It was 12 years ago Saturday (June 7). On a blistering day on a baking Palmer Field in Middletown they made their moment. Not exactly ancient now in their late 20s or (gasp) even 30, it doesn’t matter. They will always be Thomaston High Golden Bears able to retrieve that 17-18 year-old time. The moment is always right there.
State championships do that for you. The hair will turn gray or fade away. The legs and arms won’t stay the same and waist line has a habit of stretching its boundaries and pushing for expansion. But they will always be those young Golden Bears at the top of the mountain in relentless sunlight.
First-year coach Bob McMahon had his moment. Long before his girls basketball teams started racking up titles and wins with the regularity of a spring bloom he was on top. Coach Jimmy Alberto whose bucket list vacation spot is any place with four bases on it, found nirvana.
Gritty right-hander David Fredlund refused to let his moment get away. Even former coach Alex Sconziano who wasn’t even at the game found the moment or really the moment found him. Oh and there was a guy named Nic Johnston. With one swing he gave everyone the moment. A 380-foot or so tomahawk that assured the day of timelessness.
Kyle Capaldo, Nick Russo, Jordan Gomes, Ben Yaffe, the entire team and the town, they had their moment, the kind that permanently shines.
It was a blazing day, the sun pounding away at you. You found shade under the overhang at Palmer but still the wood bleachers were hot to the touch and the sweat rolled in steady stream. It was day where you swore you see the steam rising. I was on duty for the Waterbury Republican and in tow with my 8-year old son Jonathan.
The rest of Thomaston was there too. Small towns do that in big moments, they close down and they show up wearing their pride with an undeniable hey look at us demeanor. You could have set up a lawn chair and grilled dogs and burgers on Main Street between Black Rock Restaurant and Barberet Jewelers and not had to move for most of the day. Little League games were rescheduled, events cancelled or changed, stores beehives of silence and desolation. Thomaston basically moved to Middletown for half the day.
Aunt Bea is there and Uncle Harry. Cousins Tom and Lulu made the trip with Gram and Gramps. The first selectman is there and the grocery store guy along with the neighbor down the street. School officials without their ties and reverends without their robes are on hand.
Palmer Field’s heat shared time with the electricity. Small schools playing for the biggest prize. Small schools playing for a life’s moment. Being there was awesome but once you are there you want to win. There is that tingling in the stomach. Let’s get the game going but at the same time don’t let the day end. Teams with dreams on a high voltage day.
I felt nervous good about the Bears’ chances. They had forged one of those magical runs into the finals. A bye was followed with a 10-3 win over BL foe Gilbert. Then on a Sunday afternoon Fredlund responded with a two-hit, nine strikeout effort in a 1-0 win over East Granby.
Lanky shortstop Nick Russo preserved the shutout and maybe the win with a leaping grab of a line drive with one out and the tying run on second in the bottom of the seventh. It also didn’t go unnoticed that the game had been rained out Saturday, allowing Fredlund to pitch Sunday. You start wondering when events take shape like that.
NVL foe Sacred Heart was waiting for the Bears in the semifinals. The Hearts jumped out to a 4-0 lead the Bears day and run seemed to be done. But Kyle Capaldo kept the Bears in the game with 42/3 of bulldog relief and again Fredlund stepped up, this time with his bat. He ripped a one-out double to left center field scoring Capaldo in the seventh inning for a delicious 6-5 walk-off victory propelling the Bears into the finals.
Championship day didn’t dawn easy for the Bears. Defending champion and No. 10 seed St. Bernard’s had its own dream. The Bears were handcuffed for the first four innings and managed just two hits, falling behind, 3-1.
Then came the fifth inning, one long to be remembered and savored. A one-out walk to Jordan Gomes, a passed ball and Chris Laliberte’s ground ball off the pitcher’s leg put runners on the corners. An error on Russo’s ground ball to second allowed Gomes to score to cut the deficit to 3-2. Capaldo then walked to load the bases.
Fredlund then struck out for the second out and you wondered if there was no more magic in the hat. Two-thirds of the crowd was Clocktown proud but you could feel the angst and the sense that this was the decisive moment. You almost didn’t want to look but you couldn’t and wouldn’t miss it.
Nic Johnson stepped up and it was like time stood still. The count was 1-1. You could hear the crowd’s collective heartbeat, mixed with a roaring silence. You waited for both the explosive gasp and roar one way or the other.
St. Bernard’s pitcher Pat Lowry served up a fastball. Johnston made the moment his and Thomaston’s for the duration. The pitch came in hard and chest high and Johnston couldn’t resist. The ball and bat became one and the ball soared deep into the day, landing 380 feet over the left center field fence and into the history books. A no-doubter.
Grand slam, Thomaston now up, 6-3. “I got the barrel of the bat on it and (Lowery) supplied the power,” said Johnston. It happened in a flash. The moment – still going on. Johnston’s day – three hits, five RBI. Historical stuff.
The roar finally came, a Brown and Gold roar. Mother Nature provided her own heat, near 100 degrees of it, but it didn’t match the heat Johnston created.
My son went crazy as we watched the delirious dugout and sat enveloped in the Thomaston mania. Snippets of time with a long, long shelf life.
There was still two innings to be played and Fredlund took care of the rest. With the heat sucking energy at a relentless rate, he wilted. To an extent. St. Bernard’s came up with two runs in the sixth inning to close to within, 6-5, only to see Fredlund strand the tying run on second base.
McMahon knew his pitcher, he stuck with Fredlund. The drained righthander got through the seventh inning unscathed, finishing off a monumental, never-say-die effort.
The Bears didn’t end it there. They went to Sconz’s house in Wolcott. Sconz (Alex Sconziano) had been the coach for nine years, giving way to McMahon before the season. When the game-time was announced there was some mixed emotions. A birthday had been planned for his 3-year-old son Nick, complete with 50 or so guests.
His wife told him he could go, Sconz said no. The Bears didn’t forget. One great bus driver agreed to drive the team to the party in Wolcott. They descended on the birthday party, making it one great day all around. Balloons and cake mixed with Golden Bear delirium and a former coach in the best of both worlds. There is a fabulous picture out there for the ages with the team and Sconz and the championship plaque all together.
The Bears (18-6) rode the championship bus home and got the famous parade down Plymouth Hill with fire trucks, police cars along with a proud motorcade as the citizenry followed or came out of establishments to cheer. It is Thomaston’s championship way, It is something you don’t forget.
Those Thomaston High Bears of 2008 made a moment, didn’t they? They surely did. Still pretty fresh and always cool.