By Brad Carroll
It’s easy to see with every swing of the bat that New Britain Bees outfielder and Torrington native Conor Bierfeldt has something to prove. With three home runs already, and more hard-hit shots to count, the former WestConn star has been making a statement he belongs in affiliated baseball.
Bierfeldt was a surprise cut by the Baltimore Orioles organization on April 1. He combined to hit 20 home runs between Double-A and Single-A advanced ball a season ago, the latter of which saw him hit .264 with 19 doubles, 18 homers and 53 RBI in just 70 games. If you’re thinking what that might look like in a more recognizable scale, simply double the numbers to get an idea of how good those stats would look like over a full season.
He hit .209 with two doubles, two homers and four RBI in just 14 games with Double-A Bowie of the Eastern League after getting a call-up. While the average was lower than he wanted, the power numbers were certainly there.
But there Bierfeldt was come April, out of affiliated ball in a completely unexpected development.
“I was surprised,” Bierfeldt said of his release. “No matter who you are or what kind of season you have, you’re going to be surprised. It’s never expected. You work your tail off for six months in the offseason and then they give you the bad news. I joke around because I hit a buck ninety-seven in low A one year and .203 the next year; they could have released me after those years, but they did it after my best. That’s part of it. The older you get the spots get thinner and thinner.”
It may be common for major league organizations to release players in their minor league system, especially as they age, but it’s anything but common to release a guy who displayed that kind of power the previous season.
“You don’t find too many guys who hit 20 home runs and get released,” Bees manager Stan Cliburn said. “Whatever reason they released him, who knows, you have to move forward. You never know who is out there watching. Conor’s probably hurt he got released, but you can’t crawl in a hole, say you got cheated. You can’t think that way.”
Bierfeldt has done the opposite in moving forward with the Bees. The 26-year-old is hoping a great start to the Atlantic League season will see him signed by an MLB organization, all the while the Bees get to reap the benefits of having a power hitter, and offensive spark, in their every day lineup.
Bierfeldt is certainly proving his worth early on, hitting .273 with a double, three home runs and four RBI over the first six games of the season. He hit two home runs in the season opener against the York Revolution and added another two-run bomb Thursday morning against the Lancaster Barnstormers, a shot that tied the game. He hit another big shot to the gap in the nightcap Thursday, but a diving catch near the warning track stole another extra-base hit from the Torrington High graduate.
“He’s got that swing built for this park, built for any park in this league,” Cliburn said. “He’s a threat any time he comes to the plate. He’s a local product, so he has to be excited about that. Sure, disappointed about getting released by Baltimore, but his back is against the wall. So he has to push off that wall and put up numbers to get back to where you think you belong. I think he’s on that route. I think he’s comfortable here and he’s off to a tremendous start. I look for a big year out of him.”
Bierfeldt’s big start could be traced to a change in philosophy with his swing, something he started before last season. He credits his friend Brian Fay for the turnaround, as the two worked together every day, for several hours, preparing for this season, just as they started last offseason.
“There’s a revolution going around about getting the ball in the air, swinging up and meeting the ball,” Bierfeldt said. “A lot of it is getting away from the old routine of swinging down and chopping the ball, which is how I was taught. It crept into my swing too much and I got too quick in and out of the zone. I’m back to where I was in college where I had a lot of my success. I like it a lot and the results are showing.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Bierfeldt is playing in his home state, as the transition to a new ballclub is helped by the fact he has a solid base of family and friends to lean on a short distance away in Torrington.
“It’s real easy to go home after the game, knowing I can go to my bed, talk to my parents and have friends coming to the games,” Bierfeldt said. “So it for sure helps out a lot. I’m lucky.”
It’s no secret Bierfeldt’s end goal is to get signed out of New Britain, but he tries not to bring that mentality into the game.
“Obviously, all of our goals is to get to the next level, so that fuels us off the field, in the cage and in workouts, but once the game comes it’s just baseball as usual; you just try to win for the ball club and the fans,” he said.
If Bierfeldt keeps hitting the way he has, he could have more than one suitor from an MLB organization calling up Cliburn looking to bring him back into affiliated ball.
“He’s on a mission,” Cliburn said of Bierfeldt. “He’s got a lot of pride in him. He’s got meanness on his bat right now. He’s vengeful and has something to prove.”