CEREMONIES: ‘He put a lifetime into it.’ Platt baseball field now bears the name of retiring athletic director Rich Katz

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MERIDEN — Former Platt baseball player, coach and now retiring athletic director Rich Katz had his day on Thursday, a day he will never forget.

More than 200 former players, family, friends and students were on hand for a ceremony at the newly named Rich Katz Field at Platt.

Platt principal Daniel Corsetti spoke at the event, staged in the outfield of Katz Field. So did Mayor Kevin Scarpati, School Superintendent Mark Benigni and the president of the Meriden Board of Education, Rob Kosienski, Jr. This honor was unanimously approved by the Meriden Board of Education earlier this year.

Katz was sitting in the front row of seats with his wife Laurie to his right and son David to his left.

Corsetti referred to Katz as the Godfather of Platt Athletics.

“Coach Katz was a legendary baseball coach at Platt, making two state final appearances and winning it all in 1986,” Corsetti said. “He dedicated countless hours to the game he loved and, as athletic director, he’s built a program that gives all students the opportunity to learn and play at the highest level abilities on a field that is second to none.

“Everything you see here is a result of Coach Katz’s vision, leadership and dedication.”

Benigni said after 45 years of Katz making it about others, Thursday was all about him.

“No one is more deserving to have their legacy viewed every day at the Platt High School baseball field than you,” Benigni said. “You played with some of the best players. You coached some of the best players and you made the difference for thousands and of thousands of Meriden’s youth. This field dedication is just one small way for everyone here today to say thank you and we appreciate you.”

Kosienski called Katz a legend.

“The definition of a legend is a person who has had great impact on a community culture, and that certainly defines this man,” Kosienski said. “His impact on the Platt community and the culture of sports in the Meriden Public Schools system and throughout the State of Connecticut has been second to none. People hear that name Rich Katz and it’s immediately respect. It’s immediately a person that has touched thousands upon thousands of students, coaches and athletes. He is truly deserving of the title of a legend.”

Scarpati, a Platt alum, said Katz has an immense presence at the halls of Platt High School as a leader. He presented Katz with a formal proclamation declaring June 1, 2023 as Richard Katz Day in the City of Meriden.

“Rich has been on committees that make sure not only baseball, but sports continue to have a well-known presence and impact on our community,” Scarpati said. “The love this man has not only for Platt High School, but every student in our district and every school in our state, is immeasurable.”

Behind Katz were a collection of former Platt baseball players who returned to pay homage to their coach. 

Edward J. Siebert, a member of the Class of 1981, was a catcher and a captain under Katz.

“One story I remember about Coach Katz is a pitcher of ours, Scott Covington, in practice challenged Coach Katz and told him he was going to strike him out,” Siebert said. “He had to throw 10 strikes and Coach Katz said he would hit seven of them out, otherwise we had to run to Red Bridge and back and then weed the infield. He hit eight of them out and I say to him to this day that one of them landed at Legion, one landed on top of Wilcox.

“Coach Katz could hit a ball a mile. It was just unbelievable.”

Siebert said Katz’s legacy will live on after he affected generations and generations of athletes in town.

“We looked up to him and we were in awe of him and still are because he gave himself to the community,” Siebert said. “As Platt Panthers, we were blessed to have him give his life to the kids. This is his forever and that’s a beautiful thing.” 

Brian Frederick, a 1998 Platt grad, was on one of the last teams Katz coached.

“He was the best instructor I’ve ever had,” Frederick said. “He was able to explain things and made it easy for us to translate it on the baseball field. He was always saying simple phrases during a game and during practices, and they kind of just stuck with you during practice and during the game. I think that helped us with our confidence. Those little things were crucial for us when we played. Those phrases stuck with me and I could always hear his voice in the batter’s box or in the field in my head as reminders during the course of the game.”

Frederick said Katz left his mark at Platt.

“You can make an argument that he built this baseball field and he built the Platt baseball program. There were some dominant teams in the ’80s and in the early ’90s,” Frederick said. “He’s leaving this program in a great state. I don’t think words can express what he’s meant to Platt High School and Platt Athletics and to baseball. He put a lifetime into it and I think the number of people here today speaks volumes of what he was a coach and a person and as an educator and a friend.” 

Dan Wodatch, Platt Class of 1979, first played for Katz as an 8-year old in Connie Mack Little League for Roman Oil, then again in Senior League. When Wodatch arrived for his freshman year at Platt, it was Katz’s first season as head coach.

“I had him as my coach for a long, long time. He is a sweetheart of a man and you never want to cross him either. He expected you to work hard,” Wodatch said.

“This day has been super-emotional for him, but I think he realizes how much we care about him,” Wodatch continued. “His imprint is here on this field and so many kids and so many players and so many teachers. He does it with integrity and does it with quietness. That’s how he coaches and that’s what he taught us to do. He taught us to work hard, be nice and be gentlemen. There’s no more a gentleman than him and it was a pleasure playing for him and a pleasure being a friend of his.”

