Tri-State honors men who made a difference
Copyright Timothy Gaffney Rep-American, Litchfield County Sports 6/4/2012
Between the eight of them, they represented over 40 years of players who took the field; an umpire who called the games; and a guy who told hundreds of stories of what went on in the Tri-State Baseball League.
On a stupendously brilliant Sunday afternoon in Litchfield, eight new members where inducted into the Tri-State Hall of Fame. Geoff Marchant, Fred Bunnell, Don Rhynhart, Jim Shove, Mark Murphy, Rick Wilson, Rich Blazek and Bob Clinch were honored for their contributions on and off the field in a ceremony as good as any you will find in the area.
League commissioner Ed Gadomski has turned this league around over the last nine plus years, making it a model for summer baseball programs in the area. “We have worked hard to make this league what it is today,” Gadomski said. “Every one of these teams holds the league’s reputation in high regard. It is no longer a beer league.” With the smell of hot dogs and hamburgers in the air, it looked and felt like what Abner Doubleday had in mind when baseball was born. Generations of players and their families flooded into the area as the afternoon wore on, a prelude to the buzz that will start next weekend with the running of the 36th annual Litchfield Hills Road Race.
History is never lost during these events, the league brought back two teams to play in an Old Timers Game that was to be followed by a regular season match up between Amenia and Litchfield. Gadomski brought in a special guest, Gilbert Black, a member of the 1956 Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues. Black brought with him a stockpile of memorabilia, including pictures and uniforms he wore back in his day. As a child, he grew up near the Polo Grounds and made getting into the grand old stadium a regular occurrence. His first game featured a couple of well known players named Williams and DiMaggio, and he was in the building when the New York Giants and Bobby Thompson clinched the National League title over the Brooklyn Dodgers. The names of players Black played with or against is impressive: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Choo Choo Coleman, Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella, Robin Roberts and Jackie Robinson were part of a much larger list.
The names of the players inducted have been regular family names in the local sports scene forever. Each helped lay a brick in a league that went from a low of six teams not that long ago to a healthy number of 18 today. Shove was honored for his time calling the game as an umpire for numerous seasons and was the kind of umpire teams would request, he was that good and that fair. Wilson, who simply loves telling stories about the people who play the games, is the third sports writer to be honored by the league. He joins Litchfield’s own John McKenna and Torrington legend Peter Wallace, great company indeed.
“Without those guys giving us the coverage, we don’t continue to grow.” Gadomski said. “Their dedication and passion for telling the stories of the games and about the people who play them has meant so much to us over the years.” Wilson, whose first pitch had enough power on it to land it somewhere near the Green in Litchfield, was both honored and humbled by the induction. “It’s always flattering to be recognized by your peers for something you love to do,” Wilson said. “When Eddie called me back in February I was shocked. It is a proud day that is also very humbling.”
Tri-State inducts eight new members into Hall-Of-Fame
Copyright Peter Wallace Register-Citizen 6/4/2012
The sun shone brightly at Litchfield’s Community Field Sunday noon. Despite squalls later in the day, nature gave full endorsement to the Connecticut Tri-State Baseball League’s sixth Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Why shouldn’t it?
The league prides itself on being “good old country baseball,” its history stretching back to 1934. And there, along with inductees Rich Blazek, Fred Bunnell, Bob Clinch, Geoff Marchant, Mark Murphy, Don Rhynhart, Jim Shove and Rick Wilson, were generations of “old-timers” lined up to play in the afternoon’s first game. So the sun shone on one of the distinctive fields (across the road is a home run) representing the character imbued among 18 teams that take players of all ages so long as they share the same basic traits as everyone else in the league — deep-seated love for the game, talent and the pure pleasure playing in some of the most scenic countrysides anywhere.
