Category: Player Spotlight

Featuring players and alumni of the GHTBL.

Eastern’s World Series Winners

Recently, five GHTBL alumni were victorious on the national stage for Eastern Connecticut State University. Bryan Albee, Jack Rich, Zach Donahue, Aidan Dunn and Andres Jose earned a D-III College World Series Championship ring over LaGrange University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Congratulations to Head Coach Brian Hamm, who has captured Eastern’s fifth national title. Guided by Hamm, Albee, Rich, Donahue, Jose and Dunn have become proven winners, on and off the field. GHTBL is grateful to have these men as representatives of our league.

Graduating senior Bryan Albee plans to pitch for the East Hartford Jets, who are currently in first place in the GHTBL standings. Albee nabbed the Mike Abbruzzese Award for Outstanding Playoff Pitcher last season with the Jets. Jack Rich is also aboard the Record-Journal Expos as their perennial all-star outfielder. Last year, Jack was the Frank McCoy Award winner for Most Valuable Player in the league.

Want to rewatch the clinching World Series game? CLICK HERE

CT Patch Features Schweighoffer, Former GHTBL Star

Meet a Local Ex-Pro Ballplayer: Mike Schweighoffer, Farmington
By Tim Jensen, Patch Staff on Feb 23, 2022

FARMINGTON, CT — If Mike Schweighoffer was playing baseball today, no scout would even give him a look. The way the game has changed, no one would be interested in a pitcher who throws 83 MPH sinker balls, who never tossed a varsity inning until his senior year of high school, who attended a Division III college in Connecticut best known for its outstanding academic standards.

Fortunately for Schweighoffer, times were different in the early 1980s. Not only did a scout sign him to a professional contract, he spent four solid seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before embarking on an even more successful career, which continues today, as a banking executive.

Mike Schweighoffer, 2021

Now 59, Schweighoffer grew up in Hartford’s South End, and moved to Wethersfield just in time to start high school. He played football and baseball at now-defunct South Catholic High School, but even he never harbored dreams of someday becoming a professional athlete.

“I was a very late bloomer for my position,” he said in an exclusive interview with Patch. “I was an All-State shortstop, but had no expectations of playing pro ball.”

He chose to stay near home and attend Trinity College, where he majored in economics. He also went out for the baseball team, and made the squad as a pitcher. In his freshman campaign, “I was just a thrower,” but Schweighoffer learned the finer points about pitching from Bill Severni, who had played at Amherst College and overseas.

“Bill taught me more about pitching than any coach I ever had,” he said. “He taught me about mechanics, thinking about pitching and setting up hitters.”

As a junior with the Bantams, Schweighoffer played third base on days when he wasn’t pitching, and Trinity won the ECAC New England Regional championship. He also kept active during the summer by pitching for the Newington Capitols of the Greater Hartford Twilight League.

“By my senior year, my arm was hurting a bit,” he recalled. “I was still playing with Newington, but I graduated and accepted a position at Connecticut National Bank (CNB).”

Mike Schweighoffer, Vero Beach Dodgers, 1985.

That is, until fate intervened, in the form of longtime baseball scout Dick Teed of Windsor. Much to Schweighoffer’s shock, Teed offered him a contract with the Dodgers organization as an undrafted free agent. He signed the contract in late 1984, and resigned from the bank training program.

His first pro stop was Vero Beach in the Class-A Florida State League. Starting all 25 games in which he appeared, he posted a 10-11 record with an excellent 3.11 earned-run average. He was selected to the league all-star game, though he did not appear in the contest.

Hartford Courant article on Mike Schweighoffer by Tom Yantz, May 30, 1986.

The next season, Schweighoffer expected to play at Double-A San Antonio, and worked out with that club during most of spring training, but again fate intervened, this time in the form of Mother Nature.

“We had a few days of rain, and they needed someone to go to Melbourne for a game against the Twins,” he said. “I threw eight or nine pitches, all resulting in ground balls, and [San Antonio manager and former University of Hartford standout] Gary LaRocque said they wanted me in Triple-A. I didn’t believe it until the plane actually touched down in Albuquerque.”

Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1986.

After skipping an entire level, Schweighoffer was used as a relief pitcher for most of the 1986 season, making 43 appearances. In the final month, the Dukes moved him back into the starting rotation, and he wound up with a 7-3 record.

His manager in Albuquerque was Terry Collins, who later piloted the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series. He also benefitted from a Connecticut connection.

