Login

A NW Corner baseball season to remember

October traditionally heralds in baseball’s Major League World Series, the “Fall Classic.” August ushers in an annual “Summer Classic” of its own, the Connecticut American Legion State Baseball Tournament. Fifty years ago in 1968, the Sharon team of Legion Post 126 played in that tournament.

Before qualifying for the tournament, Sharon had to clinch their Zone 6 championship. It was a Zone weighed heavily in favor of annual powerhouses Waterbury and Torrington. In a recent conversation with Sharon outfielder, Art Walters, Art recalled that season’s opening game against Waterbury played at Veteran’s Field in Sharon. 

Waterbury was shockingly shut out 1-0. Many likely thought it was a fluke win. Or might it have been the type of win that against an opponent of such caliber set the tone for the season? The roster, comprised mostly of Housatonic Valley Regional High School players with a smattering of New York Staters, such as Tom Downey and Barry Bartlett, just kept winning. Yet the entire season eventually came down to a single pivotal game one night in Torrington at Fuessenich Park. The winner would likely head to the state tournament. In dramatic fashion, Sharon was ensured of the Zone 6 championship with a thrilling 2-1 win and were on their way.

The state tournament was represented by the champions of all the statewide zones. Playing at Muzzy Field in Bristol against the likes of New Canaan, Stratford, Bristol, Middletown, Norwich, South Windsor and defending champions West Haven would be a daunting task. As Pat Drewry of the Waterbury Republican once noted, “Most fans were anxious to see the team which broke Torrington and Waterbury’s hold on the Zone 6 title.”

Another writer who had covered the tournament remarked how physically small the team was. Third baseman, Pat Daneen, who would eventually earn the MVP for the tournament, was all of 5-foot-4. Lakeville’s double-play combo of Doug and Dave McArthur gave a serious run at Kent’s 135-pound pitcher; that was me. However, the team proved to be filled with heavyweights beating New Canaan and Middletown, as they moved deeper into the tournament. With teams being eliminated in a double elimination scenario, a loss to West Haven put Sharon at the brink. As circumstances unfolded, the tournament dwindled to three finalists (West Haven, Middletown, and Sharon), each with a loss. A coin flip decided the first pairing: West Haven versus Sharon. Middletown would face the winner.

As stipulated, since Middletown was to host the Regional Tournament at Palmer Field and get an automatic bye into it, the winner of the West Haven/Sharon contest would qualify for the regionals as well.

The Sharon faithful were out in force for that crucial 9-inning West Haven encounter. As I remarked to a reporter at the time, “To stand out on the mound and see the bleachers behind our dugout filled with such vocal fans was quite a moment.” They would not be denied. Sharon qualified for the Regional Tournament with a 3-1 win over the defending state champions. 

In the Regional Tournament, Sharon was defeated by New Hampshire and then Massachusetts. Some say Sharon was defeated by a lefty on that Manchester, N.H., team who was none other than future Baltimore Oriole Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan.

Nevertheless, Sharon had what most in the Northwest Corner would agree was a season to remember. Manager Bob Cunningham, coach Fred Amerighi and assistant coach Andy Russo put a memorable team together. Fred Amerighi’s young pig-tailed daughter, Linda, even got into the act serving as the team’s batgirl. Tom Belter, John Negri, catcher Mike Cleveland (who had to fight through a case of the mumps), Tom Kearcher and the rest of that Sharon squad had one heck of a Legion season 50 years ago.

                                                                                                                                                    

Tony Oskwarek lived in Kent while at HVRHS and Western Connecticut State University, where he earned a degree in elementary education. He is retired after 44 years of teaching in Clinton, still home to Tony and Cynthia, his wife of 46 years. Two sons reside in Boston and a daughter and two granddaughters make their home in Napa, Calif.