Merchants, Expos may be in their twilight

MERIDEN — Jacques Barzun (1907-2012) had all the attributes to rank among America’s premier cultural scholars.

He was born in France, moved to America as a teenager and lived to be 104-years-old, thus witnessing the rise of baseball as our national pastime, and its gradual fall from grace.

His most remembered quotation, as far as sports historians are concerned, states, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Rob Tencza and David Giglio may not be cognizant of their connection to Barzun, but nobody represents the philosopher’s view in today’s fast-paced society better than they do.

Barzun experienced baseball’s golden age when the game was appreciated from sea to shining sea. Tencza, the personnel director for the Meriden Merchants in the Greater Hartford Twilight League, and Giglio, who does the same for the Connecticut Expos, are lingering examples of the kind of throwbacks who influenced Barzun’s reflection.

Tencza and Giglio are trying to promote, nurture and extend grass-roots baseball at a time when so many of their contemporaries don’t appreciate the game because “it moves to slow” or “it’s boring.” The multitude have gravitated toward football, basketball, soccer, hockey and, most recently, lacrosse.

Perhaps Tencza and Giglio are the last of their kind. Players are getting harder and harder to recruit. When they do get them on board, they have to collect expenses and inspire attendance. Both the Merchants and Expos have large rosters, yet neither had the luxury of extra players when they met for a modified doubleheader at Ceppa Field on Friday evening.

For the record, the Merchants won a previously suspended game 5-4 in the 12th inning on a run-scoring infield hit by Justin Poirier. They completed the sweep, 4-0, behind former Berlin High All-Stater and Kansas City Royals draft choice, left-hander Ryan DiPietro.

“This kind of depicts what kind of team we are,” Tencza said. “We score a couple runs and we get good pitching. Our guys throw strikes and have above-average arms.”

Tencza’s Merchants have pulled even at 8-8. Giglio can only dream of such mediocrity with his Wallingford-based club sitting at 1-16.

Both, however, will play in the GHTBL playoffs, which are slated to start at McKenna Field, East Hartford, a week from Tuesday.

Both are expecting full postseason rosters, something which happens rarely for them during a regular season that neither precludes any of its dwindling six-team membership nor inspires attendance. Both show the strain of trying to keep their organizations afloat amid the contemporary challenges associated with earning a living and starting a family. Both believe in the talent they have, but Tencza’s noticeably has better balance.

“We have talent, we just don’t have any pitchers ... or [middle] infielders,” Giglio said. “We make a lot errors. We’re all out of position.”

Giglio, who had a trying night at third base, is not a third baseman. Like any good leader, he puts himself where his team needs him the most. He was primarily a first baseman at Xavier and during a productive career at the University of Scranton.

His cousin Mike Guarnieri played shortstop, but he’s not a shortstop. Guarnieri played the outfield for Sheehan and Anna Maria College in Worcester, Mass.

“We’re having a tough go of it right now,” Guarnieri said, “but if we get the right guys to come to the games at the right times I think we can make a run in the playoffs. We basically have about five first basemen and the rest are outfielders. We’ve got to look for ways to fill the positions we need.”

Twice during the Merchants’ three-run third inning in Friday’s nightcap, routine singles scooted under the gloves of outfielders and did damage. Tencza, Poirier and Ricky Marrero had successive hits to key the rally.

“We make a lot of errors in key spots,” Giglio said. “We don’t have a shortstop or a second baseman that shows up every game and our pitching isn’t good enough to make up for it. We’re hoping we can get everyone here for the playoffs. If we get everyone here, we can be competitive.”

The Merchants’ starting rotation makes them a viable tournament team with DiPietro, Tyler Donnan and Eric Polvani. Tencza said former Maloney star Charlie Hesseltine is getting the old left wing in shape for another stretch. Tencza can also pitch, but his role as the anchor of the infield is vital to the defense.

Marrero, the right fielder who drove in two runs in Friday’s nightcap, drew Tencza’s praise.

“He’s a good bat and a good guy to have around,” he said. “He’s always talking and he’s a great teacher.”

Marrero played at Platt and the University of New Haven.

DiPietro scattered four singles, fanned six and didn’t walk a batter in six innings. Donnan notched the save with a scoreless seventh.



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