Author: Weston Ulbrich

St. Cyril’s Baseball Club, The Semi-Pro Polish-Americans From Hartford

During the “Roaring Twenties” immigrant communities often integrated themselves into American culture by forming baseball clubs. Members of Hartford’s Polish-American community organized St. Cyril’s Baseball Club in 1925 on behalf of Saints Cyril and Methodius Parish, a Catholic church established in Hartford in 1902. The original nine was managed by Jack J. Zekas and assisted by Stanley “Spike” Spodobalski. Catcher Francis “Frankie” Kapinos captained the team from behind the plate.

St. Cyril’s organizes first baseball club, 1925.

St. Cyril’s joined its first amateur league in 1926. The Hartford Amateur Baseball League was a precursor to the Hartford Twilight League sponsored by the Hartford Courant. St. Cyril’s vied for the “Courant Cup” but landed fourth in the standings. Player-manager John Strycharz steered the team which included Bob Young, a pitcher from University of Wisconsin and Ray Swartz of Notre Dame University. The following year, St. Cyril’s scheduled matchups with “fast semi-pro teams”¹ throughout Connecticut.

1926 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 7, 1927.

After a five year hiatus caused by the Great Depression, St. Cyril’s returned to the field in 1933. Nicknamed the Saints, they earned a reputation as Hartford’s best Catholic club. Nearly every player was of Polish descent. Edward Kostek served as the team’s new manager. Jack Repass, an infielder, cut his teeth with St. Cyril’s in 1938, before he became Secretary of the Twilight League and Founder of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball Hall of Fame.

1938 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s won its first championship in 1939 as part of the Central Connecticut League. Then they secured the 1940 Connecticut District Semi-Pro Title. Pitching aces, Casimir “Cos” Wilkos and Yosh Kinel headlined the roster. Also on staff was Walter “Monk” Dubiel, a 22 year old rookie who later became one of Hartford’s all-time hurlers following a career with the Yankees and Cubs. After their days with St. Cyril’s, all three pitchers (Wilkos, Kinel, and Dubiel) were inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame.

Casimir “Cos” Wilkos, St. Cyril’s, 1939.
Walter “Monk” Dubiel, 1940.

In the wake of World War II, St. Cyril’s rejoined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. In 1947, nearly every game was held at Municipal Stadium or on one of a dozen skin diamonds at Colt Park. Standout players for manager Kostek were Pete Sevetz and Charlie Puziak. Some of the men played ball to forget the horrors they saw while at war. Others played for the love of the game and in between work hours life, not unlike amatuer players of today.

1947 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
L to R: Twilight Leaguers, Tom Deneen of St. Cyril’s, Dick Foley of Pratt Whitney Aircraft and Bill George of Yellow Cab at Colt Park, Hartford, 1947.

Manager Kostek led St. Cyril’s on a winning crusade during the 1950’s. Many professional players suited up for St. Cyril’s during this period, such as Charlie Wrinn, Don Deveau and Ed Samolyk. They conquered multiple titles starting with a sweep of the 1951 Hartford Twilight League Season Title and Playoff Championship. Five years later, the club nabbed the 1956 Season Title and Playoff Championship. In 1957, St. Cyril’s captured the State Semi-Pro Title and the Eastern Regional Semi-Pro Title.

1951 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club
Charlie Wrinn, Pitcher, St. Cyril’s, 1951.
Hartford Courant excerpt, September 8, 1951.
1953 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

In 1958, the Polish National Home hosted a testimonial dinner in honor of Ed Kostek and his St. Cyril’s Baseball Club. Former Business Manager of the Hartford Chiefs, Charles Blossfield gave remarks commending Kostek for his coaching achievements. Also in attendance were Brooklyn Dodgers scout John “Whitney” Piurek of West Haven and Kostek’s former player and longtime friend, Monk Dubiel.

L to R: Whitey Piurek, Ed Kostek and Monk Dubiel at the Polish National Home, Hartford, 1958.
1959 St. Cyril’s Baseball Club

St. Cyril’s last pennant-winning season came in 1960. The club finished in first in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League with a 17-4 win-loss record. Outfielder and GHTBL Hall of Famer, Robert Neubauer was the team’s star player (Neubauer later became a celebrated coach at Sheehan High School in Wallingford, CT). St. Cyril’s, finally played its final season in 1962 and the Catholic baseball dynasty was finally retired after 35 years of play.

St. Cyril’s Manager, Ed Kostek (middle) accepts Hartford Twilight Season Title trophy from Lou Morotto and Jim Nesta, 1960.
Valco Machine beats St. Cyril’s in Playoff Championship 1960.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. 1929 to 1979 GHTBL 50th Anniversary Program

2022 Regular Season Preview

Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League returns for the 93rd year!

This summer, GHTBL will utilize some of Connecticut’s top ballparks, including Muzzy Field, Palmer Field, Trinity College and Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Players from as far as Boston, Massachusetts, to Stamford, Connecticut, will compete in the league. A 24-game Regular Season will open at 3 PM, Sunday, May 22, 2022. The Rainbow Graphics are to host Jack Ceppetelli’s Vernon Orioles at Mount Nebo Park in Manchester, CT.

