Langer, Reese bring different styles as co-coaches of Winsted Whalers
Published: Sunday, June 27, 2010
Register Citizen Staff – By Peter Wallace
The word “family” is often used with team sports, almost always with real justification. That said, some families are closer than others; some trace their roots further. The Winsted Whalers in the Tri-State Baseball League sit squarely in the midst of such traditions. “Every one (of us), except (catcher Chance Reuger) graduated from Gilbert or Northwestern,” says co-coach Ricky Langer, who, at 28, has played 10 years for the Whalers in a league that traces its own roots to 1934.
“I won my first league title playing under Coach (Gregg) Hunt at Bethlehem,” says D.J. Reese, 35, currently the Whalers’ non-playing co-coach, who was also an All-State center fielder for The Gilbert School’s 1993 state champions, then came back to coach the Yellowjackets to a Berkshire League title in 1997. “D.J.’s been coaching me since I was 13,” said Langer, who was a two-year All-BL center fielder at Northwestern, now converted by Reese to an all-league-caliber Whaler shortstop. “Everybody grows up together. Our families know each other,” says Reese, whose college playing career at the University of New Hampshire ended after one year, thanks to an injury, then suffered under a back condition that required four surgeries after years of starring in Tri-State. “D.J. had a year and a half off (because of his back), but he had no worries because we’ve been there so long,” said Langer, who played four years at the University of Hartford before an injury in his junior year handicapped him temporarily. The coaches have become “old soldiers” in a league and on a team that grows younger all the while.
But unlike real soldiers, they’re not even close to fading away. Their passion for baseball, typical of the league, and their talent, above average in a talented league, sees to that. Reese’s latest surgery was successful; he’s starting to throw again. Langer, the team’s leadoff man, characterizes himself perfectly, describing their role as co-coaches. “D.J.’s the vocal leader,” he says. “I do it by example — hustle, don’t argue with umpire’s calls, run everything out, dive for balls you can reach.” One of Langer’s proudest stats in high school was scoring 40 runs as a senior with just one strikeout for a team that never finished lower than third in the Berkshire League while he played. That player still shines in the Tri-State League.
“The first crack at playing goes to those who’ve been around, to talent and to those who work hard,” says Reese, unintentionally endorsing the description of Langer, Charlie Putnam and Don Crossman, the team’s playing veterans who, with Reese, help give the Whalers its personality, just as almost every other Tri-State team has its own distinctive stamp. “You try to make sure the core is good,” says Reese. “Once that’s there, the coaching is easy. High school coaching can be more about discipline; here, the guys know I’m going to be frank and honest.” “I like telling these guys the little things,” Reese says after a game in which his gentle, instructive style punctuates the younger Whalers unflinching hustle.
Reese thinks his team has the best pitching staff in the league this year, but at 6-6 early in the season, that’s not enough. “In this league,” he says, “you can’t just pitch; you have to do all the little things, too.” That maxim is enforced by the league’s wooden bats, which both coaches love. “It makes the game truer,” Langer says. “True” is another justifiably honored word in the family lexicon of sports.