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Pitch in for keepers of the flame

If all you true baseball fans will gather around the campfire, I’ll tell you a story about something I learned about the game over the last month.

The baseball being played in these Twilight Leagues by our former high school and college stars can be as entertaining as any ballgame you’ve ever watched.

OK, to the person who raised his hand and said, “Sorry, if I don’t pay $100 a ticket, travel through miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, pay the equivalence of a month’s rent to park my car, eat ballpark franks that are cold in the middle and get the chance to vote for all my favorite Sox/Yanks for the All-Star team, I ain’t goin’” You’re dismissed!

Go take a walk in the woods, a dip in the cold stream and admit you don’t know the difference between a safety squeeze and a passed ball.

A true fan can go the A. Bartlett Giamatti Leadership and Training Center in Bristol, watch Little Leaguers play and have their baseball urges satisfied.

From the time the snow melts until June, a true fan can go to beautiful Fiondella Field at the University of Hartford, refurbished Balf-Savin Field at Central Connecticut or visit historic Yale Field and enjoy a day of college baseball.

If you can discern which high school teams are worth watching, you can catch a glimpse of some darned good ball, too.

What, no $10 cups of lukewarm beer, no cold, rubbery $6 ballpark franks, no cardboard pizza so John Henry can offset the cost of his next free agent?

Come on, be creative. A six-pack of beer is available to those 21 and over whom I trust will drink responsibly. Add one bag of ice at the very same stop for ultimate satisfaction. You want a great hot dog or some exceptional pizza? I will gladly suggest local outlets to purchase plenty of both, which the smiling cashiers will package gladly and snugly for your road trip.

When it comes to the Hartford Twilight League, Jane Foss and company will grill you up a thick burger, juicy hot dog and the hand-bagged peanuts make a crunchy dessert.

But let’s go beyond the amenities. The baseball I got to see was bottom-of-the-ninth, full-count terrific.

Now, for the reason why I’ve gathered all of you here today.

The young men who operate these local teams can use a moderate financial boost to keep a great thing going strong. Kevin Weir does a terrific job keeping the Star Auto lineup intact through a 20-plus game season. Meriden Merchants Rob Tencza and Trey Bongiovanni must never sleep as they fill the offseason roles of equipment manager, traveling secretary and salesman. The same goes for David Giglio, who is gamely trying to keep the Connecticut Expos flourishing.

As a former Eastern League general manager whose job was to fill the seats, I have some ideas. I can hardly make them happen alone though, and remember that Meriden and Wallingford are still quite new to me, but here goes.

I envision a tournament sometime in June after the high schools and colleges are through. It can be played at Ceppa Field, Pat Wall Field, Legion Field or maybe even Choate. A very nominal fee would be charged – say $2 or $3 – or perhaps it’s easier to simply pass the hat.

A 50-50 raffle would be a great boost; five bucks for an arm’s length.

Somebody would bring a couple of grills, burgers and dogs, a few buckets full of ice and an assortment of soft drinks for everyone’s convenience. Maybe some benevolent souls would even consider donating some of these goodies.

Speaking of benevolence, I’ll bet there are even potential sponsors waiting in the wings anxious to affix their names to the tournament. The car dealers have been magnanimous in their financial gestures, so perhaps they would help. Heck, I’d be prone to buy my next vehicle from someone who supports local baseball. How about you?

I’ll fulfill my end of the deal by writing about it.

Whatever proceeds come in will be split among the three or four teams that participate in the tournament so they can represent our towns well in their respective leagues.

Plus, I’m aching to know who would win a series between the Merchants and Star Auto. Ryan DiPietro hurls against Liam Ohlmann in game one? Eric Polvani hooks up against John Skinner in game two? Those would be scintillating match-ups and serve as a great competition to start the 2014 amateur season.

Dollars are short for these teams and guys like Giglio, Tencza, Bongiovanni and Weir have a lot on their plate. A couple of bucks admission, a burger and soda, and an entry into a raffle won’t set any one of us back too much. Collectively, it will help advance a grass-roots phenomena that reaches back into the 1930s and ignite a civic-minded spirit that sure seems to be on the wane these days.

Maybe I’m a cockeyed, old-fashioned idealist, but I’ve had my heart warmed after watching these boys of summer play solely for the love of America’s game. Let’s help them keep playing.



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