Wallingford Twilight League: Twilight Press

Sunday August 8 feature on Total
Baseball: For some, it's a hard habit to break
By Ralph Tomaselli, Record-Journal staff
Baseball is a cruel game. Each year it lures millions of Little Leaguers, many of whom become obsessed. When Little League is done, some progress to Babe Ruth League or one of its many equivalents with a different name. Far fewer play baseball in high school. By the time high school is over, 99 percent of the same group of kids who started in Little League only a decade before never play organized baseball again. The problem is that baseball is too hard. Almost anyone with an hour's notice can play rec-league basketball or indoor soccer or flag football. But hitting a baseball requires a trained eye. Pitching requires constant repetition. Lacking the time and desire, most ballplayers over 18 turn to slow pitch softball — a game that requires almost no practice. But some continue playing baseball, joining adult leagues that are populated with ex-high school and college players and even an occasional ex-minor leaguer. Those who are as obsessed as they were when the first put on their Little League uniform, join two or three leagues and play almost as many games each summer as a player in rookie or Double A ball. They change their work schedules and pass on family and social events to keep playing baseball. Ozzie Ramos, who plays on two area baseball teams, sums up how most of them feel. "I'll be playing until I die," said the 33-year-old Meriden resident, who works as a school social worker in Vernon. Willie Rios, had the same take, with a different twist. "I always tell people that I'll be playing until they put me in a wheelchair and even then if I can find a way I'll still be playing, God willing," said Rios, 27. Ramos, who played baseball at Maloney High School in the late 80s, spends all day Sunday and a couple of nights each week playing for Total Renovations in the Wallingford Twilight League and the Meriden A's in the National Adult Baseball Association, a regional league with teams throughout central and southern Connecticut. He is one of several Meriden natives who played Little League, American Legion and high school ball around the same time and decided to form a twilight league team more than a decade ago. The core of Total Renovations went on to the form the Meriden A's. Both teams have been successful. Total Renovations has been league champs eight of the past 12 years. The A's are reigning NABA champs After playing three games on Sunday, Monday mornings are a struggle because of the soreness in his legs and ankles. Despite the pain and the time demand, Ramos can't imagine life without baseball. "Baseball is therapy," Ramos said. "It helps me forget about the curveballs that life throws at me." The NABA is in the middle of the state's amateur baseball hierarchy. It is a cut above the town twilight leagues and just below the state's top flight amateur leagues. The A's success over the years is a tribute to the baseball talent the Meriden area continues to produce.Rick Marrero, a Platt baseball standout, said the typical high school baseball to softball to golf path wasn't for him. "We can still play at a competitive level, why stop?," said Marrero, 30, who also plays for Total Renovations and the Meriden A's. "I don't think any of us foresee not playing baseball anytime soon." Marrero is typical of the kind of dedication required to live a normal life and still play 75 or 80 baseball games a season. That includes three games most Sundays — 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. The A's players also travel to regional tournaments in places like Cooperstown and the NABA national tournament in Arizona. Amazingly, most also find time to play some slow pitch softball in leagues like MASA or Wallingford's fall softball league. A corrections officer in Cheshire assigned to the second shift, Marrero frequently trades shifts to make his twilight league weekday games. Since Sundays are dedicated to baseball, he also misses a lot of family and social events. He started playing as a young boy at the urging of his mother, tagging along with his older uncles when they went to the neighborhood park. He has played every year since, earning all-conference honors at Platt as a pitcher and outfielder and making a brief stop at college baseball powerhouse University of New Haven. He also played in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden bat league for major league hopefuls. "It might sound funny to some people, but the only people I've