Copyright Register Citizen Peter Wallace 6/25/22
TORRINGTON — Summer baseball.
For many in the Northwest Corner and across the country, the words are still synonymous. It’s as if summer and baseball were made for each other, with summer’s long languid days interspersed by occasional wild excitement and a game that can sometimes play out the same way. C’mon, we’ve got time, right?
So what better way to approach this weekend’s official start of summer than back-to-back long languid lunches with two of the pillars of baseball in the area: Tri-State Baseball commissioner Eddie Gadomski and Torrington American Legion Baseball general manager R.J. Poniatoski.
Gadomski came first, last Tuesday. Nobody represents baseball better than Eddie. “I let baseball take over my life,” he says at one point in our conversation at Torrington’s 99 Restaurant, praising his wife Lori for being the kind of woman willing to give and take the opportunities to “live our own lives” amidst the challenges and pleasures of a growing family and careers.
The fact is, despite ruing a few missed family opportunities as a result, Gadomski fell in love with baseball long before he fell in love with Lori, growing up playing baseball with sticks and tennis balls with friends on a Naugatuck funeral home parking lot. “The amazing thing is, people would actually come to watch us play,” he laughs.
For Gadomski, the crowds kept growing as he grew up to co-captain a three-year league championship run at Kaynor Tech after his parents, John and Donna, immigrants from Poland, relented in his sophomore year, allowing him to play for the Panthers if he kept up his grades. Learning to hit with a stick and throw a 12-6 curve with a tennis ball (too many broken windows with a baseball)? Training tools not many kids or their parents would go for today, but they served Gadomski well enough, along with old-school parental academic discipline, to earn an offer from Princeton. But Gadomski chose Mattatuck Community College (now Naugatuck Community College), where he again led his school to a championship in his first year.
From there, the love affair went to the Tri-State League and several other area adult leagues where he led Tri-State’s Thomaston Spoilers to a league championship along with his own MVP for hitting and pitching. “I played five games a week between the leagues,” Gadomski says. “I was the guy who held on. I played Tri-State until I was 41, then in the over-40 league until I was 49 — until my knees finally gave out.”
In the midst of that span, 2003, the same year he won the league MVP as a player, his peers elected him commissioner, where he led Tri-State from a six-team beer-league to a well-organized, disciplined high of 19 teams across the Northwest Corner and back to its current 13 after five of them dropped out in the COVID years. “All our teams are filled up and we’re still the biggest adult league in the state,” he says. “I get calls all the time from people wanting to play and we have one team, maybe two, ready to enter the league.”
Despite Gadomski’s longevity as a player, make no mistake. Tri-State has no bearing whatsoever to your dad’s recreational softball league. “It’s gotten younger lately — high teens to mid-20s,” Gadomski says while stipulating that newer teams and players are in it to learn from the veterans who still rule the league’s win/loss columns. “Some of our players — college veterans, ex-minor leaguers and even some ex-major leaguers are reliving the glory days. Some of the younger ones are using it as a stepping stone. Scouts have told others (like recently-released former Oriole prospect Willy Yahn) to stick around so they can keep an eye on them. “I played with (ex-major league Watertown star) Rico Brogna. His dad always told him, ‘You gotta play with the older kids.’ He was drafted in the first round by Detroit.”
And still, amidst all the league’s talent and hard-driven play, there’s the essence of summer baseball for most of them to consider. “As you get older, life changes,” Gadomski, the veteran baseball lifer says. “Marriage…children…work…Baseball is a chance to get away from life and its problems and just be a kid again, having a good time and enjoying the camaraderie. When I played, knowing I had a game that night made work much, much easier for me.” The joy and talent is on display most Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends across the area.
Tuesday, Gadomski texted a recap of a game between league leaders in which the Bethlehem Plowboys (7-3) delivered the defending champion Tri-Town Trojans (7-1) their first loss in a long regular season that runs until the playoffs begin in mid-August. The 1-0 Plowboy win at Bethlehem’s Gallup Field (seven innings on weeknights, nine on weekends) featured six no-hit innings by Bethlehem’s Matt Sibilia, then a gut-it-out Plowboy run in the bottom of the sixth on a pitch-to-the-shin for Jarrett Michaels, bunt single by Joe Rupe and RBI ground-out by Ricky Descoteaux. Yahn led off the final inning with a double for the Trojans, then got caught in a rundown before two more outs ended the game.
Thursday night under the Fuessenich Park lights, Torrington’s Matt Sokol and Blasius Chevrolet’s Brooks Belter, a former minor leaguer, traded no-hit first innings before the veteran Waterbury team (5-4) schooled the Twisters (3-6), one of the league’s youngest teams, 10-0. One of the joys of playing in the highly-competitive Tri-State League is getting back together with old friends in the dugout every summer.
Regardless of the final score, a cool breeze at Fuessenich Park in twilight, the smack of the ball on catchers’ mitts and wooden bats, the calls of the umpires..It was hard to think of a better place to be.
Some call that the essence of summer, at any age.