Sunday, June 16, 2013


It’s Father’s Day and I’m trying to figure out why we get more nostalgic as time goes by.  Is it simply a consequence of chronology – we’re spending more and more time here so we leave more and more footprints?  Yet surely the majority of people think about nothing but the moment.
I raise my glass to my Facebook friends who lean toward the nostalgic, with special thanks to Mr. Hamden Plains, Ralph Santoro.  Ralph is one of those guys who I didn’t spend enough time with – he was chillin’ on Church Street while my boys and I were bombin’ around on Belden Road.
Ralphie was astute enough to get interested in photography and almost always had a camera slung over his shoulder when I’d run into him at those great places we went back in the 1970s.  Consequently, he snapped a few of me during a time when I wasn’t doing a heck of a lot of posing.  Photos of me in my 20s are pretty darned rare.
Through the miracle of Facebook, scanners and Ralph’s diligence, I was flipping through his collection of Hamden nostalgia and readily recognized so many of my old friends.  Most of them I haven’t seen in 20 to 30 years like that wild bunch of Spring Glen guys – the Lee brothers, the Boyle brothers.  Some of them I see from time to time, like Brooksvale Park caretaker and good buddy Vin Lavorgna and Billy Mezzano.
A few of the guys pictured are sadly gone at much too young an age.  Gary Conte, half-brother of one of my best friends Andy Vas, perished in a Long Island Sound boat mishap along with Paul Mangan, Billy Ford and Billy Collake on Memorial Day 1975.  That’s nearly 40 years ago, and their faces are etched in my mind.
Another wonderful guy – Joe Gambardella, brother of Andy and Leo – passed away within the year.  I spent many happy hours with the Gambardellas at their house that was demolished so Dunkin’ Donuts would have more parking spaces.  Ralph remembers.  So does my dear friend Sharon Davis, who married Andy G.  It pains me that I haven’t heard from Sharon in about 40 years, but shift happens.
Next Saturday (June 22), Hamden will be the scene of two nostalgic shindigs.  A group of guys led by Belden Road’s own Pete Sportino founded The Mighty Metropolis group of Facebook, which is now more than 1,700 members strong.  We had a get-together at Glenwood (best hot dogs on Planet Earth; where Hamdenites will always find an old friend) and now we’re re-convening at Brooksvale Park (10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) where Ranger Vinny certainly will be a gracious host.
The Hamden Plains Park Reunion is scheduled to take place at Outer Space, 295 Treadwell Street, Hamden from 4 to 7 p.m.  Live music will be provided by The Slides (original rock) and Broadway Hearts (piano-based rock).  I’d like to hit both but sometimes life intervenes.
Back to Ralphie’s photos … .  The old block on Dixwell Avenue where the Strand Theater once stood tugged at the heart strings.  I remember when sister Marji used to work there and we’d take in all the hits of the day – “Deliverance” and “The Poseidon Adventure” come to mind.  I can still smell that delectable combination of mildew blended with stale popcorn bathed in that exquisite drawn butter.  If Yankee Candle Company had that scent, I’d have to get a few.
He’s got photos of his mother Myra and the dance studio she ran on Church Street, including the newspaper clipping about Little Ralphie making his stage debut at Oakdale when he was 5.  That’s where he gets that dynamic stage presence he exhibits during his musical gigs. 
The photos from the Blizzard of ’78 were classic.  That’s when my Datsun got buried under a snow bank and I went without a vehicle for quite a spell. 
My old buddy Vinny “Bear” Pantera made sure I got to work at the Hamden Public Works Department every day.  Geez, I hope I thanked him enough.  Thought I saw Vinny one day a few years back when I was covering Rock Cats baseball, but it was his twin brother Mike.  That’s a mistake anybody can make.
Vinny played hockey for Hamden High during the years before Fairfield Prep made recruiting a priority.  I remember the twin rinks on Sherman Avenue hosting a team from Sweden and the place being packed.  Ah, the days when high school sports drew a crowd!  Vinny was a burly defensemen who patrolled a section of the ice where no West Haven forward would care to tread.
I can’t continue without paying homage to the Shultz clan.  Big Kirk and Little Richie, are the twins that look nothing alike.  Younger brother Scott yearned for the city life.  Youngest brother Bruce lives on a ranch in Montana. 
Middle brother Craig settled down in Hometown on followed in father Dutch’s footprints by pouring out his heart to youth sports, primarily girls basketball.  I remember when Craig took up lacrosse.  I wondered what the heck he would do that for.  Now, all these years later, I’ve covered my share of lacrosse and fully comprehend how he got attached to the sport.
Hey, I know I’ve missed a lot of good times and great people, particularly the great days when The Family – Ron Sambrook, Andy Vas, Johnny Coassin and Ray DeAngelis and I – were wandering Grateful Dead Heads.  The Great Bus Ride to see Jerry Garcia at Waterbury’s Palace Theater, courtesy of Ken Dubin, was a classic.  A longer one all the way to Norfolk, Va., courtesy of Lenny Young, was even crazier since it was something like 20 hours round trip. 