“Terry was fiery and demanded a lot from the players, and Dave Wallace [of Waterbury] was a tremendous pitching coach,” he said.

1986 Albuquerque Dukes

Schweighoffer was asked to work on some new things during spring training in 1987, which he described as “mediocre.” He learned something during that training camp, however, which has stuck with him for more than three decades.

“Every day is a tryout, because no matter what you’re told, you still have to perform,” he said. “I use that to this day.”

Back under LaRocque in San Antonio, and converted again into a full-time starter, Schweighoffer posted a 4-4 record before being promoted back to Triple-A. Returning to Albuquerque meant returning to high elevations, and a switch back to the bullpen resulted in a 2-3 record and 5.33 ERA. The Dukes captured the Pacific Coast League title, which Schweighoffer dubbed one of the highlights of his professional playing career.


Mike Schweighoffer, Albuquerque Dukes, 1987.

The next spring, he was told he would be sent back to Double-A San Antonio, now guided by future Boston Red Sox skipper Kevin Kennedy. The Dodgers did not grant his request for a release, and he appeared in 43 games, including eight starts, with a 7-8 record and 3.96 ERA. At season’s end, he made the difficult decision to leave the game.

“I was 26 years old, had worked two winters at CNB and decided to give up playing,” he said. “I was also tired of dragging [his wife] Liz around the country.”


Mike Schweighoffer, San Antonio Missions, 1988.

With a number of former teammates making significant contributions, Los Angeles won the 1988 World Series in a shocking 4-game sweep of the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics. Despite never making it to the big dance, Schweighoffer said he had “absolutely zero bitterness and no regrets” about giving up the game.

“I got to pitch to Barry Bonds, Ken Caminiti, Sandy and Roberto Alomar,” he recalled. “Gary Sheffield took me deep one day; that ball is still rolling down I-10 in El Paso. I remember that at-bat like it was yesterday.”

He began working full-time at CNB in 1989, and is still active in the banking industry today. He is currently regional manager for commercial lending at People’s United Bank. He and Liz reside in Farmington, and they have three adult children – a daughter and twin boys.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 2008.

Despite having played professional baseball and being associated with some of the top stars in the game, Schweighoffer said his biggest baseball thrills came far away from any stadiums filled with paying customers.

“My best baseball memories are from Trinity, the Newington Capitols, coaching travel ball and Unionville American Legion, and being an assistant coach when my kids won Little League state titles in 2004 and 2005,” he said. “I just wanted to give back to the game.”

Other stories in this series:

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!

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.

In the Day of Louis Sockalexis

Major League debut: April 22, 1897
Position: Right Fielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Born: October 24, 1871 in Indian Island, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913 in Burlington, Maine
Education: University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) & College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts)

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1894.

In 1899, the Hartford Base Ball Club of the Class-A Eastern League signed outfielder, Louis Francis Sockalexis. He was the first Native American to play professional baseball and the first person of color to play for Hartford. When he arrived in Hartford, Sockalexis was noticeably overweight and battling an alcohol addiction. Also called “Sock” or “Sox,” he was once a five-tool outfielder who experienced a meteoric rise and fall during the Deadball Era.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Holy Cross, 1899.

Sockalexis hailed from Indian Island, Maine and was a member of the Penobscot tribe. His athletic gifts earned him acceptance to College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he excelled in baseball, football and track. He then followed his Holy Cross baseball coach and transferred to University of Norte Dame. He played both outfield and pitcher while at Holy Cross and Notre Dame. In a sign of things to come, Sockalexis was expelled from Notre Dame in his first semester for consuming alcohol.

L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.
L to R: Louis Sockalexis, Dr. M.R. Powers and Walter Curley, Holy Cross, 1895.

Fortunately for Sockalexis, Cy Young‘s Cleveland Spiders signed him to a major league contract on March 9, 1897. Sockalexis was so popular in Cleveland that fans and reporters later claimed him to be the source of the controversial “Indians” nickname. In his first big league season, Sockalexis appeared in 66 games, had a .338 batting average with three home runs, 42 RBI and 16 stolen bases. On July 1, 1897, he had five base hits in a game against St. Louis. Yet, a few days later, he got drunk, jumped from the second-story of a brothel and severely injured his ankle, which would affect his play and reputation.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Cleveland, 1897.

