Tri-State League stronger than ever
Copyright © 2006 Register-Citizen – by Patrick Tiscia
In an era where leagues are struggling to stay afloat and the number of teams diminishing, the Tri-State Baseball League is as strong as it’s ever been sporting 15 teams in the 2007 season. What holds its appeal? Some come out and play for the exercise, some come for the company, but mostly the fact these players just love to compete.
The Tri-State league was born as the Inter-State league back in 1934, comprised of teams from Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts and stretched from the Hudson River to the Rte 8 corridor. The Inter-State league was a big betting league in its early years, when teams brought in ringers and paid them $50 to play a game. The Inter-State league disbanded in 1968 and new leadership started the Tri-State league. Those early days of the league would find players arriving at the ball field at 8:30am to get the field ready for an upcoming Tri-State game. Game time was 1 pm. And if you’re a coach, your day was extended past 6:30pm by the time you call the local area newspapers. But the Tri-State league formed a reputation as being the ‘older mans league’ who brings the family out to the game and then enjoys a couple of cold ones afterwards. This led to some of the younger, better area ballplayers boycotting playing in Tri-State thinking they were above it.
The leagues have seen their farm boys coming out to play ball after a long hard day of work on Thursdays and Sundays. They’ve seen their high school superstars continue their glory, running out bunt base hits, throwing fastballs by hitters, running down fly balls, and perfecting their home run trots around the bases. The two leagues have seen much, including the wars and the depression. There is no longer three states making up the Tri-State league but the name ‘Tri-State’ still sticks. It is now Connecticut and New York, though the Board of Directors has set a priority for 2007 to search out Massachusetts teams that once participated in Great Barrington and Pittsfield as well as the possible return of foundation members Lakeville, CT and Millbrook, Millerton and Pine Plains of New York.
Within a league that has been around since nearly the turn of the 19th century lies plenty of memories and stories. In 1995, former New York Yankee Jim Bouton was scheduled to pitch a ballgame for the Lakeville Firemen against the Amenia Monarchs when ESPN showed up to interview Bouton about “what’s wrong with baseball”. Ironically, Amenia had only 8 players and suffered their first forfeit loss in over 19 years as Bouton, on that particular day, did not make it to the mound. Along with Bouton, there have been several players who played in the minor leagues. Scott Arigoni played AA with the Cardinals, Chris Germano played in the minors, Daryl Morhardt played A ball, Greg Morhardt played AAA with Minnesota, and Paul Giroux played in the minors. Former Bethlehem coach Greg Hunt is now the manager of the Torrington Twisters of the NECBL. Five former Torrington Twisters play in the league these days, Ryan Rogozinski, Pete Maki, Jeff Hourigan, Tony Geraci, and Adam Piechowski. Former major leaguer Darrin Bragg had joined the Bethlehem Plowboys in 2006. Bragg played for the N.Y. Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and N.Y. Mets during his 10 year career. But it was Bouton whom crowds would gather just to see him pitch.
The late-70′s saw Tri-State take steps to get more players interested in playing in the league. One major change was adding an EH to the batting lineup, in essence a second DH that would give each team an additional hitter in the lineup. Now 10 players would go to the plate and take their cuts. Registering with the AABC and playing in the Stan Musial Tournament was another incentive, and gave teams the opportunity to gain state, regional, and national recognition. A third change was made to team rosters, where teams must select players from within a 10 mile radius of their town, and were allowed only a few players from out of town which helped to keep parity in the league preventing any stacked teams.
