Tri-State League stronger than ever

Copyright © 2006 Register-Citizen – by Patrick Tiscia
In an era where leagues are struggling to stay afloat and the number of teams diminishing, the Tri-State Baseball League is as strong as it’s ever been sporting 15 teams in the 2007 season. What holds its appeal? Some come out and play for the exercise, some come for the company, but mostly the fact these players just love to compete.
The Tri-State league was born as the Inter-State league back in 1934, comprised of teams from Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts and stretched from the Hudson River to the Rte 8 corridor. The Inter-State league was a big betting league in its early years, when teams brought in ringers and paid them $50 to play a game. The Inter-State league disbanded in 1968 and new leadership started the Tri-State league. Those early days of the league would find players arriving at the ball field at 8:30am to get the field ready for an upcoming Tri-State game. Game time was 1 pm. And if you’re a coach, your day was extended past 6:30pm by the time you call the local area newspapers. But the Tri-State league formed a reputation as being the ‘older mans league’ who brings the family out to the game and then enjoys a couple of cold ones afterwards. This led to some of the younger, better area ballplayers boycotting playing in Tri-State thinking they were above it.
The leagues have seen their farm boys coming out to play ball after a long hard day of work on Thursdays and Sundays. They’ve seen their high school superstars continue their glory, running out bunt base hits, throwing fastballs by hitters, running down fly balls, and perfecting their home run trots around the bases. The two leagues have seen much, including the wars and the depression. There is no longer three states making up the Tri-State league but the name ‘Tri-State’ still sticks. It is now Connecticut and New York, though the Board of Directors has set a priority for 2007 to search out Massachusetts teams that once participated in Great Barrington and Pittsfield as well as the possible return of foundation members Lakeville, CT and Millbrook, Millerton and Pine Plains of New York.
Within a league that has been around since nearly the turn of the 19th century lies plenty of memories and stories. In 1995, former New York Yankee Jim Bouton was scheduled to pitch a ballgame for the Lakeville Firemen against the Amenia Monarchs when ESPN showed up to interview Bouton about “what’s wrong with baseball”. Ironically, Amenia had only 8 players and suffered their first forfeit loss in over 19 years as Bouton, on that particular day, did not make it to the mound. Along with Bouton, there have been several players who played in the minor leagues. Scott Arigoni played AA with the Cardinals, Chris Germano played in the minors, Daryl Morhardt played A ball, Greg Morhardt played AAA with Minnesota, and Paul Giroux played in the minors. Former Bethlehem coach Greg Hunt is now the manager of the Torrington Twisters of the NECBL. Five former Torrington Twisters play in the league these days, Ryan Rogozinski, Pete Maki, Jeff Hourigan, Tony Geraci, and Adam Piechowski. Former major leaguer Darrin Bragg had joined the Bethlehem Plowboys in 2006. Bragg played for the N.Y. Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and N.Y. Mets during his 10 year career. But it was Bouton whom crowds would gather just to see him pitch.
The late-70’s saw Tri-State take steps to get more players interested in playing in the league. One major change was adding an EH to the batting lineup, in essence a second DH that would give each team an additional hitter in the lineup. Now 10 players would go to the plate and take their cuts. Registering with the AABC and playing in the Stan Musial Tournament was another incentive, and gave teams the opportunity to gain state, regional, and national recognition. A third change was made to team rosters, where teams must select players from within a 10 mile radius of their town, and were allowed only a few players from out of town which helped to keep parity in the league preventing any stacked teams.
As with any league, a few dynasty’s emerged including the Amenia Monarchs of the mid 80’s who won 4 straight league titles from 1982-1985 and then a 5th and 6th title in 1988 and 1990. Hundreds of fans would come out to watch the Monarchs play during that time, when scorecards were handed out to all fans as they entered the gate into the ballpark. Amenia was led by Paul Giroux, Howie Mann, Mike Kohut, Charley Thornton, and player-coach Tommy Downey. The 90’s saw another dynasty born as the Torrington Rebels won 4 straight titles from 1992-1995 and then a 5th title in 1997. The Rebels were led by player-coach Scott Arigoni, Chris Clark, Rich Scott, Rich Thompson, and Bill Quartiero. A 3rd dynasty team evolved during the turn of the century as the Bethlehem Plowboys won championships in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, and a 5th title in 2005. The Plowboys were led by Marc Damelio, Jay Rocca, Ryan Rogozinski, and Pat Murphy, being coached by Gregg Hunt and then John Pettit.
Ed Gadomski, in his 5th year of tenure as commissioner, has watched the league swell from 6 teams in 2003 to 15 teams in 2007. After a 10 year absence, Amenia had rejoined Tri-State in 2005 and brought back that ‘good ole country’ baseball feeling to the league. Normally a northwest hills suitor, Tri-State also expanded further south with the addition of Naugatuck from the NVL and 3 teams from Waterbury. Three additional teams were also declined acceptance this year as two teams applied well after the deadline, after schedules had already been finalized, while the other team did not meet the roster requirements set up in the By-Laws. Gadomski believes there is strength in numbers and having ‘many’ teams means not playing the same teams over and over again, while rivalries will always be built based on playoff experience and success.
So why is Tri-State flourishing these days while other leagues may be dying?  The one major difference, the league majority of players are now mostly college-aged kids as the next generation has invaded Tri-State, and the league has gone through the roof with them. Gadomski feels it’s a great fit, the young and old, as the kids will learn more about hitting a baseball and playing the game when they start hanging out with the older baseball players. The ‘veterans’ are the ones that know how to hit a baseball. Returning to its roots, another big change is what you’ll ‘hear’ in 2006 in the ‘crack’ of a wood bat as opposed to the ‘ping’ of an aluminum bat. Tri-State is also now a host to the Stan Musial tournament, and with the addition of the college ballplayers to the league comes success as Tri-State sent 4 teams into the winners’ bracket after round 1, and advanced 2 of the final 3 teams on Championship Sunday in the 2005 state tourney.  One last attraction is the conditions of the ball fields where players look forward to playing at great parks like Fuessenich Park (Torrington), Municipal Stadium (Waterbury), Walker Field (Winsted), Community Field (Litchfield), Thomaston HS, Rotary Field (Naugatuck), BAW Complex (Wolcott) and Doc Bartlett Field in Amenia, NY.
The league has certainly evolved from its Inter-State betting days but the foundation of the league, sense of tradition, and competition remains fierce, making this summer pastime one that we hope will continue into the next century.

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