The old-timers lined up, East and West, many of them from the ‘80s, many, like Geoff Marchant, Rich Blazek and Mark Murphy, with sons who have long since taken their place on their teams’ active roles. Seventy-six-year-old Gilbert Black, a long-time major player in the Negro Leagues, one of a long line of players who might have been a major leaguer in the Jackie Robinson era, was an honored guest. Black threw a brief scare into the crowd with a slow collapse to the ground from dehydration in the sunshine, then righted himself to walk off the mound with a wave. There’s some Tri-State League in that. Dismissed at times in its history, the league has risen, especially in the last 10 years under Commissioner Ed Gadomski, to a thriving showcase for the spirit of passionate country baseball, with new teams applying for admission every year.
Here are its latest all-time heroes:
Rich Blazek played for the Litchfield Cowboys in the ‘70s and ‘80s. A left-handed pitcher and outfielder, Blazek was on the mound for the only Cowboy league championship (1979) before last year’s triumphant Litchfield return to the top. Blazek, like his son Chris, threw in the low 90s, with a changeup punctuating the speed. At bat, he had one season over .500, several more above .400.
Fred Bunnell was a teammate of Blazek’s. Typical of many Tri-State athletes, he was a pure baseball player, nailing down several positions in the field, then hitting and running like crazy. Like Blazek, he hit over .400 in several seasons, but he also had the speed to take extra bases, He was a Cowboy player-manager for several years, then re-organized the team when it dropped out for a year. His son, Joe, plays for Litchfield’s other Tri-State team, the Tri-Town Trojans.
Bob Clinch helped add New York to the league’s “tri-state” designation. A long-time baseball coach at every level in Pine Plains, New York, Clinch formed a team from Pine Plains High School, playing in Millerton. Five years after he and Harry Schroder formed the team, the Drifters took the 1991 Tri-State championship.
If many Tri-State players are pure baseball players, Geoff Marchant represents another trait — pure athlete. Long after his 1973 debut in Lakeville as a Hotchkiss English teacher, baseball coach and Lakeville Firemen mainstay, Marchant still rides his bike across the Northwest Corner while thriving on running road races and marathons. As a player, he was a strong arm in right field and on the mound for the 1976 league-champion Firemen. Always in top condition, he threw one 15-inning complete-game victory, batted over .400 for a season and well over .300 for his career.
Mark Murphy played for the Cowboys in the ‘80s. Like small-town athletes everywhere, he did everything. As a baseball player, he had a career .350 average and played every infield position with style. He played soccer at Springfield College. Then he passed on his love of baseball to son Ben, now with the Cowboys.
Don Rhynhart carried Murphy’s “all-around athlete” style even further. Another Cowboy alumnus, 1973-1978, Rhynhart, the Hall of Fame’s first Wamogo graduate, was a good enough baseball player to be selected to the league’s competitive all-star teams for two years and to serve as Cowboys player-manager for another two. He was even better at basketball, playing at New England College and Lyndon State College, then professionally in Europe after 1978.
Jim Shove is one of the most-requested umpires serving Tri-State. It’s fitting that his attitude matches most Tri-State players. “Nothing beats the smell of newly-cut grass and a warm, beautiful, sunny day on the baseball field,” he says. Shove was a football, basketball, baseball athlete himself at Waterbury’s Kennedy High School, then helped win an NAIA College World Series playing for Frostburg State University (Frostburg, Maryland) in 1972. Since then, when he’s not umpiring, he’s devoting much of his life to teaching and coaching at Holy Cross High School back in Waterbury.
If Shove is a welcome umpire, Rick Wilson ranks just as high as a sports writer. Wilson stood out in basketball with Thomaston High School’s 1975 Berkshire League champions, setting a Golden Bear record with 18 assists in one game. He set another school record high jumping with the track team. Wilson’s Thomaston recreation league softball team, the Skidders, won three state titles. They finished fifth in the country in 1984. Nevertheless, nothing outshines Wilson’s Tri-State League contributions in the media — at one time or another for the Thomaston Express; Litchfield County Times; Register Citizen; Republican-American; and Litchfield County Sports web site — while teaching full time at Thomaston High School.