Ceppetelli has managed the Orioles since 2001. Before then Jack was a pitcher with the O’s for two decades. Kevin Powell, another Oriole of the 1980’s, will serve his second year as bench coach. Powell recently retired from Travelers Insurance after a 38 year career. Mainstay Orioles like the Trubia brothers and the Halpin brothers are expected back for another season. Former minor leaguer Jimmy Titus has also declared for Vernon.

Vernon Orioles, 2021.

Rainbow Graphics has their own share of experience. Along with player-manager Tyler Repoli, fixtures like Evan Chamberlain, Travis Salois and Eric Anderson will suit up for the Graphics. Other than the season opener, Rainbow home games will be hosted at Northwest Park in Manchester. Many thanks to Fred Kask and the Rainbow Graphics team for sponsoring GHTBL’s longest-running franchise.

Meanwhile, Manager Taylor Kosakowski and the East Hartford Jets are seeking a three-peat. Another Playoff Championship run will require solid performances from Kosakowski’s fleet of everyday position players. They include Jeff Criscuolo, Jim Schult, Nate Viera and Corey Plasky, who’ve been consistent on both sides of the ball for East Hartford. Bryan Albee of Eastern Connecticut State University is also expected to return to the mound.

Nearby in South Windsor, the Phillies and Manager Ron Pizzanello are preparing for the summer. The Phillies also have a solid core of players who have been with South Windsor since 2018. They are Brody Labbe, Pat McMahon, Aedin Wadja and Jake Petrozza. A few additions to the team are Wendell Anderson, the 2002 GHTBL MVP and AJ Pietrafesa of Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

As for Tom Abbruzzese’s Wethersfield-based franchise, the team has been renamed M&T People’s (formerly People’s United Bank). First-year players will include Jordan Valentino of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Nick Tuozzola, a graduate of SUNY Purchase and at least four players from Elms College. The most veteran players on People’s are Brendan Lynch and Eric Malinowski.

Eric Malinowski, People’s, 2019.

Recently, President Holowaty has welcomed Ryan Ruggiero as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Ryan joins the league as the official Statistician. He’ll also assist with operations for the Hartford Colts franchise. The Colts expect to field many players currently in college including Kyle Darby of Westfield State University, Kiernan Caffrey of American International College, Sean Jefferson of Albertus Magnus College and AJ Desarro of New England College.

The most newcomers of 2022 will likely appear for the Wallingford Cardinals, who have become sponsors in place of Ulbrich Steel. General Manager Chris Bishop and Manager Jeff DeMaio will welcome numerous collegiate players like Evan Wilkinson of Post University and Zach Pincince of University of New Haven. Returners such as Sam DeMaio, Alex Koletar and Brendan O’Connell will continue to be key contributors for Wallingford.

The league’s westernmost franchise, the Bristol Greeners, will play eight games at Muzzy Field this year. Trevor Mays takes the reins as a first-time player-manager. Greeners catcher, AJ Lorenzetti, will look to repeat his 2021 All-Star performance.

Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut.

Last but not least, the Record-Journal Expos will be directed by player-manager, Charlie Hesseltine, who’s been a part of the twi-loop since 2005. Other veteran players like AJ Hendrickson, Jonathan Walter and Sebby Grignano will perform under the lights at Ceppa Field. Current college athletes for the Meriden-based franchise are Jason Sullivan of Albertus Magnus, Carson Coon of Manhattan College and Kameron Hartenstein of SUNY Cortland.

On August 4, 2022, the league will hold our 6th annual charity series at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Hosted by the Hartford Yard Goats, the GHTBL will fundraise for a charitable cause by selling $10 tickets at the Main Gate. Tickets are valid for both games of the doubleheader at 6 PM and 8 PM. Concessions will be open. More details to come!

The 2022 Playoff Tournament will follow a few days after the Regular Season. Our double-elimination championship will transpire at Palmer Field in Middletown and at McKenna Field in East Hartford. Five appearances are required to qualify a player for the postseason.

Note to new players seeking a team in the GHTBL: Fill out a Player Application. Amateurs with collegiate-caliber abilities are most likely to be contacted by GHTBL managers who immediately receive these applications.

Nick Hock Hired to Minor League Post

Recently, Hartford Colts ace, Nick Hock accepted a job with the Baltimore Orioles organization. This spring Hock will ship out to Salisbury, Maryland, to work for the Delmarva Shorebirds of the Single-A Carolina League. He’ll be a member of the Player Development Department serving as an assistant to the coaching staff. Hock also expects to throw batting practice and simulated games. Shorebird home games are played at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

Hailing from Wethersfield, Connecticut, Hock has played twilight ball for the last five years. He’s thrown 252.2 innings, tallying 215 strikeouts, 9 complete games and 3 shutouts. Hock was named a GHTBL All-Star three times and won the Mike Liappes Award for Most Valuable Pitcher in 2020. Please join us in congratulating Nick Hock on his next baseball chapter!

