copyright 8/15/2007 Peter Wallace Register-Citizen
The Torrington Board of Approved Baseball Umpires lost its president and one of its best umpires all in one annual banquet last week. Don Schaeffer, a Board member for 17 years and vice president or president for most of them, is moving to Vermont with his wife Suzanne after 22 years in Burlington. In that time, he spent seven years as Lewis Mills baseball coach and the past eight as assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator at Post University in Waterbury. This fall, he’ll begin rebuilding a baseball program at Southern Vermont College (Bennington) that has won just one game in the last three years. Last Tuesday, at Dick’s Restaurant, the Board, comprised of some 30 other umpires, gave Schaeffer its official sendoff. “Every year, we’ve honored a former umpire. Lo and behold, this year, they decided to do it for me,” Schaeffer laughed. “He was a great president; he got things done for us,” said R.J. Poniatoski, one of the key movers in the organization.
At the meeting, Scholarship Chairman John Bennett presented Thomaston graduate Mike Johnston with the Board’s annual $500 scholarship. “I don’t think I’ve seen too many kids make the transition so seamlessly between high school and Tri-State baseball,” said Schaeffer, who umpired several Bethlehem Plowboy games this summer, the Tri-State team for which Johnston plays. Most recently, Johnston starred as both pitcher and hitter in a Plowboy playoff win on Saturday over Amenia. He’s headed for UConn-Avery Point this fall.
Sportsmanship Chairman Jim Isaacson presented his committee’s award to Northwestern High School. “People just enjoy going up there where they just play baseball, and don’t get into petty stuff,” said Poniatoski. Much of the meeting, though, was about saying goodbye to a friend and fellow professional in a difficult avocation.
In 17 years of umpiring, Schaeffer still shudders amidst his chuckles when he recalls having to stop a riot on a field in Canton more than 10 years ago. It was a Connie Mack game, and Torrington was coming back on Canton. A player slid hard into the catcher – just leveling him. Both benches emptied and parents started squaring off. We called off the game and called the cops.” More recently, he went to the hospital two summers ago after finding himself in the wrong place on the field for a no-look pickoff throw to the face from one of the hardest throwers in Tri-State baseball. The happier times included working behind the plate at Winsted when Carl Pavano was throwing for Southington’s American Legion baseball team. “I didn’t have that feeling that he was necessarily destined for the majors, but I knew he was a hard thrower,” said Schaeffer. In general, the long span has meant umpiring with and for “a lot of really, really good individuals,” Schaeffer said. In his rebuilding job at Southern Vermont, he’d love to have some Northwest Corner players join his team. “There’s definitely an opportunity to get right on the field,” he said. Closer to home, you can get on the field as an umpire. The Board holds classes in February and tests in March, and they need more umpires. “We had 40; now we’re down to around 30,” said Poniatoski. Don Schaeffer, despite his seven-year tenure as president, still counts as just one. Rich Thomson steps in as interim president until the Board holds a full vote of its membership.