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Nobody did it better than Joe Palladino

POSTED August 04, 2019
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

          Maybe you’ll run into him at the Metropolitan Opera being mesmerized by  La boheme, Rigoletto, La traviata or other classic stories that he revels in and that so many of the rest of us don’t understand. Maybe you’ll find him somewhere rooting for his beloved West Ham soccer club of England’s Premier League. Maybe you will just see him taking in an area game of some sort or writing a blog.

          Joe Palladino will still be around. He’s not moving to Boise or Baton Rouge and he isn’t disappearing into the area fog or smog. But where you won’t find the long-time, gifted sportswriter anymore is on the sports pages of the Waterbury Republican – American.

          Joe retired Saturday (Aug. 3) and while people come and go in all professions ya gotta let loose with the thought – “Say it ain’t so, Joe.  Say it ain’t so.”

         See, Joe has been that good for that long in area and state sports circles. His career demands more than a gold watch, plate of pasta, congratulations and dinner gift certificate. There is a proud pantheon of memorable, great names whose excellence has graced the Republican- American sports pages over the years. Names like Dan Parker, Hank O’Donnell Bob Palmer Jr. and others. Joe’s name gets added to the list.

          It is an elite group, reserved for the best of the best. Joe doesn’t need an invitation to this  he gets to walk right in, no introduction necessary. With a masterful combination of passion for the profession -  the event, the players, fans and coaches and especially for the city he so dearly loves, Waterbury, the ability to inform, enlighten and entertain us as only a witty and wise wordsmith can, an amazing diversity in presentation and a perfectionist’s work ethic, in short, he simply beat the heck out of this profession.

          We will adjust, the big games, events and issues will go on. They will be covered and covered well. But let’s admit it, it will be different and a big strange without Joe in the room. He was the presence, the face you expected to see. Big-time game meant big-time Joe. That has meant something.

          My son Jonathan and Joe have become friends over the years. Heck, Joe even gave him a Manchester United hat (part in kindness, part to get rid of the darn thing). He spoke for a lot of people last week – “It’s going to weird not seeing him at games,” he told me. “He was one of those guys that when there was a big game he was always there and people expected to see him and read him.”

          The paper and area will feel this loss but the city of Waterbury will be particularly hard hit. Joe was a city guy. Man was he a city guy. Kennedy High grad and a pretty good city second baseman in his day (the great Scott Lund told me that so I do not question it), Joe got to do what he had always wanted to. Joe had a cup of coffee with the Register Citizen in Torrington and during that time he told me his dream was to write for his hometown newspaper. He lived the dream.

          He pushed the Waterbury sports community to greater heights and made it take notice of the greatness of today and the brilliance of yesterday. He pushed for and reveled in the renovation of Municipal Stadium and as late as last week’s Micky Mantle World Series chided those who found more time to denigrate than appreciate the sweet look of the refurbished ballpark.

          A great golf fan who always kept us updated on the happenings at Western Hills, East Mountain and in tournaments around the state, Joe lamented the waning interest in the long-running city staple, the R and A Golf Tournament. He pushed to keep it going and there is now renewed interest in the tournament that just recently seemed ready for a eulogy.

          Always a fan of high school sports, there were scoldings about the lack of attendance at games and more than one piece about bubbling excitement of an overheated gym.

               There were so many other issues he took on during his 20-year tenure always reminding the city what it could be and should be. Waterbury has never been any city to Joe, it is his city and let’s do it right.

               Joe also made sure the past never became the forgotten. He reminded us consistently of contributions of those whose day was long ago or never more. Poignant columns of the legends like John McKenna, Tony Hanson, Joan Joyce, Roger Connor, Spec Shea and countless others brought to life the brilliance of performance and contribution. Nobody ever made the journey to the pearly gates without Joe recognizing their accomplishments.

               Joe was a seven-day machine and I don’t think people realize how hard he worked. He wrote columns, game stories, blogs. He took his own video and then would go back to the office or home and edit his own video. There is little that Joe didn’t do.

              I was one of the lucky ones because not only did I get to read Joe over the years, I got to work with him. I first met Joe sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s when I was working for the Register Citizen in Torrington and Joe was with the Naugatuck Daily News. Eventually we ended up the Republican American, Joe in a full-time capacity me on a part-time schedule.

          We were there on opening night when the Waterbury Armory became the Sacred Heart boys basketball home. Joe’s first assignment was to cover the Litchfield Hills Road Race and over the years the two of us split the assignment and maybe more importantly spent more terrifying minutes in the famed press truck the any other people alive. We have the bumps and bruises to prove it. We spent countless March weekends sitting together at Mohegan Sun covering the brilliance of the Sacred Heart and Crosby boys basketball teams along with Torrington’s run to the title. And we witnessed the Thomaston High girls epic run over the last decade.We shared the brilliance of Crosby’s Anthony Ireland, Torrington High’s Jordan Williams and Abby Hurlbert’s incredible foul shots in 2014. I’ll just say it was a treat. Not everybody got the opportunity. I was one of the lucky ones.

          Joe loved the community sports scene, the soccer, golf the players, coaches, fans, the whole venue. He didn’t need what others might deem bigger beats. He had the  biggest and best beat and he loved it.

          Social media has been filled with tributes to Joe this past week. The great Lori Riley of the Hartford Courant had this to say – “ (Joe) is the consummate professional. He has a great sense of humor and knows his stuff. He cares about the people and the Waterbury area will miss him.”

          From John Murray, Publisher and Editor of the Waterbury Observer – “ Joe Palladino is a Waterbury treasure. As journalists come and go through the region he has been a crusader in writing about the small and large strands of DNA that connect us as a community. Joe understands the power of local community journalism and I have admired his work for years. Well done Joe.”

          Joe has low-keyed his retirement. Word slowly filtered out, he wanted no party. He reminds people he is still very much here, not in casket. We get it. We also get that it won’t quite be the same in the stands and on the sports pages. We get that Joe isn’t about quantity of years but quality of work. And we get that it just won’t be the same much to our understanding and dismay.

          Legendary Crosby boys basketball coach Nick Augelli understands this better than anyone. During the Bulldogs domination of the area and position as the state’s best team before Sacred Heart became the big cahuna on the block, Joe virtually lived with the Bulldogs.

          I showed up at a banquet one year and Nick gave me a quick how ya doing and said, “where’s Joe?” I called Nick this week and he had not heard that Joe was retiring. But he knew this was a big loss.

          “I loved having Joe around. He followed us all the way through the tournaments from the bus to the after-game stuff,” he remembered. “I trusted Joe so much that I would let him in the locker room before and after the game. He was someone I could talk to before and after the game. He was a friend. One of those guys that whatever he reported came from the heart. He told it like it was. This is a tremendous loss.”

          Nick Knows basketball and Nick knows Joe.

          So here we are, Dorothy, he’s coming home.  And from this guy, it has been a real privilege and pleasure. Working with the best always is.

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