Opening Day: May 22

Coming soon to a ballpark near you, the GHTBL will begin its 93rd year of play. This season’s Opening Day will be held at Mount Nebo Park in Manchester, Connecticut, at 5 PM, Sunday, May 22, 2022. Manager Jack Ceppetelli and the Vernon Orioles will face Manager Tyler Repoli and the Rainbow Graphics. Last season, these teams split their head-to-head matchup with one win each.

This season, the GHTBL will go back to its traditional format. Each franchise will play three games against every other franchise. The 24-game schedule will be the most Regular Season games planned by the league since 2019. Things are finally back to normal for the time being.

However, since there are 9 clubs competing this year, the GHTBL Playoff Tournament will include a “play-in” game of the 8th and 9th place finishers. An 8-team double-elimination tournament will follow the “play-in” game.

As for the players; 225+ athletes are expected to suit up this summer. Plenty of returners and newcomers will fill a variety of roles throughout the league. From everyday position players, to relief pitchers and part-timers, local amateurs will travel from as far as Groton, Connecticut, and Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to contend for a championship.

A vast majority of GHTBL players are also current or former college players. A handful are ex-professionals. A few are high school prospects. They join the twi-loop for various reasons: to develop into a better player, for the love of the game, camaraderie with teammates. Whatever the reason, the GHTBL is grateful to remain one of most talent laden summer leagues in Connecticut.

GHTBL provides a pure, throwback style of the game while representing a highly competitive class of baseball. Wood bats and MLB Rules are enforced in a 7-inning format. To learn more about playing in the GHTBL, go to www.GHTBL.org/join.

5th Annual Buzzy Levin Golf Tournament: Sep. 18

On Sunday, September 18, 2022, GHTBL and Malloves Jewelers will host the 5th Annual Buzzy Levin Golf Tournament at Blackledge Country Club in Hebron, Connecticut. All twilight leaguers, alumni, fans, friends and family are welcomed to attend. Your participation helps to fund the GHTBL year after year.

Unable to attend? please consider sponsoring a hole for $100. Your name or company name will be displayed prominently. Players, coaches and league officials are grateful for your continued support!

Download the the Registration Form:

Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is a registered nonprofit organization. All donations to the league are used on baseball expenses such as umpiring, equipment, field rentals and insurance.

This year, the golf tournament is dedicated to Buzzy’s wife, Harriet Levin, who passed away on April 9, 2022. The entire league sends our condolences to the Levin family.

The Baseball Origins of Dillon Stadium

Recently, the naming rights of Hartford’s oldest outdoor sports facility were sold to corporate interests. The time-tested Dillon Stadium has taken a bow to make way for Trinity Health Stadium. Though some people will refuse to call it anything other than Dillon Stadium, perhaps a review of its backstory will enlighten fans and provide some understanding in a time of change. Long before Hartford Athletic played soccer at Dillon, the venue first began as a baseball diamond called Municipal Stadium.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2020.

Erected on Huyshope Avenue in the spring of 1935, Municipal Stadium was the result of public outcry for an enclosed baseball field for amatuer players. After more than a decade of petitions, the city finally built a diamond at the eastern edge of Colt Park. Funding for the project came from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Great New Deal. The Depression-era stadium had 8-feet tall fences, a chain link backstop and oversized bleachers hugging foul territory.

Bob Cameron of the Hartford Twilight League scores the first run at Municipal Stadium, Hartford, June 29, 1935.

Hartford’s amateurs were pleased with the ballpark, because they no longer needed to rent Bulkeley Stadium for big games. There nearly a dozen baseball field at Colt Park, including the new “Munie” Stadium. The field’s first headliner contests were played by Hartford Twilight League teams. In June of 1935, the facility opened with a parade featuring a marching band. Mayor of Hartford, Joseph W. Beach, dedicated the field by hoisting an American flag up a flagpole alongside the stadium’s overseer and Recreation Supervisor, James H. Dillon.

James H. Dillon, c. 1936.

Less than a year later, a massive flood hit Hartford. Heavy rain overflowed the Connecticut River and Park River, engulfing the city and destroying Municipal Stadium. The Flood of 1936 forced amateurs out of Colt Park. Many defected to the East Hartford Twilight League. Hartford’s Municipal Stadium was out of commission for most of the summer. However, Supervisor Dillon spearheaded an effort to rebuild the venue and “Munie” Stadium was quickly revived.

Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.
View of Colt Park, Hartford Flood, March 21, 1936.

After cleanup and repairs, the field was rededicated on September 19, 1936. City officials marched down to Colt Park to celebrate the recovery with another flag raising. The ceremony was followed by an interstate doubleheader played by Hartford’s Senior All-Stars and Junior All-Stars. Hometown pitching ace and GHTBL Hall of Fame inductee, Yosh Kinel won the afternoon for the Seniors; whipping a traveling club from Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rededication Ceremony at Municipal Stadium, 1936.
Rededication of Municipal Stadium after the flood, 1936.

