© 2006 Republican-American (Joe Palladino)
It was 83 years ago today that the City Amateur League played its first game in Waterbury. So that makes this as good a day as any to note that the Dave Wallace League, formerly the Twi-Met League, formerly the Twilight and Metropolitan Leagues, lives no more. That is hard to believe. You can cite any number of reasons why this happened, and everyone of them is valid. June 16, 1923 wasn’t the official birth of baseball in this town, but it was close. The Waterbury Brasscos had been around for a long time, and somewhere a trophy is kicking around town from the 1906 season. But the start of City Amateur baseball was a watershed moment in Waterbury. They played at Hamilton Park on Sunday afternoons, in front of 2,000 fans, most of whom walked to the park and dropped a few coins in a bucket. Much of that went to the semi-pro ball players on the field. The field was surrounded by bleachers, packed, and the spill-over crowd sat on the hill in center to enjoy a summer’s day and a ballgame. You can still do that today, by other names in other places. Not at Hamilton Park of course, where nothing much of anything happens on that fallow and forgotten space. You can catch an American Legion baseball game around town, or youth leagues, and certainly, the ever-growing Tri-State League has become the dominant amateur league in the area. But Twi-Met baseball has vanished, and that is a strange feeling. “We tried to get teams, but nobody wants to play,” said Red Kelly, now 67, the man who ran the league for decades. “It isn’t so much the Waterbury kids. I think they still want to play. We couldn’t get the out-of-town teams anymore.” Many have blamed the shoddy fields in town for the lack of interest. I don’t buy that. The fields could be better, but they weren’t any better or worse in my day. Many left the Twi-Met because the competitive structure was out of whack. That’s true. One or two teams amassed all the top players. For myself, I went to a game a few years ago at the Stadium. One team was a player short. They started the game anyway. There was foul language, and plenty of it, drifting throughout the ballyard, and I thought, “There’s got to be a better way to enjoy a summer’s evening than this.” There is still amateur men’s teams in town. They play instead in the Tri-State League, where the schedule is manageable for busy ballplayers. You play Sundays and some Thursdays. Neither league showed much respect for each other. If you say something nice in the newspaper about one of them, you offend the organizers of the other. Maybe there should have been a merger. I don’t know. I just know that I remember a time when going to a Twi-Met game was more fun than attending an Eastern League game. Looking back, it seems a pity we kicked the local guys out of the Stadium for all those years so the pros could play there. An era is gone. It’s been gone a long time maybe, but I miss it more today than I can ever remember. Now, a new era and the building of new memories begins.