Sockalexis struggled to regain his old form amid two more seasons in Cleveland. After being arrested for public drunkenness at a theatre, Cleveland released him in late May of 1899. A week later, Sockalexis landed with Hartford. Burdened by alcoholism, he slumped in the Charter Oak City. He hit for a .198 batting average in 91 at bats. His brief time in Hartford lasted about a month before manager Billy Barnie traded him to Bristol of the Connecticut State League.

Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.
Hartford signs Sockalexis, 1899.

Bristol eventually unloaded Sockalexis to Waterbury that same year. He ended the season with a .320 batting average. The Waterbury club wanted him back for the following season, but Sockalexis returned to Maine. A series of news reports detailed his arrests for public drunkenness, and the former baseball star was reduced to homelessness and vagrancy. He served intermittent time in jail but made a comeback in 1902 with Lowell of the New England League. At 30 years old, Sockalexis hit for a .288 average in his lone season with Lowell.

Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.
Louis Sockalexis, Outfielder, Lowell, 1902.

In 1907, Sockalexis signed his last baseball contract. He appeared with the Bangor club of the Maine State League. Sockalexis then found work as a lumberjack and lived at Penobscot Indian Island Reservation. He also piloted a ferryboat on which he enjoyed reading The Sporting News and newspapers left behind by passengers. Sockalexis continued to show interest in baseball, playing on amateur teams, coaching and umpiring.

Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.
Louis Sockalexis (bottom, left) on the Bangor Baseball Club, Maine League, 1907.

He eventually stopped drinking to excess, but was not in the best of health. Sockalexis suffered from attacks of rheumatism and looked older than his age. In the fall of 1913, he joined a logging crew harvesting the northern woods of Maine. While felling a pine tree on Christmas Eve, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 42. Louis Sockalexis was buried in St. Anne Church Cemetery on Indian Island, Maine.

Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.
Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.

Today, Sockalexis is remembered as a pioneering figure. As the first Native American in the major leagues, he blazed a trail amidst widespread prejudice. Fans in various cities hollered racist epithets and made ignorant gestures towards Sockalexis throughout his career. Like Charles Bender, Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson, Sockalexis endured cruel discrimination while playing the game he loved. Though alcoholism did him in, Louis Sockalexis prevailed over racial attitudes of the time and momentarily achieved, baseball greatness.

Sources:

  1. Statistics: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sockach01.shtml
  2. SABR Bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a
  3. Louis Sockalexis – Remembering Now and Forever: http://sockalexis.net/

Jack Rich, Most Valuable Player of 2021

Back in September of this year, outfielder/relief pitcher, Jack Rich of the Record-Journal Expos was unanimously voted Most Valuable Player of the Regular Season by league managers. The Expos were 10-8 on the season and 3-2 in the playoff tournament. Jack batted an impressive .475 while appearing in all 18 games with the Meriden-based franchise. In 59 at bats, he had 28 hits, 9 runs, a home run, 22 RBI and a league-leading 9 doubles. He also pitched 9 innings in relief. Jack has been a mainstay for the Expos since 2019.

Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2020.
Jack Rich, OF/P, Record-Journal Expos, 2019.
Jack Rich featured in Record-Journal, 2021.

Jack Rich grew up in South Meriden, Connecticut, playing baseball and basketball. He’s a graduate of Wilcox Technical High School and now attends Eastern Connecticut State University. As a key part of the Warriors baseball team, Jack has compiled a .315 batting average with 4 home runs, 49 RBI and a .399 on base percentage thus far during his college career. He will begin his senior year this coming spring, seeking a Little East Conference title and a Division-III College World Series.

Jack Rich makes the All-Star team, 1997.

Bill Masse, A Baseball Life

Connecticut’s own Bill Masse can be described as a baseball careerist. He went from a local standout to an Olympic gold medalist who became a minor league insider. In span of 35 years, he accomplished several unsung feats amid 9 seasons in the minors as an outfielder, 13 years as a coach and another 13 as a scout. Masse’s baseball story began at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Connecticut, where he became a State Champion in 1983. The following year, he led the Eagles to a conference title and was selected to the Class-L All-Star Team.

Connecticut’s Class-L All-Star Team, 1984.

After completing an impressive tenure with Manchester’s American Legion Post 102, Masse joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. In the summer of 1984, he bolstered the Moriarty Brothers lineup en route to a season title and playoff championship. Masse went 10 for 13 at the plate with 12 runs to secure the Playoff Tournament MVP. He soon matriculated to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and made instant waves in his freshman year as their leadoff center fielder.

Masse secures Playoff MVP and GHTBL Playoff Championship for Moriarty Brothers, 1984.

