The day - especially Norwich: From baseball in the backyard to the big leagues

The day – especially Norwich: From baseball in the backyard to the big leagues

For those of us who are baseball fans, this time of year may be the most exciting, with playoffs culminating in the World Series. Of course, play after the season is much more exciting if our team qualifies for the playoffs.

In this COVID-shortened season, the New York Yankees qualified, and the other two “local” teams, the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, did not. The Yankees have since been eliminated, and most of this area’s attention is now focused on professional football. (Of course, if you’re looking for one of the football teams in New York, the season is already as good as over as the Jets at this writing are 0-6 and the Giants are 1-5. With Tom Brady gone, the Patriots may just is deadly this season.)

Then back to baseball.

My first memory of the World Series was the 1963 Fall Classic between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees had won the previous two series and three of the last five, so I assumed when I ran home from school and clicked on my transistor radio along the way that they would be comfortable in the lead on their way to a third championship in a row.

At that time, World Series games were played in the afternoon. Many fans, however, were skeptical of what happened in Game 1.

The starting Dodgers beat the Yankees – and actually dominated them – when Cy Young’s award-winning pitcher Sandy Koufax had been virtually naughty, hitting a league record 15 hits en route to a 5-2 victory. The Dodgers won the next three games in a shocking sweep of the Yankees.

This year, the Dodgers are back in the series for the third time in the last four seasons and play the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams reached the Fall Classic by winning exciting seven-game series, which fortunately seems to have aroused interest in our national pastime.

Baseball was a part of life when we were kids in Norwich. We played some kind of baseball every day on the school playground during the free minutes. After school was out in the summer, some of us played baseball from morning until it was too dark to see the ball.

My best friend at the time, Kenny Armstrong, had a large backyard with a hedge at the north end of the family property on the New London Turnpike. If you hit the ball over the stern, it was a home run. If we had enough children, we would play real baseball; otherwise it was pickles, sacrificial fly, pitch-and-catch or other creative variety.

We had north-south games. Kenny wanted to recruit children who lived south of his home; I wanted to pick up children who lived north, as I did on Newton Street.

They were good fights with Kenny, the three Monahan brothers – John, Bob and Fran – Dave and Jimmy McCaffrey who led the charge for the southern team. Bo Cipriani, Paul and Alan Berman, Neil Brown and Rich and Bobby Lenkiewicz play for our side.

Rain did not mean we could not play baseball either. Kenny and I spent hours playing Strat-O-Matic baseball, scaling and flipping baseball cards, or making scrapbooks full of baseball stories and newspaper pictures.

Kenny’s father, Ken Sr., trained our Sts. Peter & Paul Farm System team up for a league championship with Kenny, Fran Monahan, Gil Lamphere, Jim Auwood and Don Crouch among those on our team.

On days when we did not play ball in Kenny’s backyard, we played at the nearby John B. Stanton School as part of the City of Norwich summer playground program. We would play teams from other playgrounds like Samuel Huntington School, West Side, Greenville and Laurel Hill.

As our big game on Hamilton Avenue approached, we heard stories about a boy on the team who was supposed to be the best player in town at his age – Gary Caulfield. Well, he showed us why that day hitting two towering homes runs over the fence when Hamilton Avenue shattered our dreams of a city championship.

Caulfield, who was a year older than most of our team but still qualified to play, certainly lived up to his reputation. He would later become a prominent baseball and basketball player at the Norwich Free Academy.

The greater Norwich area has a rich baseball tradition, with a number of local stars advancing to major League Baseball careers. A future column will name several of them.

My great uncle, Augustin “Lefty” Dugas from Taftville was as early as I know the first local Major Leaguer. Lefty played four seasons in the major leagues in the early 1930s, two for the Pittsburgh Pirates and one each for the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Senators before his promising career was cut short by injury.

Seventy years later, his grandson, Andrew Carignan from Norwich, wanted to achieve a lifelong dream of playing in The Show for two seasons for the American League Oakland Athletics. Andrew’s career was also shortened by injuries, but what life experiences the game provided.

In their respective prime numbers, few were better than Lefty and Andrew.