Municipal Stadium had become a hotbed for regional baseball talent. In the summer of 1937, a professional tryout came to town. Hartford’s best showcased their ability before scouts of the Rochester Red Wings. It was the first of many minor league tryouts held at the facility. Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, dozens of Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League players would sign professional contracts on the main diamond at Colt Park.

Rochester Red Wings host professional tryout at Municipal Stadium, 1937.

During the autumn seasons, Municipal Stadium doubled as a football field. As a result, a fieldhouse was constructed on the premises in 1939. The facility was reported to accommodate 10,000 spectators at that time. It was a fan favorite for its affordability and walkability. Aside from the occasional flood, South Hartford’s riverbank provided the perfect setting for local sporting events.

Municipal Stadium in Colt Park, Hartford, 1939.

Onlookers witnessed high school baseball at Municipal Stadium including Weaver, Bulkeley and Hartford Public. There were also several amateur loops using the stadium during the 1940’s: the Industrial League, Public Service League, Catholic League, and the Central Connecticut Twilight League. Semi-professional clubs like the Savitt Gems hosted benefit games at “Munie” Stadium to fundraise for local causes and wartime initiatives.

George Register of Weaver High School, Municipal Stadium, 1940.
Norman “Red” Branch (left) and Aaron Robinson of Coast Guard at Municipal Stadium, 1942.

Hartford Twilight League action returned to Municipal Stadium after World War II. The loop was re-established in the summer of 1946. That season, many players picked up a bat for the first time since carrying a rifle across Europe or Asia. Dozens of young war veterans were fixtures at “Munie” Stadium. Men such as U.S. Army veteran John Buikus starred for his company-sponsored team, Royal Typewriter.

Ernie Hutt, Walt Fonfara, John Buikus and Nonny Zazzaro of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.
Jon Cordier and Ed Roche of Royal Typewriter, Municipal Stadium, 1947.

By 1955, Municipal Stadium was worn down. Sports Editor of the Hartford Courant, Bill Lee wrote a subpar review of the ballpark in his “With Malice Toward None” column. He called it, “…a poorly maintained baseball diamond of sorts.” The following year, Hartford Mayor James H. Kinsella passed a resolution to rehabilitate and rename Municipal Stadium. From then on, the facility took on the name of Hartford’s favorite supervisor, James H. Dillon, whose accomplishments had won the city national acclaim in parks and recreation.

Jack Hines, catcher for Hartford Public High School hits an infield single, Municipal Stadium, 1955.
Hartford Courant excerpt, April 25, 1956.

The newly christened Dillon Stadium took over as Hartford’s sole baseball field in the late 1950’s. Nearby on Hamner Street, Bulkeley Stadium was abandoned and the land was eventually conveyed to the highest bidder. Hartford had neither a minor league stadium nor a minor league team. Consequently, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL) became the only game in town at Dillon Stadium. On August 12, 1959, a team of GHTBL All-Stars trounced a club of rookie professionals picked by the New York Yankees.

GHTBL All-Stars defeat New York Yankees Rookies at Dillon Stadium, August 12, 1959.

Due in part to public exposure at Dillon Stadium, the Twilight League enjoyed a golden era during the 1960’s. Season openers, playoff tournaments and old-timer games were well-attended for a nominal fee and widely-heralded in newspapers. The Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times were awash with recaps at Dillon. Despite the stadium’s deep connection to America’s National Pastime, the era expired in 1971. An aging Dillon Stadium was in need of a revisions and the city permanently reconfigured the site into a football, soccer and rock concert arena.

Bob Martin (left) of Valco Machine hits game-winning home run, Dillon Stadium, 1965.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
Hartford Twilight League Old Timers’ Day at Dillon Stadium, 1967.
GHTBL Opens at Dillon Stadium, 1970.
Hartford Twilight League Old-Timers at Dillon Stadium, 1970.

Many years later, a glimmer of hope appeared for baseball at Dillon Stadium. City officials organized the Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee in 1987 to bring professional baseball back to Hartford for the first time since the Hartford Chiefs left in 1956. The group was conducted by a firefighter, Michael P. Peters, the namesake of Mike Peters Little League. Peters and the task force sought to renovate Dillon Stadium into a minor league ballpark. Designs were drawn and models were presented for a $20 million revamp.

Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee reporting by Joel Lang and Owen Canfield, Hartford Courant, June, 1987.
Hartford baseball ad, July 16, 1987.

However, the project lacked enough public support. Skeptics included City Council members, real estate developers and business leaders. In addition, the Dillon Stadium Task Force was unable to attract a minor league club to the negotiating table. Most potential investors considered the Hartford market to be overlapped by the New Britain Red Sox of the Eastern League. By 1991, the deal withered away and the campaign helped Mike Peters become Mayor of Hartford (1993 to 2001).

Mayor Mike Peters at Dillon Stadium, 1989.
Promotional hat made for Dillon Stadium Task Force Committee, 1989.

“It was a very fine baseball stadium in terms of the field and ground. It was what I call a Class-A stadium. In the 1940’s it might have been the best baseball diamond in the Connecticut area.”