In 1985, Masse snatched the the Southern Conference batting title with a .430 batting average. He tied the Davidson record for home runs in a season (10) and set the school record for stolen bases (28). The 19 year old earned All-Conference laurels and the SoCon Freshman Player of the Year award. Masse achieved another All-Conference season In 1987 at Davidson and was honored as an American Baseball Coaches Association All-American.

Masse hits grand slam to defeat UConn, 1987.

Throughout his college years, Masse spent summers aboard the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He performed exceptionally, earning two Cape League All-Star nods (1985 and 1987). Though Masse was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 12th round of the 1987 MLB Draft, but instead, he pursued a dream to compete in the Olympics. Team USA Baseball recruited Masse for the Intercontinental Cup of 1987 where he mashed a .317 batting average with 3 long balls. Along with teammates, Robin Ventura, Tino Martinez and Fairfield, Connecticut, native Charles Nagy, Masse won the silver medal.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Team USA, 1987.

Soon thereafter, Masse transferred to Wake Forest University to play for his Cape League coach, George Greer. Masse batted .422 for the Demon Deacons in his senior year. He wrapped 24 homers with 77 RBI, 83 runs and 35 steals in 58 games. Masse was sixth in NCAA Division-I in total bases (197) and named a first team All-American. At the 1988 MLB Draft, the New York Yankees picked him in the 7th round, however Masse decided to forgo professional baseball once again, in favor of international competition.

BIll Masse, Outfielder, Wake Forest University, 1988.

Though he was offered a roster spot in Double-A, Masse choose to reappear on Team USA. As the regular right fielder, he hit .200 and scored 11 runs in 11 games at the 1988 Baseball World Cup in which Team USA finished runner-up to Cuba. A few weeks later, Team USA seized first place at 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, wherein Masse had a .314 batting average. To this day, he remains the only person from Manchester, Connecticut, to win an Olympic gold medal.

Bill Masse makes public appearance after winning Olympic Gold Medal, Manchester, Connecticut, 1988.

In 1989, Masse finally reported to the minor leagues with the New Yankees organization. He was assigned to the Prince William Cannons along with his high school teammate, Larry Stanford. Masse batted .239 for the Cannons with a league-high 89 walks. After splitting the 1990 season between Fort Lauderdale and Albany, he served a full season with Albany in 1991. That year, he deposited a .295 batting average and led the Eastern League in on base percentage.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Prince William Cannons, 1989.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1990.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Albany Yankees, 1991.

Masse eventually earned a promotion to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. In 1993, he swatted new career-highs: a .316 batting average, 81 runs scored, 91 RBI, 19 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a league-high, 82 walks. He finished fourth in the International League in batting average and second to Jim Thome in on base percentage. Masse was named an All-Star bestowed with Player of the Year among Yankees farmhands.

“I feel like I deserve to go up because I’ve proved myself all year. I feel like I could go up there and perform if I could just get my chance.”

Bill Masse, Hartford Courant, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.

Though he would never reach the majors, Masse competed alongside several legendary Yankees including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. After a taste of the big leagues during Spring Training, Buck Showalter cut Masse from New York’s 40-man roster. In 1995, the Yankees released Masse after 47 games with Columbus. The following year, the Boston Red Sox signed him to a minor league contract, though back problems prevented Masse from continuing a playing career.

Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1993.
Bill Masse, Outfielder, Columbus Clippers, 1994.

Masse immediately pivoted and became an assistant coach at his alma mater, Wake Forest University. He then spent four years in the Montreal Expos system working his way up from hitting coach to manager. The New York Yankees organization welcomed Masse back as hitting coach of the Tampa Yankees in 2001. He managed the Greensboro Bats in 2002 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Bill Masse, Manager, Vermont Expos, 1997.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Vermont Expos, 1997.

In 2003, Masse went back to manage the Tampa Yankees and stayed in position until the end of 2004. He became manager of the Trenton Thunder in 2005 through 2006. Next, he managed the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2007 and the San Antonio Missions in 2008. MLB All-Stars such as Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera developed in the minors under Masse’s watch.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2001.
Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Tampa Yankees, 2003.
Bill Masse, Manager, Tampa Yankees, 2004.

“I turned over a TV, a microwave, a coffee pot. It cost me a little bit of money. It was not a pretty sight. It was ugly. But it worked.”

Bill Masse recalls a successful clubhouse tactic in 2007.
Bill Masse, Manager, Trenton Thunder, 2006.
Bill Masse, Manager, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, 2007.