ever known have been baseball players and coaches and other people around the game," Marrero said. "I really never even had time to hang out or get into trouble because I was always playing on different teams in different leagues." Like most boys, Marrero dreamed of playing for a major league team. "I really don't know why I didn't make it. I went to a couple of tryout camps and it's hard to say. Maybe I just wasn't good enough," Marrero said. "But at whatever level I was at I always played as good as the competition around me. I go to see the Rock Cats (Double A) and the independent league, which some of my friends played in, and I think I should have at least been able to play in those leagues." On Sundays, Marrero can comfortably pitch a complete game and come back, if needed, to throw a few innings in a mid-week twilight league contest. When he is not pitching, he plays right field. "I've always been able to bounce back well," Marrero said of his pitching arm. "To tell you the truth, I think I'm throwing as hard as I ever did." Ramos throws more off-speed stuff so pitching in more than one game on Sunday and again during the week is not a problem. "I'm older, but I also pitch smarter. I don't waste a lot of energy," he said. All the players interviewed admitted that as they age, they feel more soreness after games, especially on Mondays. "Do I feel the aches and pains a little more as the years go by? Sure," said Don Maleto, 32, who also plays on Total Renovations and the A's. "But, if anything, I look more forward to playing each year because you realize that you only have so many nights left to play baseball and you don't want to miss any of them." Marrero's between-game ritual on Sunday is proof of just how much these guys love the game. "After the 1 p.m. game, I usually go home, grab a shower and watch the Yankees if they are on," he said. "Sometimes some of the guys come over. After that we start getting ready for our night game." Doesn't all this baseball conflict with family time? The players all said they couldn't do it without the support of their wives. Maleto's wife, Madelyn, and stepdaughter, Kelsey, are both black belts in karate, so they understand dedication to sport. Marrero said his new wife, Vilma, is his biggest fan. "She comes to all the games and it means a lot to me," he said. Rios, who also played his high school ball at Platt, doesn't play quite as many games as the others — filling in for Total Renovations when needed — but couldn't dedicate every Sunday to baseball during spring and summer without the support of his wife and two daughters. Then there is Ramos, who is single with one caveat. "I'm married to baseball," he said. "Seriously, this time of year my significant other has to understand that I don't have a lot of time for socializing. There is plenty of time for that after the baseball season is over." Since they don't have a lot of time to hang out with others, the players socialize with each other. "There's the camaraderie on the field and the camaraderie off the field," Marrero said. "They both are important because this is not a job, it is fun. And when you know people and like them and spend time with them it makes the game more enjoyable. "We root hard for each other because we are teammates and friends," he said. "You want to see your friend do well and you try to pick him up when he's down." Although all dreamed of playing baseball professionally, the core of players that makes up Total Renovations have been successful off the diamond. Ramos loves working with elementary school children. At a young age, Marrero has already logged almost a decade in the state corrections department. Rios, is a manager at a financial firm that specializes in personal and real estate loans and also teaches Latin dance. Maleto is known throughout the community t as assistant director of the Boys and Girls Club of Meriden. "I'm a competitive person on the ball field and in my business," Rios said. "I want to be the best and that only comes through hard work. I learned that from baseball." As far as playing forever, Wallingford Twilight League players are constantly reminded it is possible. League legend Carl Tufts started in the WTL in 1936 and made his last appearance in 2003, playing one-inning in right field. That adds up to 67 consecutive years. Tufts also served as league commissioner. He died in May at 85. "If it wasn't for Carl Tufts, the league wouldn't even be here for us," said Maleto. "He had an unbelievable passion for the game. I think all of us would like to play as long as he did."


