Fourth of July Bonanza: Jim Bouton, William Hung, HR Derby, Skydiver

Copyright Republican-American (Joe Palladino) July 4,2011

Now that was a July 4th holiday. Home runs ruled at Fuessenich Park. A guy jumped out of a plane, baseballs bounced off houses beyond the right-field fence, and an old-time Yankee reminded us of what baseball stirrup socks looked like. The revived and vibrant Tri-State Baseball League brought its All-Stars to Fuessenich to play the Torrington Titans of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in the first of what is hoped to be an annual mid-summer classic.

There may not have been a pyrotechnical display Monday, but there was some thunder. The Titan’s Cole Harrison won the Home Run Derby by swatting five homers in the first round and seven in the final. That bested Devin Murphy of Tri-State, who had six and then four.

In a Home Run Derby, they count the dingers, but the leader on the ooh and aah index was Tom Richards of the Titans. The lefty clubbed a homer off the three-family house beyond the fence in right field, nearly smashing through a third-floor window.  The crowd roared and Richards took a triumphant victory lap around the batters’ box. In the second round he had a ‘natural’ moment, when he rocked a towering homer that rattled the lights atop a light pole. No one needs to mention that the wood-bat Tri-State guys and the wood-bat Titans guys used metal bats in the Derby. “We wanted to put on a little show” noted Titans third baseman Kyle Murphy. Murphy also offered the quote of the day when he referred to the Tri-State vs Titans game as the clash between the “young guys and the old guys.” He meant no disrespect. That’s what it was, as the Glory-Days Tri-State guys hitched up their pants, which have been let out just a bit in some cases, and played the hot shot college kids.

The highlight of the game perhaps, was the scoreless inning tossed by 72 year-old former New York Yankees star Jim Bouton. The man who two games in the 1964 World Series, allowed only an infield single. In case you’re wondering, his hat never fell off once when he pitched. “I only hope the Titans don’t knock it off,” he joked. They didn’t. Bouton’s wobbly knuckler left a few Titans baffled, as did his choice of uniform apparel. He wore his old Yankee pinstripes, No. 56 on the back, and said he’ll remind fans “what stirrup socks and pajama pants are.” Also tossing an inning for the all-stars was 52-year-old Scott Arigoni, who pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization in the 1970’s.

The Tri-State stars led early, on a solo home run – where was he in the Deby? – by Steve Pryce, but the Titans answered back on an RBI single from Josh Band in the fifth. Band also added an RBI sac fly. Tri-State battled back on RBI singles from Devin Murphy and Adam Claire, with Claire tying the game in the eighth with a two strike, two out, two-run single. But the Titans clinched it with three in the eighth, the key hit being a Shane O’Connell RBI single. Spencer Kane grabbed the victory in relief. The final, in front of close to 1,000 fans was 8-5 Titans, but hits, runs, and errors were secondary on this day.

“The college summer league is more of a high-profile game” said league commissioner Ed Gadomski, “and this is a chance for us to showcase the talent we have in the Tri-State. In our area, for our guys, the Tri-State League is ‘The Show’. The Tri-State Show has gone on for more than 75 years, and has become THE place for baseball-mad adults to play the game of their youth. “The greatest form of flattery I get are the compliments from former players, “Gadomski added. “They are thrilled to see where the league is today.” There is no greater compliment than the one that came from the Titans. When the FCBL guys want to bring in Tri-State guys, that tells you there is something right about that operation.  It is good business for the Titans, too. The team averages less than 500 fans per game. This was a merging of two fan bases.

The game was significant for another reason: Home-town baseball has felt disenfranchised when the college game takes over each summer. That has not been the case with the new Titans management. “When we came in here there were a lot of questions,” said Titans general manager Mike O’Malley, “like are these guys going to come in and take over everything.” Gee, that sounds familiar. “We just wanted to work with everybody and show that we are just another entertainment source.” O’Malley said. “We appreciate the opportunity and we hope that bringing in the Tri-State guys starts a new tradition, and brings together the fans of both sides.” It worked. The crowd was large and vocal, and the baseball pretty good.