Victor Jarm, former Recreation Supervisor of Hartford, gushes over Municipal Stadium, 1989.
Dillon Stadium article by Roberto Gonzalez, Hartford Courant, August 31, 1989.

These days, baseball is a long gone memory at the former Dillon Stadium. In 2019, Hartford Athletic owners, Hartford Sports Group, partnered with Connecticut’s Capital Region Development Authority and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to refurbish the city-owned facility for $14 million. As part of the quasi-public deal, Hartford Sports Group reserved the right to sell the name of Hartford’s oldest sports venue. Trinity Health Stadium is now home to Hartford Athletic soccer of the United Soccer League.

Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2014.
Trinity Health Stadium, formerly Dillon Stadium, Hartford, Connecticut, 2022.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant: “Jon Lender: $14M Dillon Stadium renovation was marred by ‘charade of an RFP’ that ‘undermines public confidence,’ says watchdogs’ draft report”.
  2. Hartford Courant: Football, The Rolling Stones, elephants and soccer: A look at Dillon Stadium through the years.”
  3. Hartford Courant database at Newspapers.com
  4. Hartford Athletic: Hartfordathletic.com/dillon-stadium
  5. USL Soccer News: USLsoccer.com/news_article/show/1216699

Twilight League Seeks More Collegiate Players

As the NCAA season gets underway, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League wishes every college ballplayer all of the best this Spring. Special shoutouts go to those players who have recently honed their skills in the GHTBL. From Jack Rich and Brian Albee at Eastern Connecticut State University to Josh Pabilonia and Julian Gonzalez at Western Connecticut State University, players from the Twi-loop are expected to make their mark on the NCAA*.

There are roughly 34,500 college baseball players who compete each year in the United States. Student-athletes commit to their sweat, tears and sometimes blood to university programs. GHTBL is proud of our many college players who manage to juggle school, baseball, career and family life. Living up to these tall tasks is never easy.

However, nothing worth doing is ever easy. GHTBL Managers are seeking new recruits who have the work ethic, character and experience to compete at the college level. Our franchises have one goal: to improve baseball players on and off the field. We welcome current, future or former college athletes to fill out a Player Application found here: www.GHTBL.org/Join.

*GHTBL abides by strict amateur rules. No gifts, favors or money are dealt to players. These are violations of our By-laws found here: www.GHTBL.org/by-laws.

We’ll see you this summer and in the meantime…swing away!



Orator Jim O’Rourke, Connecticut’s Brilliant Baseball Pioneer


One of most influential vintage baseball figures from the State of Connecticut was an Irish-American named Jim O’Rourke. The 5-feet-8-inches tall Bridgeport native wielded a mighty bat and famous mustache. As leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Stockings of 1876, he recorded the first official base hit in major league history. O’Rourke’s epic playing career spanned five decades. He also became a manager, umpire, team owner, league executive, attorney at law, civil rights advocate, father of eight children and a posthumous National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 1, 1850, James Henry O’Rourke was the son of Hugh and Catherine O’Rourke, immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland. O’Rourke came of age at Waltersville School and Strong’s Military Academy. He learned to play baseball with his older brother John O’Rourke on local clubs, including the Bridgeport Ironsides and Stratford Osceolas. Jim was a right-hander acclaimed as an expert batsman and a smart talker. In fact, O’Rourke was so unexpectedly eloquent that he earned the nickname “Orator Jim.”

Stratford Osceolas with Jim O’Rourke (standing, far right), 1871.

In 1872, O’Rourke was recruited by the Middletown Mansfields, thereby becoming a member of America’s first professional baseball league: the National Association. Middletown folded in August, but O’Rourke would land on his feet. The next season he signed with the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings. Alongside Al Spalding as well as George and Harry Wright, O’Rourke batted .350 – swinging Boston to a pennant win.

1872 Middletown Mansfields

In the summer of 1874, O’Rourke became one of baseball’s first international ambassadors. Boston and Philadelphia performed America’s National Game before crowds in Ireland and England, but the trip was a strategic and financial failure. After returning to America, Boston laid claim to another pennant. O’Rourke led the way with a team-high 5 home runs while guarding first base. In 1875, he transitioned back to the outfield and helped Boston to a third straight pennant.

Boston Red Stockings with Jim O’Rourke (far left), 1874.

Beantown’s grip on the National Association resulted in the formation of the National League. O’Rourke decided to stay with Boston and recorded the league’s first base hit. The feat occurred on Opening Day, April 22, 1876, at the Jefferson Street Grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He swatted a single into left field. Though Boston committed 7 errors, they beat Philadelphia, who made 13 errors, by a score of 6-5.

Jim O’Rourke, Boston Red Caps, 1876.

O’Rourke’s breakout season came in 1877. He set a career-high with a .362 batting average and stood atop the National League with 68 runs scored, 20 walks and a .407 on-base percentage. His dominant play earned Boston another pennant (it was later discovered that second-place Louisville intentionally threw games). The following season, O’Rourke’s average slumped to .278, yet Boston defended first place with a 41-19 record.