baseball tonight


Wednesday, May 3
Record Journal Feature on BJ Senna
BJ is a member of the Downtown Merchants

WATERBURY — Wallingford’s B.J. Senna, a freshman pitcher on the Division II Felician College baseball team, made his first and only in-state visit of the season Friday against Post University at Municipal Stadium. Senna did not pitch, much to the disappointment of the 15 family members and friends who attended the game, but he did warm up twice in the bullpen. “I wanted to get in, but as long as we won the game it doesn’t matter,” Senna said. “There will be other times they’ll see me play. I’m not here to complain. I’m here to pitch.” Senna, who helped lead Sheehan to last year’s CIAC Class M state title game, has pitched quite well for Felician, 15-13 overall and 3-3 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference following Friday’s 10-7 win over Post. Senna is 1-2 with a 4.12 ERA for the Lodi, N.J. school. He’s appeared in eight games, allowing 21 hits, nine walks and striking out 26 over 19.2 innings. He also has a save. “He’s a kid down the road that should get drafted,” Felician coach Chris Langan said. “He’s got that kind of arm and that kind of stuff. To be a freshman and to come out and dominate at this level against the teams we play, it speaks volumes about his future.” Senna earned his first career win against Pitt-Johnstown March 10. He allowed two hits and had 10 strikeouts over seven innings for the complete-game victory. His save came against Belmont Abbey Feb. 19. “They hit .350 as a team last year and he struck out three guys that were returnees,” Langan said. “He’s been a pleasant surprise. Actually, he’s been very dominant for a freshman. He’s gotten the ball in some big situations and come up big. He’s done a great job. He’s in great shape. He’s worked very hard.” The 6-foot Senna’s dropped 31 pounds — from 230 to 199 — since the fall. He credits pitching coach Chris Clarke, an ex-Florida Marlins farmhand, with helping him improve his body and mechanics. “We do a lot of running,” Senna said. “It’s a lot more running than high school. I also needed a lot of help with my mechanics, especially staying balanced. I was rushing and falling forward. He’s got me more relaxed out there.” Langan said Senna’s fastball is consistently in the 87-89 mph range. He throws a two-seamer, a four-seamer, a sharp cutter and has tremendous upside, the coach said. “It’s just confidence right now,” Langan said. “Sometimes, he looks like a deer in the headlights. He’s a little scared at times. He just needs to let the game slow down, which happens as you gain more experience. But he’s doing a great job. We’re very surprised and very happy. He’s filled a big role as a freshman. From this point on, he’s a starter. He’s earned that with hard work. Every time he gets the ball he gives us quality innings. That’s all you can ask for.” Senna said pitching on the Division II level is much different than high school, where he could blow hitters away with an overpowering heater. “The hitters are better,” he said. “They look for fastballs more, so you’ve got to hit your spots. I’ve been doing that. I feel great. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m just trying to keep my composure on the mound. If I stay relaxed, I throw more strikes.” Senna, who is expected to make his next start Wednesday against New Jersey Institute of Technology, was one of Sheehan’s top hitters, but he hasn’t picked up a bat, other than during batting practice, since fall ball. “He’s taken a couple rounds of BP and he hit a couple of moon shots,” Langan said. “We’re going to try to work that in next year. Hopefully B.J. can give us a little more offensively. We wanted to get him acclimated to the speed of the game and just concentrate on pitching this year.” Once again, Senna isn’t here to complain. “I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” he said.
By John Petit of the Record-Journal



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Hennessey is a run miser:
By John Pettit, Record-Journal staff NEW HAVEN — Southern Connecticut State University's pitching staff, with Wallingford's Matt Hennessey, leads all of Division II in earned run average. "Matt leads our staff, so that's a good indication of how he's doing," Owls coach Tim Shea said. "Our staff is doing well and he's at the top of the rotation. He's been a consistent performer for us since he's been here." Hennessey, a junior southpaw who hurled Lyman Hall to the 2002 Class L state championship, improved to 6-2 with Friday's 3-1 complete game win over Stonehill. "I didn't want to give up any runs," said Hennessey, whose ERA, 14th nationally in the latest Division II statistics, dropped to 1.58. That's the kind of attitude all of Southern's pitchers have. Hennessey and starters Justin Cox (.073 ERA), Joe Vingo (1.67) and Jeff Farrell (1.93) are stingy when it comes to allowing runs. The Owls sport a 2.00 team ERA, with Cox, a freshman righty, leading the country. "It's more than just leading the nation