NAUGATUCK — Seymour’s French Park has long been known in Naugatuck Valley League baseball as the conference’s home run haven, with its cozy fence in right and center field.
That old ballpark might be in jeopardy of losing its title.
Naugatuck is in the midst of its first season playing on its new on-campus diamond, still called Ray Legenza Field, and baseballs are flying out like bread off the shelves before a blizzard.
In six games on the new field, there have been 10 home runs. In the eight games Naugy has played elsewhere, there have been six dingers.
“Even on the driest days, there seems to be a circulation of wind that just pushes balls out of here,” said Naugatuck senior Spencer Dreher, who cracked homers in each of the first two games played at the new Legenza Field.
But the high rate of home runs probably doesn’t have nearly as much to do with Mother Nature digging the long ball as it does with the field’s unusually short dimensions.
The new field, which came as part of Naugatuck High’s three-year renovation project, is situated on the lower level of the athletic complex, which is where the old soccer field and track used to be.
The baseball and softball fields run up against each other at the outfield fences, with the baseball home plate located at the western side of the complex.
Since the two diamonds both had to fit on the same level, the designers had to sacrifice distance and come up with quirky dimensions.
According to Greyhounds co-captain Jason Bradley, the outfield is deepest in left and steadily gets shorter all the way to the right field foul pole.
That’s right: Legenza Field goes 317 feet in left, 305 in center and 277 in right.
To make up for the French Park-like right field dimension, there’s a 20-foot-high grey wall with a scoreboard.
“The Grey Monster is pretty much all we’ve got for it right now,” said Bradley, who hit a homer in an April 29 win over Kennedy. “We have to come up with something better.”
Overall, it seems as though the Greyhounds like their new digs especially because it lends itself to sarcastic descriptions of the place.
“It’s not small enough, not enough home runs,” Bradley deadpanned. “We should have shortened up the dimensions and lowered that wall.”
While Naugy’s sluggers surely like the bandbox feel to the park, the Greyhounds’ pitchers have to adjust their games so they don’t get bitten by a popup turning into a long ball.
“You really have to keep the ball down,” Evan Pelliccia said. “If you leave it up, chances are it’s going to be a home run. You don’t want to go through that as a pitcher because it’s frustrating.”
In an April 28 win over Holy Cross, Naugy’s Kyle Torok and Joe Kwaak both homered in a three-run second inning off C.J. Bessette. While the Greyhounds were happy to take the runs, Dreher said Naugy coach Tom Deller used those dingers as a teaching point.
“Those were both popups,” Dreher said. “(Deller) was trying to explain to us that at any other field, that’s a popup. You can’t take it as you gave up a real home run. You have to keep pitching and doing you.”
For as tight as things are in the outfield, it’s the opposite story behind home plate. The backstop is about 50 feet deep, which puts more pressure on the catcher.
“You have to really be ready to block the ball every time,” Greyhounds catcher Jovanni Torres said. “You have to be a wall.”
Whether the unique elements of Legenza Field are quirks, flaws, advantages or obstacles, Naugy just likes being able to walk out the doors of the building and right to the baseball field, which it couldn’t do for the past two seasons during construction.
“The past two seasons, when we were waiting for a bus that’s not going to come, that wasn’t fun,” Dreher said. “Now, it feels good to have all the time to ourselves and use it however we want.”
Plus, it’s a cool little place to play ball, right?
“Oh, absolutely,” Bradley said. “We’re hitting home runs. It’s fun.”