Drew DeMartino, Cedric Rose take trip down memory lane as Westfield Starfires make home debut
WESTFIELD — Billy Bullens Field has long been an epicenter of a decades old youth baseball rivalry between teams from Pittsfield and Westfield.
So, when you ask Drew DeMartino or Cedric Rose what it's like to play baseball in Bullens and wearing Westfield on their uniforms instead of Pittsfield, the smiles are there.
"It's crazy," DeMartino said. "We played here through Babe Ruth and everything. The rivalry with Westfield, it's pretty fun to be back on the field."
Even if, for the two Taconic High School graduates, it means playing for the Westfield Starfires of the Futures League.
"This is an historic field for me. I've played a lot of games on this field, a lot of really good games on this field. It brings back a lot of old memories," Rose said. "It's nostalgic. It feels nice."
DeMartino and Rose are members of the Starfires in the Futures League's truncated 39-game regular season. They aren't the only two members of the Westfield club who will be remembered by fans of the Pittsfield Suns, who elected not to play in 2020.
Mark Coley, a 2019 All-Star and the player voted the Futures League's top pro prospect, and 2017 outfielder Andre Marrero, were both in the Westfield starting lineup for the Starfires' home opener on Wednesday night.
Both DeMartino and Rose had good nights in the home opener, but the Starfires saw their record fall to 1-1 when Worcester beat them 3-1 in a game where intermittent showers hit the old ballpark in Westfield.
DeMartino scored his team's only run, went 1 for 2 and reached base in three of his four at-bats. Rose, making his Futures League debut, was 2 for 4, and was on first when pinch-hitter Danny Crossen grounded out to end the game.
It was just under a month ago when Suns owner Jeff Goldklang announced that the team would join many other summer teams and leagues in sitting out the 2020 season.
Traditionally, Futures League rosters are dotted with players from beyond New England who stay with host families. This summer, the overwhelming majority of players on the six teams that are participating come from areas within a quick drive of their respective stadiums. That way, no team has to worry about host families and players potentially transmitted the coronavirus.
DeMartino had been hoping to land in the Cape Cod League or return to Sanford, Maine of the NECBL, where he was a post-season All-Star in 2019. But when the Cape League, the NECBL and then the Suns decided to not play, Westfield was a good enough opportunity.
"We were hoping to play in Pittsfield, but it didn't happen," DeMartino said. "In general, I'm glad that this opportunity was able to come up. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm super blessed to even have this come up."
Both players had their college seasons cut off because of the pandemic. Rose, who will be playing at UMass-Lowell when college baseball resumes, had also been optimistic about playing for a Pittsfield Suns team that had also been home to fellow Taconic graduates Izaiya Mestre and Alex Carusotto.
"I was disappointed, because I thought that was my season," Rose said, prior to the start of Wednesday's opener. "I thought that's all I had. I reached out. I texted my coach [Ken Haring at Lowell] and told him what was happening. He told me that Westfield is looking for guys. I took them up.
"Now I'm out here playing baseball. I'm excited."
In Wednesday night's game, DeMartino wasted little time getting on base. Worcester pitcher Eric Chavarria hit the Westfield second baseman with a pitch. DeMartino was forced out on a grounder by Coley to end the inning.
Coincidentally, while DeMartino and Coley never played together in Pittsfield, they did play for the same travel program team run by current Red Sox assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse.
"It's good to be back on the field with [Coley] too," DeMartino said.
DeMartino singled in the third but was caught stealing. He walked in the sixth and scored on a two-out single by Eric Callahan, that tied the game 1-1.
Worcester led 1-0 after an inning on a first-pitch home run by E.J. Exposito, the No. 2 hitter in the Bravehearts lineup. Ben Rice broke the tie with a solo home run to lead off the eighth and Danny Torres homered on a 3-2 pitch in the top of the ninth.
Rose, meanwhile grounded to third on the first pitch he saw in his first Futures League at-bat. But in the fourth, he hit the first pitch of the at-bat to center for a single. Rose later singled to right.
"I can't complain there. Nice line drive up the middle," Rose said. "I was looking fastball, got a slider. I stayed back on it and and sent it up the middle.
"It felt good."
Rose is wearing the number 51, the same number he wore playing for Kevin Stannard's Taconic baseball team. DeMartino is sporting 24, his number at the University of Hartford.
The 2020 Starfires have players representing 19 different colleges. Ten of the players, including DeMartino and Rose, represent Western Massachusetts. Nine of the players are from Connecticut.
"Their pitchers were throwing good competitive pitches, and we didn't have great, timely hitting in this game," DeMartino said after the loss. "It's all right. We still have 37 games left. I'm sure we'll pull it together.
"It's a great group of guys, they're a lot of fun and they're confident. It'll be fun."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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