After hitting .349 with 26 home runs and a 0.565 junior slugging percentage in 1930, Lefty was called up by the Pirates and had three singles on five bats and scored two runs in his Major League debut against the Philadelphia Phillies. He seemed on his way to a successful career, ending his first season with a knockout level of 0.290 in the Pirates’ last 11 games of the season.

However, after a serious injury in a show game the following spring, he was selected to the Kansas City Blues from the AA-level American Association, where he ended the season with a striking .419 stroke and .636 slugging percentage. In fact, years later, he proudly displayed the number 419 on the car’s front license plate.

During his long professional and semi-professional career, Lefty would have fleeting professional relationships with many players and executives, including Hall of Famers such as Hank Greenberg (whose daughter, philanthropist Alva Greenberg, lives locally), brothers Paul “Big Poison” Waner and Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner, Chuck Klein, Joe Cronin, Walter “Rabbit” Maranville and Rogers Hornsby.

Several years later, when Norwich was named by the New York Yankees for their AA minor league franchise, the Norwich Navigators played in Sen. Thomas J. Dodd Stadium is located on none other than Lefty Dugas Drive. My friend, attorney Glenn Carberry, whom I had known since high school, was instrumental in bringing the Navigators here.

One night, the Navigators hosted a home derby with retired professional all-stars such as George Brett, Dave Winfield, Mike Schmidt, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter, all of whom are now Hall of Famers. Behind the plate that caught when the former stars swung the bat was the young Andrew Carignan. Imagine what a thrill it must have been for a teenager who is still in high school.

By the way, it was a local entry in the competition that stole the show. Lee Elci, now a 94.9 FM morning radio host, WJJF, was previously an All-State baseball player for Waterford High, who later played for the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league organization in the late 1980s.

Elci hit bomb after bomb over the left field fence to win the competition. At one point during Elci’s powerful performance, Brett asked the other Hall of Famers, “Who the hell is this guy?”

Although he started as a catcher, Andrew Carignan’s skill was pitching. Named Connecticut’s best baseball player, he led the Norwich Free Academy in 2003 to his last state baseball championship under coach John Iovino and Assistant Duke Campbell, and with great support from another former Major Leaguer, the Duke’s son, Eric Campbell, who played three seasons for the New York Mets.

I remember taking my own sons to see Andrew hit East Lyme High School one night and watching more than a dozen Major League scouts sit behind the backstop with radar guns to watch the blowing fastball. More than a few eyebrows were raised when the radar guns consistently measured Andrews speed ball over 90 km / h.

He received a full scholarship to one of the best baseball colleges in the country, the University of North Carolina, where he was closer to Tar Heels and competed in the College World Series. I remember thinking while watching Andrew on ESPN how proud his parents, Gary and Lisa Carignan, and grandparents, Lou and Ann Marie Carignan, were, and how proud Lefty, who had passed away in 1997, would have been.

In 2007, Andrew was drafted in the fifth round by Oakland Athletics. He blew away conflicting cool as he climbed up the smaller league ladder, averaging well over one strike per inning. His best period was perhaps in 2012 when he beat AAA-level Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, went 2-0, recorded a 2.70 earned running average and struck out 21 strokes in just 13 1/3 innings while holding the opposition. to a bad. 181 average.

Andrew, now 34, and Lefty, who was 90 when he passed, both had good baseball careers that they can be proud of. Andrew can also be proud that after his baseball career ended in 2015, he kept a promise he had made to his mother and returned to college to earn his degree.

When Lefty was buried one spring day 23 years ago, there was a gathering of friends and loved ones around the graveyard at St. Joseph Cemetery in Norwich. Afterwards, the pastor prayed the last prayers and an invitation to the reception that was to come, one person, then a few, then we all broke into one last rendition of a song we had all sung together many, many times with Lefty: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame. ”

It was a fitting but tearful broadcast for a wonderful, happy man who never considered himself special; just a lucky guy who got to spend a good part of his life doing what he loved most, playing baseball.

Bill Stanley is a former reporter for The Day who retired on October 16 after more than 21 years as vice president of development and community relations at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. He can be reached at

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