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Fay Vincent and the Fuessenich Park documentary.

POSTED July 27, 2015
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Tim Gaffney, Owen Canfield and Fay Vincent. The former MLB commish was in Torrington filming part of a documentary on Fuessenich Park. Great stories from a terrific man.

TORRINGTON: He flows with ease through stories about DiMaggio and Williams or Ducky Pond and Larry Doby.

His passion for education over sports flowed out as well.

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent came to Torrington, a familiar stomping grounds for him, to lend a hand in a documentary on Fuessenich Park which is being put together by Ed Cannata and J. Timothy Quirk.

On Wednesday, he taped for about an hour then entertained with marvelous stories over lunch with members of the Fuessenich Park Committee, including former Mayor Mary Jane Grynyk, Ray Oneglia and Ray Turri. Lindsay Raymond, the executive director of PAL in Torrington, represented an organization that continues to serve the youth of Torrington, as it has for generations.  

Cannata and Quirk, both passionate supporters of downtown Torrington and our grand old ball park, have something pretty special going on with their documentary.

What started as a short feature has blossomed into a nearly hour long piece that they hope will get the attention of the fine folks at CPTV (attention Francesco Graziano, this one is right up your alley about your home town!).

The duo certainly has a lot of material to work with, having interviewed Owen Canfield, the legendary sports writer who himself brought a treasure trove of materials to the project.

I was also fortunate enough to sit with the guys and talk more about the last 15-years at the park when I started covering sports at Fuessenich.

Back to Vincent, who was born in Waterbury and graduated from the Hotchkiss School before attending Williams College and the prestigious Yale Law School, who has always had the reputation of being tough but fair even as he negotiated tough times during his stint as MLB Commissioner from 1989-1992.

I mean come on, his first World Series is the infamous San Francisco earthquake in ’89 that caused millions of dollars in damage to the area while killing 63 and injuring nearly 4000.

His steady leadership took the sport through unchartered territory and when the game resumed 10 days later, a sense of normalcy returned to an area that had little.

1990 brought the lock-out and the booting of one George Steinbrenner from MLB.

It may have been a short stint atop MLB but it probably seemed like a lifetime for Vincent.

Within his enormously impressive resume includes him at the helm at Columbia Pictures in 1978.

“People ask me question about Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Pete Rose, Warren Spahn, Buck O’Neil,” Vincent said, “But nobody asks me what the best movie I ever made.”

When prompted as to what his favorite was, Vincent didn’t hesitate.

“Tootsie,” Vincent said, “I think it’s probably the best movie ever made.”

Hard to argue when you think of a movie that starred Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Jessica Lang, Bill Murray and Dabney Coleman and was nominated four ten Academy Awards in 2000.

One of the more poignant portions of listening to Vincent speak was when he spoke of the role sports should play in the lives of our youth.

Too often, dreams of making it big overwhelm the senses of just how hard it is to ever make it to the bigs in any sport.

“Sports is not the end,” Vincent said, “It’s a means.”

His meaning was clear. Use sports as a way to get a great education so one can have a career after the games are over, usually after high school but in some cases after college but rarely in the pro ranks.

Here are some staggering numbers for you to prove what Vincent was talking about.

Nearly half a million kids play high school baseball with 6.9% of them going on to play in college. Of those that play at that level, 8.6% will be drafted by a Major League team.

Seems like a good amount right?

Sure, until you consider that most players toil in obscurity in a minor league system that pays them less than a job where you would ask, “Would you like some fries with that?”

It get far worse in basketball as more than half a million high school players translate into 3.4% playing in college but just 1.2% making to the NBA.

Over one million try their luck on the gridiron at the high school level with but 1.6% ever making it to the ultimate goal.

You get the point that Vincent is trying to make.

Use sports to have some fun, gain valuable experience in the area of teamwork and all that goes with playing sports but understand that it’s an education that is going to get you where you want to be in life.

Too often, kids have to choose between playing sports at the highest level with no guarantee of finishing their education.

NCAA rules sometimes get in the way of the latter but Vincent and former MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti had an idea years back.

“Bart said to me,” Vincent said, “’I have an idea that I want to take to the NCAA’. His idea was very simple. If you are a 17-year old kid and you have a great fastball and you’re a pitcher and you graduate, the major league teams are going to try and get you to sign. Now if you sign, you give up your ability to get a scholarship. Why should the NCAA make you as a 17-year old, decide between education and baseball? That’s just stupid. What he proposed was that a kid could chose to play baseball for two years and he could play Class A. Usually they wash out pretty quickly. But if you go back for your second year, that’s fine as well but you can pitch for your college team for two years and then you have to decide. Meanwhile, it gives you two years in the minors and after two years, most kids have washed out.”

What continues is the education.

“Now they can go back to college,” Vincent said, “Play the last two years as a member of the baseball team and as an effect, put their lives back together. It absolutely makes total sense.”

Vincent credits his father with helping him to understand how he could get the most out of the skills he had.

“It was much more important that you can write a decent sentence and to know the grammar and read than it is that you are a great baseball or football player,” Vincent said.

The stories flowed with examples of how people worked their way to the top through hard work and dedication and most importantly, education.

Getting the key figures who led to bringing Fuessenich Park back to life is an essential part of the project for Cannata and Quirk. There is no current history without the trio who worked tirelessly to make sure the park came out just right.

It reminded me of the effort put forward by the Turf Committee last year when they engineered the Track and Turf Project at Torrington High School.

Mario Longobucco and Ed Arum were the two who, like Oneglia and Turri, made sure no stone was left unturned, no part of the finished product left to chance.

It was a labor of love, much like it was nearly twenty years ago at the park.

This figures to be one pretty terrific documentary with the leaders of the project as passionate about it as those who played on the “Diamond of Litchfield County” have been for over a century.

It was a lunch to remember for certain

Sorry I didn’t eat though, Fay Vincent was in the room.  

For more from Timothy W. Gaffney click here