Providence Grays with Jim O’Rourke (standing, third from right), 1879.

Due to complaints over wages during his time in Boston, O’Rourke became a notorious critic of management. In 1881, he accepted more responsibility as player-manager of the Buffalo Bisons. He played third base and paced the club with 105 hits. The Bisons achieved a winning record each season under O’Rourke’s direction from 1881 to 1884. Though Buffalo never won a title, O’Rourke set the standard for player-managers in 1884, with a .347 batting average on 162 hits.

Buffalo Baseball Club with Manager Jim O’Rourke (center), 1882.

Orator Jim garnered esteem for his leadership in Buffalo. He stood for excellence, sobriety, intellect and athleticism and was described as a non-drinking, non-smoking taskmaster. He might have stayed in Buffalo, if not struck by tragedy in 1883. O’Rourke’s second daughter, Anna, had suddenly died of an illness. The death led O’Rourke to move closer to home, and to sign with the New York Giants in 1885.

Polo Grounds (I), New York, 1886.

“The highest salaried ballplayer in the profession for 1885 will be James O’Rourke.”

The Pittsburgh Dispatch, 1885
1887 New York Giants with Jim O’Rourke (sitting front, left).

In New York, he was welcomed by owner John B. Day and manager Jim Mutrie. O’Rourke also joined future Hall of Famers: John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, Mickey Welch and a close friend, Roger Connor from Waterbury, Connecticut. The Giants’ home field was the original Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. While earning a league-leading $4,000 salary, Orator Jim proved to be an on-base stalwart and a dependable defender.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Roger Connor, New York Giants, 1887.

During his tenure with the Giants, O’Rourke became a founding member of baseball’s first labor union: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. The brotherhood fought for the employment rights of the players. An articulate and learned O’Rourke decided to enroll at Yale Law School to litigate for player rights. He took courses in the off-seasons, passed the Connecticut bar examination and was admitted to practice law on November 5, 1887.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.
Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1887.

O’Rourke and the New York Giants toppled the National League in 1888. They beat their opponents in 84 of 138 games. Then the Giants agreed to face St. Louis of the American Association in a postseason series. O’Rourke suffered a meager .222 hitting mark in ten playoff games, yet the Giants were victorious in what became known as the original World Series.

1888 New York Giants with O’Rourke (sitting front, right, #15).

In 1889, O’Rourke batted .321 with 81 RBI and 33 stolen bases at age 38. Showing no signs of middle-age, he spearheaded New York’s back-to-back campaign for the National League title. At the 1889 World Series, O’Rourke turned in the finest hitting display of his career. He mustered a .389 average, with 2 homers and 7 RBI, defeating the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 6 of 9 games. O’Rourke and his teammates were stars of the baseball world.

John Montgomery Ward, Shortstop, New York Giants, 1888.
Jim O’Rourke, Catcher, New York Giants, 1889.

Though behind the scenes, O’Rourke and other players were irritated with club owners over the Reserve Clause. The policy allowed owners to retain players after their contracts had expired. Players could be traded, sold or released, but they could not initiate their own moves. Equipped with a law degree, O’Rourke followed the lead of his shortstop and fellow attorney, John Montgomery Ward. Together they protested and established the controversial Players League of 1890.

Jim O’Rourke, New York Giants, 1889 (c.)
Players League Base Ball Guide, 1890.

O’Rourke had a standout season with the renegade New York Giants of the Players League. He batted .360 with a career-high 9 home runs and 115 RBI across 111 games. The unsanctioned Giants finished in third place, but the Players League was short-lived. The loop had failed to turn a profit. O’Rourke and the Brotherhood were forced to negotiate a return to the National League.

1890 New York Giants of the Players League

In the summer of 1891, O’Rourke reappeared for his old team, the New York Giants of the National League. Despite being 40 years old, his bat remained reliable. O’Rourke, however, felt undervalued and openly expressed his discontent. After playing two final seasons in New York, he secured another player-manager role in 1893. This time, he became field general of the Washington Nationals, hitting .287 in 129 games during his last full season in the major leagues.

New York Base Ball Club, 1891.

O’Rourke suited up for eight clubs over 23 major league seasons. The pride of Bridgeport ended his major league career with 2,643 hits, 62 home runs, 1,203 RBI and a .311 batting average. He had the most hits of any 19th century big leaguer other than Cap Anson. O’Rourke had been an integral part of eight championship clubs, but he wasn’t yet done with baseball.

Jim O’Rourke, 1891.

Less than a year later, O’Rourke was back on the diamond. In 1894, he umpired in the National League and at the college level for Yale University. Unfortunately, lackluster reviews of his calls led to O’Rourke’s exit from the job in mid-June. He went back to playing the game by performing at catcher for St. Joe’s amateur club of Bridgeport on Saturday afternoons.

Jim O’Rourke, 1895 (c.)

O’Rourke spent most of his time in Bridgeport, where he practiced law and cared for his family. Father to seven daughters, he was a proponent of women’s suffrage and civil rights. Orator Jim was active in civic affairs as a member of Royal Arcanum, Bridgeport Elks and Knights of Columbus. He was a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt Democrat” who ran for the Connecticut General Assembly in 1894 but lost in a Republican-leaning election.

