taken advantage of their private membership to a batting facility in New London to get in swings while at home.
Dellacono was off to a fast start as the starting second baseman at Holy Cross, batting .305 with eight doubles in 54 at-bats. He also homered off South Carolina's Brett Kerry, an NCAA freshman All-America last year.
Dellacono credits his three years at Avon Old Farms, where he hit better than .360 each season, for preparing him to play collegiately as a freshman. The 6-3, 185-pounder played two years at Stonington High before transferring and reclassifying as a sophomore in 2017.
"Avon Old Farms was crucial to my development," Dellacono said. "I played with brothers, Parker Haskins and Hunter Haskins, who have gone on to great careers at Tulane University. They helped mold my mental preparation to the game."
Ferrer, coming off a freshman redshirt season, was platooning as UConn's starting designated hitter. He had rebounded from a 1-for-10 start against top 10-ranked competition (Michigan and Vanderbilt) to bat .217 (5 for 23) with six RBIs. Ferrer graduated from Stonington in 2018 as a two-time All-Stater and is considered one of the best offensive players in school history.
Turner, a 20th-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers after an outstanding Ledyard High senior year in 2019, stepped in immediately as Hartford's No. 3 starting pitcher. He earned two no-decisions, opening with a six-inning, one-run effort against Stetson, and had one loss in three outings.
All three were looking forward to posting standout freshman campaigns. The cancellation was especially frustrating for Ferrer, who redshirted last season. Because the NCAA has ruled that current spring athletes can receive an extra year of eligibility after the virus scare, Ferrer will remain a freshman eligility-wise in his third year of college.
"The redshirt year was good for me as I got a lot stronger and improved my skills," Ferrer said. "I felt like I was getting in a groove this year. Thankfully, the players have not lost the year of eligibility."
Dellacono at least got in 15 games with the Crusaders (5-10). Their last game was a 10-7 loss to Boston College on March 10.
"Baseball is a game of failure," Dellacono said. "But I was pretty happy after getting off to a good start and had a great trip to California (during which the Crusaders faced Cal State Bakersfield and California-Riverside). It was a shock at first to hear the season was canceled. I really feel bad for the seniors."
All three locals have four seasons of play remaining if they choose to use them. For now, they want to stay healthy during this world health scare, finish online classes for the semester and prepare for a summer baseball league.
"Unfortunately, this is something out of our control, and there's really nothing we can do about the virus except stay safe and listen to the government," Turner said. "From a baseball standpoint, I'm healthy, which is a positive. From my few starts, I realized I had the best defense I ever had behind me, meaning I had to go right at hitters. Hopefully baseball will be played in upcoming months. You could see a lot of good college pitchers in summer baseball leagues."
The three locals hope to catch on with the New England Collegiate Baseball League, perhaps with the Mystic Schooners, or another summer college circuit such as the Futures League. In past seasons, some college pitchers were limited in summer leagues because of innings restrictions. But that won't be the case this year.
For Dellacono, finding live pitching for batting practice is next on his agenda behind setting up his home gym.
"I gave Ken and a couple of others a call," Dellacono said. "You've got to keep active because baseball is a grind. You've got to lift and hit every day to keep up your work ethic."