Current Platt baseball head coach and 1991 Panther grad Bryan McCarty said Katz deserves every accolade he’s getting. The current Platt baseball team was in attendance Thursday and unveiled the new scoreboard in right field that now bears Katz’s name. There’s also big banner behind the backstop facing the Oregon Road.

 “It’s important for the kids to see this and it’s pretty awesome that alumni came back as well,” McCarty said. “He’s very humble about it, but he deserves all of it.”

Ricky Marrero, a 1992 Platt grad who now is the Maloney baseball head coach, said Katz gave him some structure playing baseball.

“We do everything like he did, and he had tough love,” Marrero said. “He’s awesome. We made it two years in a row to the quarterfinals with Coach Katz. We had a 16-4 season and a 15-5 season. It was awesome and a great experience.

“Rich is a great guy and was really tough on us when were in high school, but I’m glad he was,” Marrero added. “It made all of the difference in the world in my life.”

Platt 1994 grad Billy Rich was, like Katz, a Major League draft pick. Rich is now head baseball coach at Lyman Hall.

“Coach Katz was very inspirational to me over the years,” Rich said. “I see him as a role model and a motivator. Rich Katz is one of the reasons why I pursued baseball as much as I did. He was a positive influence on me from the moment I walked into the doors of high school.” 

Rich said he heard the legendary Katz stories about his All-American playing days at Platt.

“I think this day is a sense of pride for him to see everyone come back and all of the lives he has touched and who he’s inspired,” Rich said. “This is a good tribute to him and it means a lot. It’s a special day to honor Coach Katz.”

Katz’s brother Dave said Rich deserved the honor. The brothers started playing on the fields of Platt at eight year old.

“This was a long time coming,” Dave Katz said. “He wasn’t looking for this, but it was a great honor. He’s pretty closed-mouth about this kind of stuff, but I think this means a great deal to him. This is nothing he was looking for or nothing he expected, but I think he’s really touched. There’s people here that put a lot of time putting this together. His love of this school is sincere. He loves Platt High School.”

One of Katz’s sons, David, said his dad will be quiet, but that Thursday’s ceremony meant so much to him.

“I have to give credit to Trish Wodatch and Mark Benigni for rounding up the troops to come on a Thursday at 3:30,” David Katz said. “This his home and honors my dad’s legacy. The Meriden Day was a complete surprise to him. Listen, he lives three miles down the road and gets to go by this every day still.”

David Katz also mentioned the Rich Katz Baseball Classic which will begin next spring when Platt hosts Maloney in baseball. The winner each year will win the Katz Trophy and will hold it for the ensuing year until the next Platt-Maloney game hosted by Platt. A ceremony was held last month unveiling the Katz Baseball Classic.

After a stellar career at Platt, Katz was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1970 as a high school senior, but didn't sign. Instead, he went to Jacksonville University and hit .375 in his college career.

As an All-American senior at JU in 1973, Katz hit .396 and was the national RBI champion for all levels of college baseball with 67. He led the Dolphins in every major offensive category as a senior and was offered a free agent contract from the Kansas City Royals in 1973 before being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1974 MLB Draft.

Katz coached Platt baseball from 1976 to 2000. He oversaw league championships in 1985, 86, 91 and 92. The Panthers were the state runners-up in 1984 and won it all in 1986. That ’86 team holds the program record for wins in a season with 22.

Katz has been a physical education teacher at Platt since 1983. He developed and completely funded a cardio room at Platt and was the interim assistant principal in the 1990-91 school year.

He's had coaching stints in girls swimming, boys swimming, JV boys soccer as well as baseball. He's also been a water safety instructor and First Aid/CPR/AED instructor.

Prior to his time at Platt, Katz had stints as a physical education instructor at Lincoln Middle School, Israel Putnam School and Benjamin Franklin School and at the Meriden Boys Club.

He started and funded the first middle school baseball team in Meriden in 1980. He coached baseball and soccer at Lincoln. Katz also coached baseball at Middlesex Community College.

Katz served on the Mayor's Task Force for the Meriden Parks and Recreation Department in 1987 and again in 2016. He was commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department in 1980.

He's coached in the Connie Mack Little League, Jimmy Burns Babe Ruth League and Intermediate League in Meriden. He was a member of the Meriden Intermediate Baseball League Board of Directors and Silver City Baseball League Board of Directors.

He's been recognized nationally. Katz received the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Outstanding Service Award in 2012, 2017 and 2022.

He was Teacher of the Year at Platt in 2020. He earned the New Haven Basketball Officials Association Babe Amendola Award for courtesies extended above the norm in 2018.

He was a Meriden Sportsman Of Distinction in 2011 and co-founded the Platt High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. Katz was inducted into the Jacksonville University Hall of Fame in 1995.

“This is very special to have everyone show up, like my former players. It’s a great honor,” Katz said. “My name is all over the place here and it’s a great honor. The field looks fantastic. They did a nice job with the fencing. This is a great facility and I picked the right job.”


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