As with any league, a few dynasty’s emerged including the Amenia Monarchs of the mid 80′s who won 4 straight league titles from 1982-1985 and then a 5th and 6th title in 1988 and 1990. Hundreds of fans would come out to watch the Monarchs play during that time, when scorecards were handed out to all fans as they entered the gate into the ballpark. Amenia was led by Paul Giroux, Howie Mann, Mike Kohut, Charley Thornton, and player-coach Tommy Downey. The 90′s saw another dynasty born as the Torrington Rebels won 4 straight titles from 1992-1995 and then a 5th title in 1997. The Rebels were led by player-coach Scott Arigoni, Chris Clark, Rich Scott, Rich Thompson, and Bill Quartiero. A 3rd dynasty team evolved during the turn of the century as the Bethlehem Plowboys won championships in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, and a 5th title in 2005. The Plowboys were led by Marc Damelio, Jay Rocca, Ryan Rogozinski, and Pat Murphy, being coached by Gregg Hunt and then John Pettit.
Ed Gadomski, in his 5th year of tenure as commissioner, has watched the league swell from 6 teams in 2003 to 15 teams in 2007. After a 10 year absence, Amenia had rejoined Tri-State in 2005 and brought back that ‘good ole country’ baseball feeling to the league. Normally a northwest hills suitor, Tri-State also expanded further south with the addition of Naugatuck from the NVL and 3 teams from Waterbury. Three additional teams were also declined acceptance this year as two teams applied well after the deadline, after schedules had already been finalized, while the other team did not meet the roster requirements set up in the By-Laws. Gadomski believes there is strength in numbers and having ‘many’ teams means not playing the same teams over and over again, while rivalries will always be built based on playoff experience and success.
So why is Tri-State flourishing these days while other leagues may be dying? The one major difference, the league majority of players are now mostly college-aged kids as the next generation has invaded Tri-State, and the league has gone through the roof with them. Gadomski feels it’s a great fit, the young and old, as the kids will learn more about hitting a baseball and playing the game when they start hanging out with the older baseball players. The ‘veterans’ are the ones that know how to hit a baseball. Returning to its roots, another big change is what you’ll ‘hear’ in 2006 in the ‘crack’ of a wood bat as opposed to the ‘ping’ of an aluminum bat. Tri-State is also now a host to the Stan Musial tournament, and with the addition of the college ballplayers to the league comes success as Tri-State sent 4 teams into the winners’ bracket after round 1, and advanced 2 of the final 3 teams on Championship Sunday in the 2005 state tourney. One last attraction is the conditions of the ball fields where players look forward to playing at great parks like Fuessenich Park (Torrington), Municipal Stadium (Waterbury), Walker Field (Winsted), Community Field (Litchfield), Thomaston HS, Rotary Field (Naugatuck), BAW Complex (Wolcott) and Doc Bartlett Field in Amenia, NY.
The league has certainly evolved from its Inter-State betting days but the foundation of the league, sense of tradition, and competition remains fierce, making this summer pastime one that we hope will continue into the next century.
1 league flourishes, 1 league is dying
Copyright © 2005 Republican-American -by Joe Pallodino
The leagues are headed in opposite directions. Wednesday night the Dave Wallace baseball league begins its second season. It is the 82nd season of adult amateur baseball in Waterbury, dating back to the founding of the City Amateur League in 1923. Could this second season be the last season of Wallace baseball? Only four teams have signed on — four is the minimum needed to stage a season — and the fourth, Rosa Chiropractic, came on board officially three days ago.
By contrast, the Tri-State League is two weeks into its 37th season and the association has never been stronger.. The league swelled to 12 teams this year, including three from Waterbury. A founding member, Amenia, N.Y., returns after a 10 year absence. Why does one league thrive while the other fights for survival? ”We are two different leagues,” notes Tri-State commissioner Ed Gadomski, himself a former Twi-Met allstar. “We are regionally based. Teams draw players from within a 10 mile radius to maintain parity. The Wallace League does not have roster restrictions. There are no stacked teams in our league.”
“We also have a different scheduling format. We play Sunday and Thursday, Wallace plays week nights. The way the world is today guys travel more for work and with us, they don’t have to rush home to make a game. Our players really like our Sunday schedule.”
