MERIDEN – Field 1 at Benjamin Nessing Memorial Park stood vacant for most of Saturday afternoon while the women’s slow-pitch softball teams were playing five Tri-Town Tournament games under glorious sunshine on Field 2.
The Meriden Amateur Softball Association Board worked long and hard on Thursday and Friday with Parks and Recreation league directors from Southington and Wallingford to find competition for Meriden’s men’s ‘A’ Division champion Davidson Company Dirt Dogs, but their efforts proved fruitless.
Players from the top suburban ‘A’ teams had scattered, ostensibly to play with other teams in other towns.
Officials tried to find ‘B’ teams willing to represent their towns, but to no avail. How effective that might have been is anyone’s guess, but the gap between divisions probably would have resulted in a Dirt Dog walk-over.
The empty field cast a shadow on a tournament that had become an institution since its inception in 1997. MASA, headed by board chairman Doug Wedge, is contemplating what changes can be made to restore Tri-Town’s allure for the men.
“It’s disappointing. I’m a little pissed,” Wedge said with a candor tinged by anger and frustration. “We look forward to this. We put on a good show for them. Especially last-minute, it’s just not right.”
Board member Dan Terribile was diligent in his efforts to draw teams from the suburban towns, sending emails out in mid-July.
Bill Farm, softball league supervisor for the Wallingford Parks and Recreation Department, graciously hosted Tri-Town for most of its existence. This year he tirelessly worked to find a representative up until the last minute, but came up empty. He made a pitch to the town’s ‘B’ Division championship game Thursday night, but came away empty.
“[Most of the players] don’t appreciate what the [MASA] board does,” Farm said. “They don’t have a clue. I understand players have other commitments. We all have them. Somewhere along the line you have to set priorities.”
Southington has failed to come up with teams for the last two years. Last year, VFW-Wallingford swept two-time defending champion Ryder’s on Main-Meriden.
This year, Davidson was expecting a challenge from G & G Beverages, but it never materialized. While G & G didn’t finish first in the regular season, the team emerged victorious from the playoffs.
Looking ahead, some of the alternatives include inviting Middletown, which Wedge and Farm said has shown interest in the past.
Another is to use the regular season results instead of the town playoffs to gain Tri-Town berths. That way, team managers would be able to arrange their schedules for the weekends ahead in kind.
But the concept that appears most appealing to MASA is to switch the tournament from its late-August perch to a preseason fest. Champions from 2013, for example, would represent their towns at a restructured Tri-Town “early-bird” tournament sometime in June 2014.
The women also would be asked to make the switch at the sake of maintaining the “buzz.”
Wedge preferred to consider the issues from a Wallingford and Southington perspective rather than offering criticism.
“We welcome them to come and play,” he said. “We’ll talk about it as a board and talk to Southington and Wallingford … It’s not only a good way to get the Tri-Town in but to start meshing as a team for the season.”
MASA’s executives are trying to make a comprehensive analysis of why the tournament has faded before bringing anything to a vote.
“I don’t know what it’s a sign of,” Wedge said. “There are a lot of guys who are playing in a lot of other tournaments, but you always represented your town. The other thing is a lot of guys will play on a team in town and different teams in tournaments. [Years ago] we stayed together.”
Teams with high state, regional and national aspirations have a tendency to bring in power hitters to a scene where home runs have become so prevalent that in many leagues limits have to be set on how many a team can hit. The noble idea of representing your hometown has fallen on hard times.
Davidson, Wedge said, is an exception to the rule.
“Davidson is refreshing because they want to keep their team together. They’re kind of like old-school,” he said. “Their team plays together in Branford, it plays together in Meriden, it plays together in tournaments. That’s the way they want it. They’re a throwback to the way it should be.”
The Meriden representative in the women’s tournament – North Italian Home Club/Conn. Presort – has beaten back the city competition to get to the Tri-Town for 15 years in a row. NIHC has now gone three years without winning the crown …
Grace’s Diner of Southington, Saturday’s winner, also won in 2011 and 2007. Fosdick Fulfillment, which lost to Grace’s in Saturday’s title game by one run, won it in 2012 …
Similar themes continue to emerge in the women’s tournament. MVP Liz Collins of Grace’s was 3-for-3 in the 2012 title game, which was also decided by one run …
Wallingford hosted the tournament for the first 13 years. Meriden hosted in 2010 and 2011. It returned to West Side Field in Wallingford last year before returning to Meriden Saturday. Southington has never hosted and there were murmurings among the players that the time has come. The tourney rules are based on the rules in the host’s leagues.