BASEBALL: In the Greater Hartford league, R-J Expos are now Charlie Company

BASEBALL: In the Greater Hartford league, R-J Expos are now Charlie Company

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MERIDEN — Already a 16-year veteran pitcher in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, Meriden’s Charlie Hesseltine is adding a new role to his resume this year.

The southpaw has taken over as the player/manager of the Record-Journal Expos for the 2019 season.

He filled the vacancy left by previous player/manager Sean Zapatka, who stepped down last fall when he moved out of the area.

“A couple of the guys mentioned about me taking it over,” Hesseltine said. “I guess with me being on the team for the past 15-16 years, they wanted me to take it.”

This is Hesseltine’s first managing experience, although he did some pitching instruction while he was in college after his All-State and All-American career at Maloney. 

“It’s pretty good,” said Hesseltine, a one-time draft pick of the Texas Rangers. “It’s a totally new experience. It’s something that I never expected to do, but it’s working out well.

“The guys are all chipping in with their advice on things and giving me tips on how the lineup should be. We all have a part on the team with how things go. It’s not just me calling the shots. Everyone has their say.”

The early returns on Hesseltine’s tenure as manager are good. The R-J Expos were 3-1 heading into Wednesday night’s contest at Ceppa Field against Ulbrich Steel. They own a win over the six-time defending league champion Vernon Orioles in the early going.

Hesseltine started two of the Record-Journal’s first four contests so far, including the 4-2 victory against Vernon this past Sunday. The lefty got a no-decision in a 5-4 win over Ulbrich Steel on June 3. 

Milford’s Nick Foell earned the win in relief that day going of an inning. Former Wilcox Tech star Jack Rich came through with the game-winning sacrifice fly.

The next day, June 4, former Maloney standout A.J. Hendrickson mowed down the East Hartford Jets in an 8-1 win.

Last Friday at Wethersfield High, the Expos dropped their only game of the season so far. It was a 6-3 defeat to unbeaten People’s United Bank (5-0).

The Record-Journal bounced back with the big 4-2 win over the Vernon Orioles on Sunday. Hesseltine threw five scoreless innings in earning the victory.

“I know the quality of players on our squad and we are a team to beat in the league this year, and Sunday proved it,” Hesseltine said. “Vernon is always on top of the standings and I want the Record-Journal to be the team to beat this year and many years going forward.”

Hesseltine, Hendrickson and Foell make up the Expos rotation to start the season. Foell is a newcomer to the R-J. He pitched for People’s United Bank last season.

Sean Rivera and Ben Maycock, both of Newington, along with Rich and Jason Sullivan, both of Meriden, will also see innings this season.

Hesseltine said the Expos are solid one through nine in the batting order. He noted that the Meriden contingent of shortstop Hector Gonzalez, outfielder Jon Walter and Rich (DH/OF) are all off to strong starts. All three came up big against Vernon. Gonzalez and Rich both drove in runs. Walter went 3-for-4.

Maycock, who plays at UConn, is also a big get for the R-J squad. The outfielder joined the Expos in the last two games.

Meriden is further represented by outfielder Joey Gulino, infielders Sebby Grignano, Kyle Hartenstein and Will Kszywanos, combination player Jon Doyon and catcher Brandon Hernandez. Hendrickson will also do some catching when he’s not pitching.

Rounding out the R-J roster from out of town are Tolland’s Matt Fusco (IF/OF), Cheshire’s Evan Harasta (C/OF), Newington’s Isaiah Rivera (OF/DH) and pitcher Isaiah Mylers of Providence, R.I.

“Our team as a whole is very aggressive,” Hesseltine said. “We like to steal bases and bunt and get guys over. We play as aggressive as we can. We’ve been averaging two or three stolen bases a game so far. We definitely look to run.”

The Expos finished 17-7 during the regular season last season. However, they dropped their first two games of the postseason and were quickly eliminated from the league tournament.

All home games are played at Ceppa Field. The Expos are on the road Friday at the South Windsor Phillies and for a Sunday doubleheader against Mallove’s Jewelers-Middletown. They’ll be back at Ceppa next Tuesday to host the Phillies at 6 p.m.

Hesseltine said unity is the team’s biggest strength.

“We are all great together,” Hesseltine said. “We are all getting along and having fun. Everyone knows each other and we are close-knit and everyone knows what they can do. We are all just playing the game we love and out here to have fun. We are hoping to have a strong regular season and make something happen in the playoffs.”