A Sunday Tri-State game has grown into a family picnic. In Amenia, as many as 100 fans show up. That’s not much, but these days that’s a crowd. Attendance has plunged at Wallace games to a handful, if that. As one Tri- State manager noted, “People get tired of hearing them drop ‘F’ bombs, and watching them throw equipment. There was a notable Wallace event last season when a game was forfeited as both baseball bats and invectives were hurled at umpires. Dom Flammia, who manages the Waterbury Wolves in the Tri-State League and who is also an umpire, said, ‘When the umpires meet in the spring no one wants to work Wallace games.’
Harsh words perhaps, but the man behind the Wallace League, 65-year-old Jim “Red’ Kelly, has heard them before. He admits, “We’ve had our problems.” Red and his Timers, now in their 35th year, are on the verge of an impressive milestone. The team begins play with 798 victories. While win No. 800 is assured, can Kelly be certain that future Wallace League teams will enjoy similar milestones?
“I honestly don’t know, said Kelly. “These things go in cycles. Hopefully this is just one of those cycles. Everyone has expanded except us. There is interest out there, but not here.” The league has been particular about entries in the past. That might have to change. Gary Laporta, who manages the East End Outlaws, one of the new Tri-State entries from Waterbury, applied to both Wallace and Tri-State this year. ‘”Tri-State is the only league that called back,’ LaPorta notes. “I went to the meetings and I was impressed. My team is a bunch of kids just coming out of Senior Babe Ruth and we wanted to play up. We’ve played three games and lost three games, but my players, most of them are 18 or 19, are very happy with the league.” Kelly admits that some inquiries were passed over, “I don’t know if some of those Waterbury teams were competitive enough for our league,” Kelly said. “I just as soon not have them as go through that.”
But without the influx of youth and energetic new managers the future may be grim. ”Our league used to be an older man’s league,” said Gadomski, himself a ripe 38. “It was a Sunday league, guys played and then had a couple of beers. But now the majority of players are college level kids, and our league has gone through the roof with them.” Flammia’s Wolves were a Connie Mack entry that grew into a Tri-State product. ‘This league is a little cheaper, and it is family oriented. It has been fantastic.” So we ask Red bluntly, on the eve of season two of the Dave Wallace League: could this be the end of a Waterbury institution? “We talked about not even having a season this year,” he said starkly. “It doesn’t matter to (the Timers). We can play somewhere, in the (Hartford) Twilight League or as a tournament team.
‘Whatever it was we had, I think we have lost it. Everyone seemed to come along all in one era. Now they are gone and it is hard to get that interest back, If you can’t find guys willing to coach then how are you going to go back to your sponsors? We raised money so that it wouldn’t cost teams anything to join, and they still couldn’t come back in, it’s very puzzling.”
The two leagues actually played once, in a clash of all-star teams. The Twi-Met stars won 10-0 in July of 1987. Rico Brogna ripped a two-run double in a seven-run second inning for the Twi-Met stars. Another future big leaguer, Darren Bragg, also played. One night in 1967 the Gleem Painters hooked up with Napp’s at Fulton Park, a future big leaguer named Dave Wallace pitched for Gleem, and a future big leaguer named Ron Diorio pitched for Napp’s. The game was called because of darkness, tied 4-4. Those are pretty good memories for an old league now on life support. I remember Charlie Brown mowing ‘em down in Waterville, John Sinclair drilling baseballs into the trees at Fulton, and games at the Stadium’s old north field when they practically played by street light, with Allie Vestro Sr. prowling the coach’s box in his Gleem Painters uniform. There were Eddie Hill’s titanic home runs, and guys named Spann, Guerrera, Lawton, Nocera, Shove, Goldberg, Longo, D’Agostino, Gagain, Damelio, Cleary, McKenna, Germano, Samela, Zailskas, Bellemare, Caulfield, Fruin, and dozens more I am tragically forgetting. Is this the Wallace League’s last gasp. Or are there many seasons yet to come? I only know this: we won’t know how much well miss it until it’s gone.