Thanks for letting me spout.  On this Father’s Day, I urge you to remember your families, remember your friends, remember those who have passed before us and do something nostalgic.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013


(Berlin Citizen exclusive)
VERNON  – The clouds were gathering in the first inning.
The Berlin High softball team used its patented small-ball style of offense to load the bases with no outs, but Rockville’s All-State pitcher Kaitlyn Lajoie struck out the third and fourth hitters in the Redcoats order.
Early momentum, so vital in a game where runs would almost surely be at a premium, was hanging in the balance. Exactly which way the game would turn rested with the next hitter, pitcher Makayla Harris.
Harris consummated a long at-bat with a two-run double to left and went on to pitch a gem in a 3-0 whitewash of the defending Class L champion and third-seeded Rams in a quarterfinal clash May 31 in the stifling heat at Rockville High School.
The memory of last year’s tournament ouster was thick in the air.
The sixth-seeded Redcoats were one pitch away from securing a second-round win at Brookfield 364 days earlier, but wound up losing 3-2 in eight innings. Berlin coach Jason Pires analyzed the game ad nauseam and took full responsibility. Harris, just a sophomore at the time, gained the kind of experience that nothing but playing the game can teach.
“I’d be lying if I said last year didn’t cross my mind when the bottom of the seventh started,” Pires said. “We’re not that team. I knew it wouldn’t happen again. I knew we were winning this game when it got to the seventh.”
Lajoie and Harris waged a memorable battle as opposing pitchers. Each gave up only three hits. Neither issued any walks. Lajoie struck out 10 and Harris countered with nine. The first inning at-bat was a microcosm of their personal battle.
Brittany Sullivan began the game by beating out a bunt. Megan Wicander tapped back to the mound but with the first baseman charging, the bag was left uncovered. Courtney Silvia slapped a grounder toward the hole. Third baseman Megan Gardiner made a diving stop, but Sullivan beat the throw to shortstop Emily Burg covering.
“We knew their game plan,” Rockville coach Frank Levick said. “We knew that first inning they were going to bunt the first four or five batters. Kids just didn’t cover the bags.
Two outs later, the burden of producing runs was on Harris.
In the midst of a 10-pitch at-bat, she rifled a liner outside the bag at third and it struck Sullivan in foul territory. Harris got a chance to breathe as the trainer tended to Sullivan. Emily Ference came on to pinch-run.
When a Lajoie delivery bounced to the backstop, Ference boldly dashed home with the first run.
“Put her name out there front and center,” Pires said. “Emily Ference doesn’t play much. She was a jayvee player a lot of the year. She came in in the hugest spot and that was an enormous thing she did taking off on that. We made them make the play and that was what we preached.
“I can’t be yelling at you to go or not go. You’ve got to make the decision and it’s got to be immediate and she got in.”
Harris ripped a double to left scoring the game’s final runs.
“I took a big breath and I was ready,” she said. “I had time to settle down [after the line drive struck Sullivan]. The team would have been a little more rattled if [the productive at-bat] hadn’t happened, but I’m sure we would have gotten pumped up in the end.”
As Pires said, Harris was the rest of the story.
A two-out error and a single by Stephanie Kurowski put runners at the corners for Rockville (20-2) in the second but Harris retired the side on a comebacker. Rockville managed an infield hit in the third and a single to center by Michelle Correia in the fourth but neither made it to second base.
Harris retired the final nine hitters.
“Makayla is not overpowering but no one hits spots like Makayla,” Pires said. “They’re not the first team that’s been frustrated by her. They think they’re going to smack her all over the place. They don’t and they don’t know why.
“It’s not fast but every pitch moves. Nothing is where they think it’s going to be. She throws three pitches and she throws them all well.”
Sullivan returned to the game after sustaining the ankle and was none the worse for wear.
Wicander made a running catch of a line drive by Rockville cleanup hitter Courtney Oliva leading off the fourth inning among her three putouts. Third baseman Kaitlyn Guild had two assists and a putout. Harris fielded her position flawlessly with two assists, as did first baseman Kat Burek with six putouts.
The Redcoats (20-3) advance to the semifinals to meet undefeated, second-seeded Masuk. Site and time were unavailable at press time.


Berlin 6, Rockville 4
(May 31, Rockville High)

Berlin                                                Rockville
                                    ab  r  h  bi                                        ab  r  h  bi
Sullivan ss                3  0  1  0         Skoly lf                    3  0  1  0
Ference pr                 0  1  0  0         Burg ss                    3  0  0  0
Wicander lf               3  1  0  0         Lajoie p                   3  0  0  0
Silvia cf                     3  1  0  0         Oliva rf                    3  0  0  0
Guild 3b                     3  0  1  0         Pettengill c              3  0  0  0
Burek 1b                    3  0  0  0         Correia 2b               3  0  1  0
Harris p                      3  0  1  2         Kurowski cf            2  0  1  0
Anderson rf              3  0  0  0         Turgeon ph             1  0  0  0
Veach dp                   2  0  0  0         Gardiner 3b             2  0  0  0
Germano 2b              0  0  0  0         Ose 1b                      2  0  0  0
Asal ph                      1  0  0  0
Patterson c                2  0  0  0
Totals                       26  3  3  2        Totals                       25  0  3  0

Berlin                        300 000 0 – 3   3   1
Rockville                  000 000 0 – 0   3   0

E –Sullivan. LOB – Berlin 2, Rockville 4. 2B – Harris.

                                            ip    h  r  er  bb  so
Harris W                            7     3   0   0   0   9

Lajoie L                             7    3    3   3   0 10

WP – Lajoie.  T – 1:23. A – 120.
Records – Berlin 20-3; Rockville 20-2.