Bridgeport Elks Lodge No. 36, 1905 (c.)

The following year, new train services allowed for a professional loop: the Connecticut State League. O’Rourke was elected President. As head of the league, he limited player salaries to $800 per month. He was a stakeholder in several teams including Waterbury. O’Rourke also guided the Bridgeport Victors club as player-manager.

The Meriden Journal, January 11, 1895.

The Connecticut State League dissolved midseason on July 10, 1895. Despite the setback, O’Rourke and Bridgeport continued to compete against clubs like Meriden and Hartford. O’Rourke played in just eight games that summer. Instead, he focused on developing his team. When he recruited Harry Herbert, a black outfielder from Bridgeport, O’Rourke rebelled against racial norms. Herbert played four seasons for the Victors.

1896 (c.) Bridgeport Victors

As an Irishman, a denigrated nationality at the time, O’Rourke used sport to quell ethnic stereotypes. He also used his influence to organize a new circuit in 1896. With help from local baseball leaders, Orator Jim created the Naugatuck Valley League. At catcher and manager for Bridgeport, he smashed a league-high .437 average and the Victors won the title.

Jim O’Rourke, Player-manager, Bridgeport Orators, 1898.

Bridgeport reentered the Connecticut State League in 1897. O’Rourke was no longer president of the league, but he wielded considerable power in local baseball matters. In 1898, O’Rourke ordered the construction of a new minor league stadium on his family’s farmland. Located in Bridgeport’s East End, the field was called Newfield Park. That same year, the Bridgeport club was renamed the “Orators” in O’Rourke’s honor.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

Jim O’Rourke spent fifteen eventful years as player-manager of the Bridgeport club. His players affectionately called him “Uncle Jeems.” From 1903 to 1908, O’Rourke managed and competed alongside his son James O’Rourke Jr. After playing for his father, young Jimmy O’Rourke signed with the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the New York Yankees.

1906 Bridgeport Orators

To the surprise of the entire baseball world, Jim O’Rourke Sr. was called up for one last major league game in 1904. Manager John McGraw of the New York Giants started the 54 year old at catcher on the final day of the season. O’Rourke handled a complete game from pitcher Joe McGinnity, beating Cincinnati 7-5, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. To this day, O’Rourke holds the major league record as the oldest player with a base hit.

Jim O’Rourke, 1906.

On June 14, 1910, Jim’s wife of 38 years, Annie O’Rourke, passed away from complications of a fall. About a year later his brother John died of a heart attack in Boston. Jim O’Rourke endured these tumults and kept up with the Connecticut State League. He served as a league official on several occasions, either as secretary or president. On September 14, 1912, O’Rourke made his final on-field appearance with New Haven. He recorded a single at the age of 62.

Jim O’Rourke Sr. (left) and Jim O’Rourke Jr., 1908 (c.)

When he was 68, O’Rourke was afflicted by pneumonia after walking in a blizzard. He died seven days later on January 8, 1919, and was laid to eternal rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Stratford, Connecticut. O’Rourke was survived by seven children and his sister, Sarah O’Rourke Grant. He was a beloved hero of Bridgeport who personified the American Dream. O’Rourke’s his rags-to-riches story inspired multiple generations of adoring baseball fans.

Jim O’Rourke, Manager, Bridgeport 1909 (c.)

Orator Jim was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945 by the Old-Timers Committee. According to baseball historian, Bill James, O’Rourke’s Cooperstown plaque, “summarizes his career but is far too small to reflect the scope of his contributions to the game. As a pioneer player, union organizer and early minor-league executive, James Henry ‘Orator’ O’Rourke was an exemplary figure, one eminently worthy of baseball’s highest accolade.”

Jim O’Rourke’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

“He has made a brilliant record for himself as an outfielder, being an excellent judge of a ball, a swift runner, and making the most difficult running catches with the utmost ease and certainty. His average each season has proved him to be in the front rank in handling the bat, and shows that his usefulness is not merely confined to his fielding abilities. He has always enjoyed the reputation of being a thoroughly reliable and honest player, and one who works hard for the best interests of the club. His gentlemanly conduct, both on and off the ball field, has won for him a host of friends.”

1885 Spalding Guide on Jim O’Rourke
Jim O’Rourke statue, Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Baseball is for all creeds and nationalities.”

Jim O’Rourke, 1910
Jim O’Rourke’s gravesite, St. Michael Cemetery, Stratford, CT.

Sources

  1. “Jim O’Rourke” by Bill James, SABR Bio Project.

2. Pittsburgh Dispatch via Newspapers.com.

3. Hall of Famer Jim O’Rourke from Cooperstown Cred.

4. Newfield Park: Home to One of New England’s Most Sacred Baseball Sites by Michael J. Bielawa.

GHTBL to Play 24-Game Regular Season in 2022

A 24-game Regular Season schedule is expected by GHTBL Executive Committee members and leagues mangers in 2022. Next season will get underway in mid-May followed by a double-elimination tournament that usually wraps up by mid-August.