I’d be remiss if I did not mention that someone who went by the name of William Hung came out onto the field to wiggle and sing. Something called “She Bangs” seemed popular. Never heard of it.

 Copyright Register-Citizen (Owen Canfield) July 5,2011

When Mark Krasinski bailed out over Fuessenich Park Monday, the airplane he exited was churning along nice and level at 5,000 feet. Perfect. People in the stands were looking up and when he first emerged — just a little dot in the July evening sky at first — some said, “Uh-oh, looks like he is going to miss. He’s too far north.” They didn’t realize that the 48-year-old Krasinski, who keeps himself in excellent physical condition, knew exactly what he was doing. Before very long he had unfurled a large American flag. The Somers man has made more than 2,830 jumps in the 25 years since he first tried it.

While he was floating down, a beautiful, talented and very calm 17-year-old student at Lewis Mills High School, Aubrey Van Allen, sang the National Anthem. She had to be calm because while she was singing, the microphone she was using kept cutting out for long stretches. Imperturbable Aubrey never faltered, not once. Her performance should be noted and I hereby applaud it.

It was fascinating the way Krasinski maneuvered his ‘chute, swinging and swaying, and, Old Glory waving, landed at the very edge of the pitchers mound. A nice ovation, well-earned, I thought, followed from the sizable crowd that had assembled to watch the Titans and the Tri-State All Stars engage in a home run contest before their exhibition game. Never in the military, the ‘chutist, who has long been classified as a professional and who gives lessons in parachuting, said that once he had tried it, he knew he wanted to do it “for the rest of my life.” He’s single and a member of Aerial Pursuits Skydiving. His next jump will be at the opening of the Nutmeg State Games on July 30.

Donna Winn, Recreation Director for Torrington Parks and Rec, said of Van Allen, “Did you know about her? Aubrey was the winner in the 16 to 25 division in our Northwest American Idol competition last year.” This Independence Day event helped raise money for a United Way campership fund honoring the memory of Winn’s son, Glenn E. Winn Jr., who was 19 when he was killed in a 1997 auto accident. “It’s a great way to honor a guy,” Chris Beach said. Beach and Glenn Winn were friends. “Because Glenn loved life. His sense of humor was wonderful.”  Beach wears the uniform of the Litchfield Cowboys, who are currently 11-0 in the league that Eddie Gadomski so ably runs as commissioner.

It was Gadomski who arranged for former Yankee and “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton to pitch a (scoreless) inning for the Tri-Staters in the game, through Tom Downey, veteran Amenia manager. Gadomski said, “Jim and Tom are friends so it wasn’t hard to get him.” Bouton lives nearby. A slim 72-year-old who throws a baffling knuckler, Bouton was a big hit as were the other interesting attractions such as the excellent All-In Band, which played and sang tirelessly, William Hung, the home run hitters and Marilyn Plaskiewicz, whose voice has been heard in these parts for years and who sang “God Bless America” after Van Allen performed.

The setting and ambience of the night reminded me of a line that goes “… and a great big Fourth of July …” from the matchless Sinatra tune, “There Used to be a Ball Park, Right Here.” The weather was perfect, the crowd was large, happy and enthused, and all the pieces clicked into place, one after another. And the home runs soared. The Titans’ Cole Harrison from North Carolina-Greensboro won it. He’s 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, the genuine article as a slugger.

But Tom Richards, from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, who attends SUNY-Buffalo, made a spectacular showing. He’s also a big dude (6-2, 205). When he caromed a rocket off the house beyond the right field fence he executed an exaggerated bow to teammates seated in front of the dugout and did a little fancy-flourish footwork, which is to say, he enjoyed the moment. Later he said, “I certainly did. I enjoy everything about this park, this team, this game.” His host family is the McKennas and he can’t say enough good things about them because they treat him like family.