Tri-State: The way baseball should be
Copyright © 2006 Register-Citizen – by Patrick Tiscia
Back in the summer of 2003, I covered, and attended, my first Tri-State League baseball game. I don’t recall where the game was played or the teams involved, but I do remember it was a Sunday morning and being not particularly thrilled with the assignment because I had to wake up before noon. But I woke up, sucked it up and went.
(Note: Sportswriters and the morning are a worse mix than Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Isaah Thomas and team management combined. Just the thought of waking at 8 a.m. makes me cringe.)
Anyway, what I found was a league that I wish I knew existed while growing up. My mediocre playing career came to an end in the Mickey Mantle league in Naugatuck when I was 16. I didn’t necessarily plan on playing much longer, but I couldn’t even give it a thought. Once the Mantle season was done, I was done. Sadly, I wasn’t good enough to play AAU, Legion, or Connie Mack ball. What I saw in Tri-State was a league I would’ve loved to been a part of. The players in the league take the field each week for the love of the sport, and at a high level no less. Million dollar contract squabbles was a world away. Joe Buck too.
The intensity and dedication of these players is admirable. You can schedule a game at 3:30 in the morning and I’m sure most of them would show up – even if it was raining. Quite frankly, they care. And that’s all you can ask for as a fan. The talent among the players is also impressive. Most players have succeeded on the high school level and a good portion at college as well. Some have even played professionally.
I also like the fact that anyone is allowed to participate. At any given time you can look around the field and see someone in their 20′s, 30s, 40s, or 50s. Many of these competitors have been around the league for five, 10 or even 20-plus years. The sport of baseball can be like a drug. It’s addicting and these guys can’t get enough. Two thumbs up for that.
Personally, I’m a baseball junkie. It was the first sport I ever played, watched and cared about. I’m certainly passionate about football and basketball and use to love hockey. (The Whalers leaving Hartford was the last straw for me. I’m sure most of you know that by now.) I’ll watch any game on any level from Little League to the pros.
And what I saw at that Tri-State game three summers ago was a quality of play that made me want to come back. I just wish I knew about it earlier.
Amenia has always been a Baseball Town
By: Arlene Iuliano
“Baseball’s been king for years in these towns”, said Doc Bartlett while being interviewed by a local paper in the 1990′s. Tom Downey III made a similar statement in an interview when talking about the team he coached for over 25 years, the Amenia Monarchs. He claimed the Monarch’s success has always been due to the savvy players on the team, “but only in relation to what he calls the “baseball town of Amenia itself.”
Recognized as the national pastime, the game was invented and named “base ball” in 1839 by Abner Doubleday when he was a schoolboy in Cooperstown, NY. New York State is also credited with having the first club to play organized baseball in 1845; and in Poughkeepsie the game was first introduced in 1859. Because local newspaper coverage of baseball games was lacking at that time, the game also could have been played before then in other parts of the country.
An interview done in September 1966 in The News gave a good picture of events from the late 1800′s to the 1920′s. John Crossen, born in 1878, who was cited as “Amenia’s Oldest Fan”, named ballplayers and events that are documented in other newspapers of this period. It appears that all games were amateur; however, paid pitchers and catchers were beginning to be hired as the games increasingly became major town events. While there was no admission charge, the hat was passed to garner some funds.
Arlene Iuliano, in charge of the Amenia Historical Society baseball archives and author of this article, can personally report that this was so from the 1930′s through the 1950′s since she attended many games with her family, who were all avid fans.
When local baseball was being covered by the press, it was done with enthusiasm. As an example: reporting of activities at the 1890 Dutchess County Fair included a section on baseball games played at this event. The article began, “Great interest and excitement was created by the ball games between local clubs” which were listed as Wassaic, Lithgow, Millbrook and Lakeville with scores given.
