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.
1 league flourishes, 1 league is dying
Copyright © 2005 Republican-American -by Joe Pallodino