Tri-State adds 8 former players to Hall Of Fame

copyright Register-Citizen (Peter Wallace) 6/7/10
AMENIA, N.Y. — “Playing in the Tri-State League was a very special time in my life because it was the purest form of baseball I’ve ever been involved in — rural towns…Sunday afternoons,” said John McKenna Sunday afternoon at a Tri-State Baseball League Hall of Fame induction in Amenia, New York, illustrating his words. McKenna was one of eight new members to a shrine whose roots and present-day play hark back to a baseball romance that Cooperstown itself strives for in its charm. In some ways, Sunday’s induction was a bittersweet occasion for a family that’s grown to 18 teams whose origins came with the Inter-State League established in 1934. McKenna joined Dave McArthur, Dave Post, R.J. Poniatoski, Jay Lemere and Charlie Thornton on the infield of Amenia’s Doc Bartlett Field, lovingly maintained by Monarchs Coach Tom Downey and his team. McArthur’s brother Doug, another honoree, couldn’t attend because he’s a minister with Sunday morning responsibilities.
Chris Caron is the eighth inductee, the acme of the league’s family spirit. Caron, a league MVP and backbone pitcher, hitter and center fielder for the Thomaston Spoilers for 22 years, died of a heart attack at 40, three years after pitching a no-hitter. The league’s season is dedicated to his memory; his jersey number, 6, is permanently retired by the Spoilers; his roll call to the Hall of Fame was all the more poignant with his family trooping onto the field, all with number 6 on the back of their shirts.
The litany of baseball accomplishments in the ceremony was impressive; the expression of respectful brotherhood for each other and for baseball, more so. “The guys in this Hall awed me when they were playing,” said McKenna who played for almost 20 years for the Litchfield Cowboys and the Spoilers, managing the Cowboys in his last eight years. For many, the chronological roots of their baseball romance runs deeper than the league’s. “My older brother and father played and coached forever,” said Dave McArthur, who played center field with brother Doug at shortstop on a Lakeville team that won four league championships in the ’70s under their father Frank, who coached Lakeville teams for 30 years. Lakeville eventually dropped out of the league, but reminiscences of Dave’s hit-robbing climbs up the bank in center field to the railroad track at Lakeville Park are indicative of the spirit that still permeates the league, not only in its personalities but its real estate.
Amenia’s Doc Bartlett Field ranks high in that category. “This is such a baseball-rich community,” said Jay Lemere, now a premier area umpire, who helped Winsted win four league championships in his playing days as a shortstop in the ’70s and ’80s. “Just coming here gives me goose bumps.” “A lot of times, we’d play at Amenia in a 1 p.m. game and I’d be home at midnight,” adds R.J. Poniatoski, a fiery competitor in the same era as Lemere — Poniatoski with Litchfield and Torrington — but now an umpiring peer who’s starting his first year as Torrington Legion head coach after 13 years as an assistant coach with the P38s. “As much as we’d yell and scream at each other during the games, we’d have a great time afterwards, going over every pitch,” Poniatoski said.
Amenia’s Doc Bartlett Field was home for Charlie Thornton, who typifies the staying power that merges veterans with talented high school and college players in the league, helping preserve and pass on the respect and traditions. Thornton played for the Monarchs for 25 years and, like Caron, still had it through the end. Like Caron, who moved from centerfield to the mound with aplomb, Thornton’s versatility carried him through a league MVP year and countless wins on the mound and every position in the infield.
“All through my years of playing, it’s an accumulation of emotions,” said Dave Post, who still coaches the Spoilers in his 29th year in the league, representing the pervasive Tri-State passion for baseball, the league and his fellow players in leading the Spoilers to championships in 1989 and 2003. “I’ve played with 300 people on my team,” Post said, “over 1,000 in the league.” Country baseball, representing an army of pure baseball players at Amenia’s Doc Bartlett Field, had another glorious day on Sunday. “Just to know it’s still going strong, is impressive,” capped McArthur.