Itâ€™s been a gloomy winter. Rain and snow and sleet and plenty of dark clouds have been the norm. The political environment has been nasty, with name calling galore, and ominous internationalÂ incidents perhaps portending difficult times ahead. Trade wars and potential nuclear proliferation haunt us. Economists hint of a possible return to a bear market, and each week seems to bring a new revelation of some sort of an unprecedented scandal, such as bribery to get into a prestigious college.
But a ray of light has begun to shine through all the bad news - as it does every year at this time. Itâ€™s the beginning of a new baseball season, with the crown jewel being, in my eyes, Opening Day at Fenway Park. (No disrespect to the Yankees and Mets fans among us, who both won their openers Thursday, the Yankees at home, the Mets on the road.) I, like thousands of others, will be able to put all the bad news on hold for one sparkling day on April 9, as the 2018 World Champion Red Sox inaugurate the 2019 home season. No appointments for me that day, for Iâ€™ll be ensconced in my Fenway seat watching all of theÂ glorious pageantry unfold as New England welcomes its national pastime.
The opening of the new season represents a clean slate, as we are all filled with hope and expectation, while still reliving all of our past baseball memories at the same time.
BASEBALL IN CENTRAL CONNECTICUT
While fans all over the country celebrated opening days Thursday, baseball enjoys a special fondness for anyone from New Britain, Bristol and the towns of central Connecticut. New BritainÂ has always been a baseball town. Over the years, teams representing athletic clubs, businesses and other organizations have fielded some formidable players. The New Britain Industrial League produced an especially high quality of baseball, similar to what is seen in many current day minor professional leagues. Some of the great athletes who played on various New Britain teams were Marty Greco, Bill Huber, John Dobek (who batted number three in front of Hall of Famer Henry Aaron at one point in his career), Stan Pac, the Vieira brothers, power hitter Ken Cullum, fireballer Steve Dalkowski (who Ted Williams reportedly said was the faster pitcher he ever saw), and enormously successful UConnÂ baseball coach Andy Baylock. They all contributed to the cityâ€™s baseball folklore. Of course New Britain now claims its special hero, 2017 World Series MVP George Springer.
The list is endless and naming just a few insures many omissions.
Minor League baseball in New Britain and Bristol has brought us the likes of Roger Clemens, David Ortiz, Mo Vaughn, Wade Boggs Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Joe Mauer, A.J.Pierzynski, Ellis Burks, Butch Hobson, Torii Hunter and countless others who have made it to the â€ťbigs.â€ť
The New Britain Red Sox even had appearances by then Commissioner Fay Vincent and Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Muzzy FieldÂ boasts an appearance by undoubtedly the most famous baseball player of all time, the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth, as well as other icons Casey Stengel, Jimmie Foxx and Warren Spahn.
The traditionÂ proudly continues with the New Britain Bees of the independent Atlantic League. (The Bees kick off their season away April 26, but host opening day in New Britain May 3.)
Weâ€™ve had some great baseball players come out of our local schools coached byÂ stalwarts, such as Bill Huber (who went on to become New Britainâ€™s Director of Athletics and the cityâ€™sÂ unofficial sports historian), globetrotting Ken Kezer (who tutored so many, including future major leaguers), and now Roberto Mercado, whose reputation as a skilled coach goes far beyond New Britain. So too, have we seen great players at area high schools, and, of course, CCSU. Even our Little League teams have been among the finest in the country and have been the training ground for so many of New Britainâ€™s baseball talent.
New Britain has alsoÂ seen its share of fine baseball management and front office wizards such asÂ incomparable Joe Buzas, Gerry Berthiaume, prominent attorney (and New Britain native) Coleman Levy,Â and veteran attorney Bill Dowling, who held senior positions with the New York Yankees.
BASEBALL OVEREMPHASIZED LOCALLY?
At times, some have said New Britain was too baseball crazy. In fact, the 1932 Annual Report of the New Britain Municipal Recreation Commission reported â€śthough it be the opinion of some that baseball is overemphasized, the interest and enthusiasm in the game demands that it be given prominence.â€ť The enthusiasm for the game only increased since those fateful words in 1932. It continues today as New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart has called baseball a â€śstaple of the New Britain community.â€ť
While I doubt that statistics are kept on baseball diamonds per capita, Iâ€™d wager New Britain is right up there with any other city, with one ofÂ the highest number of baseball fields.
THE GAME AND ITS FUTURE
Oh sure, the game has lost some of its allure nationally and locally in recent years. Big league salaries are insane, the gameÂ is frustratingly slow, and the cost of attending a big league game and enjoying a bag of peanuts, soda and hot dog might require tapping into oneâ€™s home equity line of credit. (Although itâ€™s always a bargain and great value to attend a New Britain Bees game.)
And with so many economic pressures, young people are forced to take jobs and cannot always enjoy the luxury of time spent on a slow paced game in the â€śfield of dreams.â€ť
Things have the potential ofÂ getting a little better as ownership andÂ the playersâ€™ union are talking about pace of play changes, although modest, which might make the game more attractive to the next generation. Limiting mound visits and the unnecessary chitchat, requiring a pitcher to face at least three batters and a pitch clockÂ are just some of the improvements that either have been implemented or could be brought into the fold soon.
But whatever its shortcomings, during the first warm days of spring, when the sun shines generously and the grass becomes verdant, baseball reigns supreme, both locally and nationally.
Scholars and authors have hinted we love the game because it is a reflection of the human condition itself. A new hope, a new beginning: A fresh awakening from a bleak season. A reflection of our own successes and failures.
As former Yale President and Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti advised us, sport is â€śakin to artâ€ť andÂ that there is even a religious quality to it. He urged that weÂ â€śTake Time for Paradise.â€ť
So whatever our station in life, whatever our mood, whatever weâ€™ve been through in the winter, the sap of new hope is present all over the country as opening day arrives. Whether rooting for the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Bees, Bristol Blues, or whomever, whether living in Boston, New York, New Britain or Bristol, we all await the shouting of the magic and soothing words â€“ Play Ball!