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If You Play, They Will Come

POSTED July 20, 2011
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                               If You Play, They Will Come

            THOMASTON – The dirt took on the appearance of a grayish, yellow dust. The suffocating air sat on you like heavy winter overcoat. Relentless heat waves from the 90 plus degree temperature shimmered up from the pavement. There was no breeze, just sizzling stillness.

            A dog-day Saturday summer afternoon at Thomaston’s Black Rock baseball field. A day seemingly better spent at the beach or pool-side for you more affluent folk, a burger in one hand, a cold one close by with cool waters tantalizingly beckoning.

            There were maybe a half dozen fans, all thankful for the spot of shade thrown by a few trees on a hill behind the field. An occasional car passed on a quiet Route 109, but it was a day to be elsewhere. For most.

            Unless you play in the region’s Over-40 Baseball League.  Then the diamond is never a bad place to be. And there they were, Torrington and Thomaston disdaining the energy-draining conditions for two more hours on a place that will always be a welcome home to them.

            They are older now, the dream played out. The legs don’t eat up the yardage quite like they did and the arms can’t conjure up the distance or speed of days gone by. “Let’s  play two” has been replaced by, “honey, what’s the chiropractor’s number?”

            No matter. You can let time take its inevitable toll on the body, but the game doesn’t age. Once a boy of summer always a boy of summer even as the hair grays and goes and the stomach gurgles and grows.

            The Torrington and Thomaston guys might have wanted to be somewhere else on this day and some were. At this stage of the game, priorities shift to a degree. Vacations call, the in-laws are here for a week that takes a month, Bobby and Betty have games and dance recitals, the cat needs a fur ball removed. You get it.

            But a many wanted to be on the field and many were. The suffocating conditions made it a day more for perseverance but there smiles and a lot of young kids in older bodies.

            “I’m just glad to be playing baseball,” said Torrington’s Scott Arigoni.

            “It’s baseball and it’s about these guys,’ said Thomaston’s Jim Russo looking around at his teammates.

            And these guys are still good. Thomaston has been in the league finals three times in the last five seasons. Torrington is always near the top. We joke a lot about Ben Gay, pulling muscles while getting out of the car and not being able to see far enough to argue with an umpire’s call, but the truth is that these guys are far removed from social security, rocking chairs and a Viagra lift.

            They can still play.

            Start with Arigoni. At 52-years old, he can still bring it in the mid 80’s when needed. He keeps himself in great shape and you can still see vestiges of the St. Louis Cardinal minor leaguer whose march to the major leagues was derailed by a knee injury.

            Mark Major still has the whip-like sidearm motion that made him feared in the Tri-State League.  And you can’t help but notice the guy keeping the Torrington book, Don Murelli, the former Baltimore Oriole farmhand, who still looks like he can play but his arm says he can’t.    

            On the other side Thomaston shortstop Johnny Hurlbert once made a pair of free throws that beat Jim Calhoun’s UConn Huskies while playing for the University of Hartford. Hurlbert has Division I skills in a lot sports and can still play.

            Tri-State Commissioner Ed Gadomski is 44 but looks, plays and acts younger. Thomaston third baseman Jim Russo pitched Thomaston to the Class S state title game in 1985 and while his shoulders demand orthopedic work he plays third base and hits much younger than his 44 or so years.

            Arigoni is too tough on this day silencing the Thomaston bats to one run through six innings before giving way to Major. He also contributes a two-run single. Thomaston coach Jim LeFebvre, in the neighborhood of 55 or so, contributes an RBI single. Take that Father Time.

The Spartans, without the services of their best pitcher, Kip Miller, rally late but Major is able to stop the bleeding with a bases loaded strikeout in the seventh inning to preserve a 7-5 Torrington win.

It is a bunch of weary warriors that call it a day as the broiling afternoon transforms into an overheated early evening. The cooler calls and probably the wife but that is a different story.

It is an afternoon that could have been spent elsewhere. But, the game called as it has always called. And they came as they have always done. If you play it they will come. Until they can’t make it anymore.

But, that day continues to be far off. After all they will always be the boys of summer.

The league has 13 teams that along with Thomaston and Torrington include two clubs from Watertown, Southington, Waterbury, Naugatuck, Wilton, Reading, Bridgwater, Washington, New Milford and Ridgefield.




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