In 1899 a detailed lineup and scores of a game between Amenia and Wassaic was given with an announcement that this was part of a series of games and that “People who admire the game should not miss this series.” A game played on June 30, 1905 by the Amenia Club against Philmont was played at the Amenia Diamond, says Pollucci in his book, Baseball in Dutchess County, also noting that a “July 4th game is scheduled.” A review of the lineup listed for Amenia included names of players from the 1899 team some of whom were still playing in a 1909 Amenia vs. Millbrook 3-day event.
The year 1910 marked the beginning of Amenia Field Day at which baseball was a major event. The celebration was held at Troutbeck and was an annual event until the beginning of World War I in 1914.
The early 20th century saw the game of local baseball reported with more detail, often supported by local businesses, and often included games with semi-pro teams from New York and New Jersey. By the 1990′s the game was still being played with many local athletes, some hired players and lots of fans. Throughout the century the game of baseball continued to dominate the sports scene in Amenia, aided and abetted by such men as William “Doc” Bartlett and Tom DowneyIII who not only played the game and managed it, but organized various youth teams in the town, developed the present ball fields at Amenia (Beekman) Park and kept great records. The Amenia Historical Society has archived many of “Doc” Bartlett’s records as well as others, including pictures and newsprint articles.
Get with the old times
When fans attend a professional baseball game, one familiar sound all will hear is the crack of the wooden bat. Often, when you hear older fans telling stories of their first experiences with the game, you hear them talk about the thrill of when they first heard the crack of the wooden bat. Wooden bats were used when baseball came into existence and are still a staple in the sport today. Unfortunately, all players don’t get to use them. Players involved in Little Leagues, Babe Ruth Leagues, Sandy Koufax Leagues, Connie Mack Leagues, Mickey Mantle Leagues, American Legion, high schools and colleges, along with several other amateur organizations, still use aluminum bats. We’ve all read or seen stories of the injuries that players, most specifically pitchers, have suffered because of the force of which the baseball comes off the aluminum bat. I’ve gone into detail about them in this space before. However, the previously mentioned leagues continue to look the other way.
The argument league officials continue to use is money. Unquestionably, it costs more to use wooden bats because of the obvious fact that they break. In these leagues, players can buy a $250 aluminum bat and be set for the season. But, how can you put a price on safety? How pitchers dodge vicious line drives off aluminum bats is beyond me. And some aren’t so lucky. Sadly, it seems like more fatalities may be the only thing to force the banishment of these bats, or should I say weapons.
Then, there is the argument of the purity of the game. Every time I switch over to a college game on the TV, I swear the score is in the 16-11 range. You know it’s not baseball when a ninth-place hitter is hitting opposite field home runs off the handle of their bats. Covering the Twisters and the New England Collegiate Baseball League, it’s no surprise when a power hitter comes from college and can barely hit the ball with a wooden bat. Too many players, I feel at least, get a false sense of security by using aluminum. One league that has got it right is Tri-State Baseball, which switched over to wooden bats this season. This move has received nothing but rave reviews from all involved. The games are quicker, with lower scoring and strategy. Bunts, stolen bases, and moving runners over is more important than ever. The sit-around-and-wait for the three-run homer doesn’t exist. And, as an old school baseball fan, it’s a joy to see. When I’m old and gray (hopefully, I make it that far), I’m not going to tell my grandchildren about hearing the ping, ding or cling of an aluminum bat. I’ll reminisce about the crack of the wooden bat. The way baseball should be. Winsted prevailed in the season-opener, 4-3, over Thomaston when Dave Lumpkin scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth. The game lasted only one hour and 30 minutes. ”I love (the new rule). It’s 100 percent better,” Winsted head coach D.J. Reese said. ”The games are faster and it’s more natural baseball. With metal bats, this game would probably have needed three hours to finish — a luxury we didn’t have because of the darkness.” After several Tri-State teams raved about wooden bats after using them in the Stan Musial Tournament last season, the league decided eliminating aluminum bats was the way to go. ”The games are going to be more fun to watch,” Reese said. ”Before we would rarely hit and run or steal any bases. Now we have to because runs are going to be harder to come by.”