HARTFORD — Baseball season is still about 2½ months away, but Hartford Yard Goats manager Chris Denorfia of Southington looked ready to go on Friday at a press conference at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
“I’m excited,” Denorfia said. “You do this because you love it and this time of year you always get fired up.”
Denorfia is returning for his second year as manager of the Harford Yard Goats in 2022, though technically it’s his third year with the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. He was hired on Jan. 7, 2020. Then the pandemic hit and wiped out that year’s entire minor league season, delaying Denorfia’s managerial debut until 2021.
Now 41, Denorfia reiterated Friday that managing close to home is a dream job.
“It’s special for me and special for my family,” Denorfia said. “I get to bring my kids to the park and not put the pressure on my wife to have to move us around twice a year. This really is a dream job for me. I get to learn this side of the game and go home and sleep in my bed at night and knowing my family is comfortable.”
Denorfia, who grew up in Southington and went to Choate, played 10 years in Major League Baseball, then transitioned to coaching with two seasons in the Chicago Cubs' front office.
Denorfia is the fourth manager in Yard Goats team history. However, he said his ultimate goal is to manage in the big leagues some day.
“If last year did nothing else, it reaffirmed not only that I loved playing baseball, but I love this side of it as well,” Denorfia said. “I like getting to affect guys and be a part of their journey. I want to set them up for success.
“It was a great experience and it was something I wasn’t sure I was going to love, but I fell in love with it last year,” he added. “I hope I continue to learn and continue to progress and do some big things down the road.”
Denorfia said he learned a lot in his first year. The Yard Goats went 39-79 in Double-A Northeast, which absorbed what used to be the traditional Eastern League when Minor League Baseball was reconfigured in 2021.
“I learned way too much to get into,” Denorfia said. “More than anything else, I’m here for the players. Not everyone is a smooth shot at the big leagues. Some guys blew me away last year and others you can’t give up on. As long as they have a jersey on their back, they have a chance.
“My job is to make them the most comfortable every day so they can be the best player they can be," Denorfia added. “That’s basically my job.”
Denorfia said there is still so much to learn and he’s never satisfied. He just wants to get better.
Although the pandemic cost minor leaguers their 2020 season, the current Major League lockout would not affect minor league baseball if it spilled into spring training or the regular season.
Denorfia said he isn’t concerned about the lockout at this point.
“I’m curious and hopefully (the 2022 MLB season) is going to happen,” he said. “This is the sort of the side of business that hides from us most of the time and now it’s peeking its head out. It used to happen more often when we were growing up and I was a little, little kid. We’ve been lucky the game has gone off without a hitch for as long as it has.
“This is going to pass. It’s just a negotiation that’s not going to stop baseball.”
Denorfia added that it’s too early to know what the Yard Goats roster will look like, but his staff is in place. Hitting coach Tom Sutarisnew is back and Hartford brought in former New York Mets pitcher Blaine Beatty as its new pitching coach. Luis Lopez has joined the staff as Denorfia’s bench coach.
Denorfia said the current offseason has been much more normal than a year ago.
“Now that we’ve been through what we’ve been through, and we know ways we can get a baseball season off, it’s a little less uncertainty and a little less stressful. Last year at this time, I wasn’t sure if we were going to big league camp or minor league camp, or whether we would have camp. This year we aren’t sure if we are going to have camp, but for different reasons. It’s a much more normal offseason.”
The Yard Goats open the 2022 season on Friday, April 8 against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets. Yard Goats season tickets are available by calling 860-246-GOAT (4628).