This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published July 23, 2020
In early March, East Haven resident Matt Coyle received a phone call from Charlie Flanagan, the general manager of North Haven American Legion baseball program. Flanagan was calling to offer Matt the head coaching position for North Haven’s Junior Legion team and, just one minute into that call, Matt was all-in and ready to take the job. Although the American Legion season isn’t taking place this summer, Matt is coaching the North Haven U-17 team, which is the equivalent of Junior Legion, in the newly formed Connecticut Elite Baseball Association (CEBA).
Matt recently began his tenure as North Haven’s U-17 coach. Matt met his players in late June, just one week before the season started. Two weeks into the season, Matt says that coaching in North Haven is everything he’s ever wanted and then some.
“Just being around the kids I have, they are all awesome,” says Matt. “Being around Charlie a little bit makes everything easy. My assistant coach Mike Sullivan, every time I have a question, he is there for me. It is everything I expected and more.”
Matt grew up playing baseball in East Haven and went on to compete for the team at the high school. Matt joined the varsity squad as a catcher in his sophomore year before playing first base and designated hitter in his junior and senior seasons.
While competing for the Yellowjackets, Matt saw the way his coaches ran the program and learned a lot about the strategy of the game. Matt liked analyzing plays from the dugout and realized that he wanted to get into the coaching game when he was older.
“My sophomore year, I didn’t play much. Just by watching and seeing everything, the little things like first-and-third plays, it all just clicked,” Matt says. “I knew I wanted to coach, and I knew I wanted to do it more [than playing]. As a sophomore, it made me want to call the plays.”
Matt didn’t have to wait long for his first coaching opportunity. After graduating from East Haven in 2016, Matt was contacted by Mike Moras, who is the owner and head instructor of Connecticut Grind AAU baseball program. Matt already knew Moras after having taken lessons with him, so the two of them were able to connect quickly. Moras gave Matt a chance to serve as an assistant coach for the Grind, working with 12- and 13-year-old players.
Matt started with the Grind during the 2017 fall season. He would hit grounders and fly balls, do the scorebook, call pitches, and coach first base. Anything that Moras needed, Matt was there to do it. As the season unfolded, Matt realized what it means to be a coach.
“He taught me everything. Just watching him for a fall season and coaching first base for him, sometimes calling the pitches and calling my own plays, he just made it so much easier for me. He just made the transition so smooth,” Matt says of working with Moras. “I learned so much from him just from that one fall season. I give him so much credit for basically taking me under his wing and showing me everything I needed to do to become a better coach.”
After spending one year with the Grind, Matt became the head coach of his younger brother CJ’s Little League team in New Haven. Matt spent two years in that role and enjoyed working with the kids, but he knew that the high school diamond was where he wanted to be.
“The kids...were just awesome. They were little at the time, but it was just an awesome experience. Getting to see them smiling and jumping up and down, that made it fun,” says Matt. “But I wanted more of a challenge. Coaching little kids is fun, but I wanted a high school job or something along the lines of that.”
That opportunity came when Flanagan offered Matt the job as head coach of North Haven’s U-17 team. While this year is a different experience due to COVID-19, Matt says that things started to feel a little more normal once he and his players stepped on the field for their first practice.
Matt appreciates how Flanagan had helped him transition into his coaching role in North Haven, along with the fact that Flanagan allowed all of the town’s CEBA players to play for free this summer. As he begins his tenure with his new team, Matt feels grateful for everything that he learned about baseball in East Haven and is happy to be living his dream by coaching the sport he loves just one town over.
“I never thought I was anything special, but I knew that I could coach someday,” Matt says. “There were times when I was eight or nine years old, and I would do the book for one of my older friend’s games. Just doing that and taking in so much baseball over the last 15 years, I just knew that someday I wanted to coach.”