Richards’ father works at Scotia Bank in Whitby. His mother is a sales rep for Carlton Cards. He has a younger brother, Justin, and an older sister, Jessica. He came to the Titans on the advice of scouts after what he called a “pro day” at his college. The scouts liked his form. Canada doesn’t offer ideal climate for baseball and Richards said, “You really have to come to America for baseball.” No problem for him. There are few things he likes better than baseball. He looked around the pretty ballpark. “This place is my sanctuary,” he said. “It’s my church. And every game I wear this around my neck.” With that he reached under the undershirt he was wearing and pulled out a black rosary made of heavy cord, with knots in the cord for beads. It’s a rosary he can wear without worrying that it will break. “With me it’s God, parents, family, baseball,” he said. Sounds like his priorities are properly aligned.

Copyright Litchfield County Sports (Tim Gaffney) July 4,2011

There was a little bit of everything for the many who flocked to Fuessenich Park on Monday afternoon/night for the Tri-State All Stars/Torrington Titans, Fourth of July Spectacular. This event had something for everyone. From a sky diver (Mark Krazinski), who delivered the American Flag, to a first pitch toss by a former New York Yankees player and a couple of building-denting home runs during the Home Run Derby, this day had to be considered a success. Aubrey Van Allen (Northwest Hills Idol participant) sang the National Anthem as Krazinski deployed a giant American flag and made a perfect landing in shallow right field, not far from second base. Torrington Titans scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull out an 8-5 win.

And yes, even a former American Idol contestant, William Hung. One of the things the Carminucci Sports Group promised the people of Torrington when they first introduced themselves was that they would not only see great baseball; they would be entertained before, during and after. Monday started early in the afternoon when approximately 400 fans showed up to watch a classic fan favorite; the Home Run Derby. While the Titans Cole Harrison came away the winner with a seven bomb performance in the finals, teammate Thomas Richards got the biggest reaction when he sent a bomb over the right field fence and up past the third floor window of the house beyond the batting cages. It was still going up when it hit. Many a ball was lost by both sides into the Naugtauck River.

Harrison, accepted a trophy for winning the home run derby and good-natured ribbing from his teammates. Asked by a reporter whether he ate his Wheaties that morning, Harrison smiled and said, “I had a Subway grinder for breakfast.” Hmm, wonder if the chain can market that response? Paul Novakowski of the Tri-Staters, who played high school baseball at Holy Cross in Waterbury and then spent four years with the Assumption College team, said it was fun to be a part of the derby. “It’s not for bragging rights or anything. The Titans are young kids on their way up and we’re happy to be playing baseball. I have hit my fair share of home runs over the years and we had a few side bets as to who was going to hit more for our team.” Offered Titans manager Gregg Hunt, “We wanted to do this and then maybe not because it might mess up the guys swings. But we said let’s do it and I think it was great. The fans enjoyed it and it was nice to see a lot of people in the stands to watch.”

Jim Bouton, who spoke with John Torsiello about his latest doings, threw a scoreless fourth inning with a dead to rights knuckle ball that danced towards Titans hitters, who did not get a ball out of the infield. Pretty good for a guy who is 72 years young and still playing the game he loves. Just before the game started, a sky diver delighted the crowd with a perfect landing just behind second base, flag in hand. A terrific sight. William Hung, former Idol castoff from season three, performed during the game, including the rendition that made him known, “She Bangs”.

Adam Piechowski, former Torrington Twister and Gilbert High School graduate and baseball star, looked sharp as ever in his three innings of work to start the game. Scott Arigoni, also a living legend in Torrington lore, pitched an inning and made it about a dozen high level exhibitions over the last decade that he has pitched in. Rick Wilson has the latest on one of Torrington’s finest men later this week. The weather was great, the fans were into the game and the entertainment value was sky high (no sky diving pun intended). Those on hand on Monday (800 fans plus) sure got their money’s worth and more from a group that enjoys the business of entertaining fans while presenting great baseball memories.