Sportswriters…umpires…players…coaches. Nobody ever gets too much of the Tri-State League.
It’s good old fashioned country baseball, with the sun shining down just right.
Tri-State Does it right with Hall-Of-Fame
Copyright Owen Canfield Register-Citizen 6/5/2012
One little thing and another from Sunday’s Tri-State Hall of Fame day at Litchfield’s Community Field: Ed Gadomski, commissioner and CWH (Chief Work Horse), who appears never to tire of putting forth the ultimate effort in the cause of the league he loves, got it right. Again.
The first classy move this bright baseball Sunday was the recruiting of Katelyn Lewis, a Litchfield High graduate who recently completed her freshman year at UConn-Storrs, to sing the National Anthem. She has a superior singing voice and she knows how to use it. She’s majoring in music (oh, really Owen?) and I’ve got a sawbuck that says you’ll be hearing a lot from her in the musical future. The Star Spangled Banner is, of course, as much a part of baseball as hot dogs and hamburgers, and both of those were provided to spectators, on the house, as well.
After the old-timers’ inning or two was sort of played, Amenia and Litchfield tangled in a real league game, with the Cowboys winning, 2-1. The game’s the thing, as the saying goes, and it was appropriate on this special day that the “takin’-care-of-business” portion of it was so expertly done. The Cowboys’ Joey Serafin fanned 13 Monarchs in the win.
Before the real thing got going, and during the ceremonies, it was fun to stroll around the field talking to people and finding out what they are about. The first guy I ran into was Bill Neller, pillar of the upcoming Litchfield Road Race and a man who knows everyone and has his finger in many pies. We chatted about our late friend, Joe Concannon, who, with Neller and a couple of others, started that now venerable race. Billy was helpful, as always.
Tom Downey of Amenia was the master of ceremonies. He is Mr. Monarch up there, a 40-year player and manager of the team. “I started in 1972,” said the man who over the decades played, at various times, pitcher, shortstop and designated hitter. His day job, at which he has accrued considerable longevity, is as assistant director of the Duchess County (N.Y.) Highway Department. Downey spoke about a couple of older players who wore the Amenia summertime colors.
Infielder Howie Mann was not present, but Downey said, “Howie is 74, and still plays softball. Twice a week.” He stopped playing baseball only a few years ago. Mike Kohut, at 71, was the oldest man in uniform. He warmed up near the Amenia bench, looking spry and throwing with his catching partner as if his arm was as strong and limber as it was 30 years ago. “Mike caught for me for 33 years,” Downey said. Kohut is short and solid as oak. He said he attended Brockport College and played on the Golden Eagles’ football and baseball teams. A teacher, athletic director and coach for 38 years at Pine Plains High School, he now coaches at Arlington, N.Y., near Poughkeepsie. Grandfather of six, he lives in Dover Plains.
Jim Davidson’s late dad was a legendary figure in the Tri-State, and his two sons, Jamie and Chris, both play for Winsted. Jim, a Tri-State Hall of Famer from an earlier class, is co-coach in baseball, with Tom Germano, at Northwestern Regional High just over the Winsted line in Barkhamsted.
Old friend Don Rhynhart, originally from Morris and the first Hall of Famer from Wamogo Regional High, introduced son Douglas, 27, and we chatted while Don was on the field receiving his plaque. Doug is a carpenter in Middletown who said he’s also closing in on his degree at Central Connecticut State. “I’m almost there,” he said. Doug’s brother Eric is a teacher at Shepherd Hill High School in Massachusetts. His father returned and showed the plaque he had just received. It glistened in the sun. Rhyno’s proud. Well, he should be. All of them should be. They made prominent marks in Litchfield County athletics.
It would be interesting to run down the whole list of “Famers,” new and past, but who’s got that kind of newspaper space? Suffice to say from Katelyn Lewis’s extraordinary singing to Joey Serafin’s last well-placed pitch, it was a day to remember.
2012 Hall-Of-Fame and Old Timers Day
Tri-State honors men who made a difference