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Shoring up against the erosion

On a day that should have elicited all smiles, grins were few and far between for Meriden Amateur Softball Association board members on Tri-Town Tournament Saturday.

The annual competition between slow-pitch teams from the city, Southington and Wallingford, so vibrant on the men’s side for the first 14 years of its triumphant existence, took another step backward when only the Meriden ‘A’ Division champion was ready to play.

Southington failed to send a team for the third straight year. It was the first defection on the part of Wallingford. Parks and recreation leaders in both those towns exhausted every possibility before throwing up their arms on the eve of the tournament.

There’s really no one to blame. Collectively, the hearts and minds of ‘A’ level slow-pitch guys have obviously changed since I last trudged out of a batter’s box.

The first question I kept asking MASA men Doug Wedge and Dan Terribile is why?

The second was, what do you do now?

The best solution to Question 2 is to change the event to an “early-bird” tournament. The conflict with the ever-growing, alluring regional and national tournaments is too great.

It’s regrettable that this burning desire to be number one supersedes a community event that has always served to bring people together -- not just the players, but the people surrounding the teams who made a pleasant, inexpensive day of it.

Which brings me to Question 1. As I see it, times have changed and not for the better. With every passing day, I observe a growing number of people who can’t see beyond their own needs.

It reminds me of a timeless Mark Twain story about “Professor Personal Pronoun,” an egomaniac public speaker of the highest order. When the story ended prematurely, Twain explained that it was “impossible to print his lecture in full, as the type-cases had run out of capital I’s.”

Managers of these ‘A’ Division teams have more capital I’s than they can bear these days, which sure beats the stuffing out of the meaning behind “team” sports. Wedge, Terribile, Tri-Town’s founding father Bill Farm and Southington recreation director Dave Lapreay certainly have done their due diligence to solve the problem. They can’t buck what seems to be a cultural phenomenon.

“Back when I played, your team was your team. You didn’t go play anywhere else. You went wherever your team was playing,” MASA chairman Wedge said. “Today it’s a little different.”

So while the women’s Tri-Town situation couldn’t be much better, what will become of the men’s game?

“I hate to see the thing die,” Wedge said. “Bill Farm started this thing and did an awful lot of work for a lot of years. They’re the only ones that did it and sustained it. They made it what it is today. I don’t want to see it die and I don’t think he wants to either.”

Wedge said the potential success of moving it forward to a preseason event may be rooted in recent developments in MASA’s Fall Ball league. Weather devastated every attempt to run the playoffs in that circuit, so the only option was playing in the spring.

“We set the playoffs in June from the year before and they all came back,” he said. “We were up here on a Saturday and they made a whole outing of it. We had a blast. Everybody got together. They loved it. Going early with it may be the answer.”

The dwindling support for so many events painstakingly organized for the purpose of bringing communities together is alarming. When I was growing up, we had neighborhood parties. Now, I hardly even know any of my neighbors other than to wave as they whiz by.

Baseball was a common bond between communities back in the days when barnstorming – finding whose town team is best – was a way of life. The complexities of contemporary life in America, particularly in the areas most heavily populated, have caused people to live at a far more hectic pace. The building blocks that made our country what it is today are slowly crumbling away.

I don’t expect an early-bird Tri-Town Tournament to rekindle the yearning for simpler, gentler times but, go for it, MASA!

Schedule the event for mid-June, just after the high school tournaments end, and we’ll see if this once-dynamic event has a future.



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