in ERA," Shea said. "They're trying to win games, get to a regional and get to Alabama for the World Series. It's more than that ERA thing, but obviously that's a nice little carrot as well." Hennessey credits assistant coach Scott Berney, who pitched at UConn and Clemson and in the Colorado Rockies organization, for the Owls' pitching success. "He's really worked with us," Hennessey said. "He's calling great pitches. I think his experience has helped us. All the pitchers have a friendly competition between each other trying to be the best. We all feel that we have four No. 1's on our staff." Hennessey is the true ace. He has appeared in 10 games, making nine starts and earning one save. Hennessey has logged a team-high 68.1 innings, allowing 46 hits, 12 earned runs, 18 walks and notching 49 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .196 against him. Hennessey was not at his best Friday, when he allowed four hits, one run and had five strikeouts and five walks. "Strikes, strikes, strikes," Berney said when asked for the secret to Hennessey's success. "He throws four pitches for strikes, which is pretty much unheard of for a college kid to be able to do. He hardly ever throws a ball down the middle. He just gets ahead. (Friday) was a little uncharacteristic with the five walks, but when he gets guys in scoring position he gets tougher and tougher to hit." Indeed. Hennessey picked off a Stonybrook base-runner Friday and induced the Chieftains into two double plays. "I don't think we're the most talented pitching staff in the country," Berney said. "The things we pride ourselves on are throwing strikes, fielding our position and working on pick-offs. (The team ERA) is a testament to how hard Matt and these guys have worked, but the main thing is winning ball games. If we're going to win them 2-1 or 10-9, it doesn't matter as long as we win." Southern has done a lot of winning. The Owls moved to 24-5 in the Northeast-10 and 27-10 overall with Friday's win. SCSU, ranked 25th nationally and No. 1 in New England, has already clinched the league title and is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Southern begins conference tournament play next week and hopes to host an NCAA regional, beginning May 19. The 2001 Southern squad is the only team in school history to advance to the regionals. Hennessey, a strong candidate for Northeast-10 Pitcher of the Year and a sure-fire all-league first-team selection, will need to be a major factor in the postseason, Shea said. "The guys behind him know that every time he goes to the mound he's going to give us a great opportunity to win the game," Shea said. "He throws strikes. He wasn't on today, but he made pitches when he had to make them and he was able to keep his pitch count down. "Matt can put a ball in a thimble. He didn't have pinpoint accuracy today, but he can put his pitches wherever he wants them. That's been his MO. He's got a great slider, a good changeup and he can put his fastball wherever he wants. When you can throw three pitches like that you're going to be effective." Hennessey said he has also added a sharp curve to his repertoire, although his fastball, which has reached 86 mph, is still his best pitch. "I'm just spotting my fastball, getting ahead of batters — that's important in this league — and getting my other stuff over for strikes," he said. Hennessey and the Southern staff will have some adjusting to do come NCAA tourney time. The Northeast-10 uses wooden bats. Aluminum bats are allowed in the NCAAs. "I think the hitters will appreciate having the metal bats in their hands, but it's going to change a little bit for the pitchers," Shea said. "Matty probably broke about four or five bats today. That's not going to happen with aluminum. You'll get some bloop hits. You'll get some home runs or gap shots from good pitches. It does definitely change the game." Hennessey isn't worried. "We've been doing our thing," he said of the pitchers. "No matter who we face, we stick to the game plan. I think our hitting is going to be even better when we get to the regionals using metal. The pitchers have to stick to the game plan and stick with what's got us here. We don't want to change anything." Hennessey said he is confident Southern has the talent to make a deep run in the Division II tourney. When SCSU's season ends, he will pitch briefly for FPA in the Wallingford Twilight League before heading to Virginia to play for the Petersburg Generals of the Coastal Plains League, a collegiate summer circuit. His ultimate goal is to pitch professionally. "It's possible if he keep working," Shea said. "He's a competitor and he's going to keep working toward that goal. I know it's a goal of his and it should be because he's been successful at every level he's played." As always, Hennessey promises to stick to the game plan. "If it happens, it happens," he said. "I'm not going to see a scout and try to throw as hard as I can. I'm just going to throw my game."

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