In the meantime, GHTBL franchises will be recruiting players from colleges, high schools, AAU and Legion programs and from local communities. You do not have to live in Greater Hartford to play in the league. No age requirements. The GHTBL is an amateur nonprofit organization. Players do not get paid.

You can fill out a player application by clicking here.

All the best wishes and have a great holiday season,

GHTBL Executive Committee

Bill Holowaty, President
Andy Baylock, Vice President
Marc Levin, Treasurer
Wes Ulbrich, Secretary

Hall of Fame Inductee, Doc Bidwell, Ace of the Twilight League

David “Doc” Bidwell is the career wins leader of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. As a tall and imposing right-handed pitcher, he struck out countless twi-loop batters for more than forty years. Bidwell was a longtime pupil of GHTBL legend, Gene Johnson. Doc and Gene won several championships at the helm of Moriarty Brothers, Newman Lincoln-Mercury and the Foss Insurance franchise. Altogether, Bidwell achieved ten season titles, eleven playoff championships and a reputation as an all-time twilight pitcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell (left) with Gene Johnson, 2014.

Bidwell was born in Manchester, Connecticut, on July 5, 1956, to Ted and Betty Bidwell. He once described his parents as, “My biggest fans, who probably saw ninety percent of our games, only missing some when they went to New Hampshire for vacation.” As a youngster, Bidwell was a standout player for Manchester High School and Manchester Legion. In a Legion game on July 8, 1974, he threw a perfect game with nine strikeouts against Ellington.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
1974 Manchester High School Varsity Baseball

The following year, Bidwell became a freshman pitcher at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then he joined player-manager Gene Johnson and the Manchester-based Moriarty Brothers. Bidwell, a rookie, and Pete Sala, a former professional, overpowered the competition. Moriarty Brothers of 1975 proved to be one of the greatest teams in league history. They lost just four games on the year, winning the season title and sweeping the playoffs.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Moriarty Comets Win Playoff Championship, Hartford Courant, August 29, 1975.

In 1978, Bidwell took his Assumption College team to the NCAA Division-II Regional Tournament. The Greyhounds lost to Porky Viera‘s University of New Haven in Bidwell’s final game at Assumption. He posted a 19-11 win-loss record in four college seasons, ranking among Assumption’s best pitchers across multiple statistical categories. Bidwell became a proud member of the Assumption College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Assumption College, 1978.

Throughout college, Bidwell played summer ball in the GHTBL. He had perfect 10-0 record in 1985 and in 1988. When Moriarty Brothers changed their named to Newman Lincoln-Mercury in 1990, Bidwell toed the rubber as their ace. He steered the Newman club to seven championships. Bidwell was a baseball junkie, who also pitched on Sundays for the Connecticut Men’s Senior Baseball League. In 1994, his talents were recognized by the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Bidwell credited his brother Mel for being his spring training catcher.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell shuts out Malloves Jewelers, June 14, 1990.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave “Doc” Bidwell, Pitcher, Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 1994.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound hurler threw in the high-80 mile per hour range for the first leg of his career. Later, Bidwell developed into a pitcher who confused hitters with various speeds and the occasional knuckleball. He tossed for dozens of winning ball clubs under manager Gene Johnson. Some of Bidwell’s teammates included Steve Chotiner, Corky Coughlin and Mike Susi. Veteran players like Bidwell were the backbone of the Newman Lincoln-Mercury franchise, which became Foss Insurance in 2004 when Mark and Jane Foss signed on as sponsors.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Corky Coughlin & Bidwell (right), Newman Lincoln-Mercury, 2001.
Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In late 2014, Gene Johnson passed away, leaving a giant baseball legacy. Bidwell and the Foss Insurance team were determined to win a championship in Johnson’s memory. He promptly stepped into the role of manager and guided Foss Insurance to the 2015 playoff championship. Bidwell finally retired in 2017 after a 43-year twilight league career. He handed the team over to player-manager, Mark DiTommaso who gave way to Tyler Repoli, the current player-manager of the same franchise – the Manchester-based, Rainbow Graphics.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Bidwell (top, left) with Foss Insurance, Playoff Champions, 2015.

Bidwell, a 12-time All-Star, was inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in 2018. Bidwell’s journeyman career was one of the best amateur feats in Greater Hartford baseball history. According to Bidwell, he won, “More than 250 games and lost about 80…a few no-decisions, but not many.” In recent years, Dave has been spotted attending GHTBL playoff games as a fan.

Dave Bidwell Greater Twilight Hartford Baseball League
Dave Bidwell, Pitcher, Marlborough Braves, 2017.

Outside of baseball, Bidwell obtained a political science degree from Assumption College in 1979. Since 1981, he’s an employee at Kaman Aerospace in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Bidwell has been an avid music fan and concert goer for most of his adult life. He now resides in Manchester, Connecticut, and is a father of two daughters. Join us in congratulating “Doc” on an incredible baseball career.