In 2009, Masse concluded his on-field career as hitting coach for the Double-A Binghamton Mets and the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. He pursued a new role as a scout for the Seattle Mariners. From 2011 to 2013, he was Seattle’s Eastern Supervisor of Pro Scouting. Around this time, Masse owned a training facility in Hartford, Connecticut, once known as Baseball City. When Derek Jeter became President of the Miami Marlins in 2017, Masse sold his business and accepted a new scouting role from his former teammate, Jeter.

Bill Masse, Hitting Coach, Binghamton Mets, 2009.

Former Hartford Courant sports editor, Ed Yost, once ranked Bill Masse among the ten best male athletes from Manchester. Masse’s spectacular baseball career garnered him an induction into the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame. His wife Holly and their children now reside in Manchester. His sons, Easton and Rowan Masse, play baseball and and hockey at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut. Bill Masse continues to work as a scout for the Miami Marlins.

Bill Masse (right), East Catholic High School Class of 1983 with his coach, Jim Penders Sr., 2021.

Sources

  1. Bill Masse player profile on Baseball-Reference.com
  2. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com

Bernie Williams Began his Career in the Twilight League

Before achieving stardom with the New York Yankees, Bernie Williams spent a summer in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. The story started when Williams was 16 years old. He was discovered by Yankees scout Roberto Rivera in Puerto Rico, however the right-handed outfielder was too young to sign a contract. The Yankees decided to stash Williams in Connecticut at Big League Baseball Camp on the campus of Cheshire Academy. His camp instructor, Frank Mohr, recruited Williams to play for GHTBL’s Katz Sports Shop team in the summer of 1985.

Bernie Williams’ signed Katz Sports Shop jersey, 1985.

As a teenaged prospect, Williams saw limited playing time in the twilight league among college-level competition. In 20 at bats for Katz Sports Shop, he had 4 hits. The team’s player-manager, Dave Katz once reminisced of Williams: “He was a really nice kid. He was shy, like he is now. He was so quiet, you didn’t even know he had a Spanish accent. Everybody on the team took to him. One thing does stick out in my mind. I hate to mention this; he dropped a routine fly ball in one game. But I remember my first baseman telling me that people at the camp said Bernie had all the tools.”

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1993.

The Yankees signed Williams as an undrafted free agent by September of 1985. It was the start of a 20-year professional career, solely with the Yankees. Williams played rookie ball in Florida’s Gulf Coast League and spent six years in the minors developing into a switch-hitter. He broke into the majors in 1991 and became a fixture in center field at Yankee Stadium until 2006.

Bernie Williams featured in Record-Journal, 1996.

Williams was a 4-time World Series champion with the second most postseason home runs (22) in major league history behind Manny Ramirez (29). Williams compiled a career .297 batting average, 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 1,366 runs scored, 449 doubles and a .990 fielding percentage. He earned five All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards, a Silver Slugger Award, the 1996 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award and the American League (AL) batting title in 1998.

Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 1998.
Bernie Williams, Outfielder, New York Yankees, 2005.

Known for consistency and postseason heroics, Bernie Williams is considered one of the best switch-hitters in baseball history. He is also an all-time New York Yankees great. The team honored Williams by retiring his uniform number (#51) and dedicating a plaque to him in Monument Park in 2015. Nowadays, he is an accomplished jazz guitarist. Following his retirement from baseball, Williams released two jazz albums and was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

Record-Journal newspaper excerpt, 2015.

Author’s aside: The baseball world took Bernie Williams for granted. We did not realize the magnitude and depth of his career while he was an active player. What a story and what an interesting character. Much love Bernie!

Sources

  1. Bernie Williams page on Baseball-Reference.com

2. Record-Journal newspaper database on Newspapers.com.

Baseball Bloodlines: The Burnham Brothers

The Burnham brothers are two of the best baseball players ever to hail from South Windsor, Connecticut. Gary Burnham Jr. and Brett Burnham, sons of Deborah and Gary Burnham Sr. each had excellent playing careers. The Burnham’s became minor leaguers and traveled to world doing what they loved. Separated by six and a half years, the brother duo were heavily influenced by their grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. and their uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. both of whom also played minor league baseball.

L to R: Gary Burnham Jr., Ralph Giasanti Sr. and Ralph Giansanti Jr. – painted by Gary Burnham Jr.

Gary Burnham Jr.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 13, 1974, Gary Burnham displayed athletic promise from an early age. At 15, he was a left-handed prospect who corked a .500 batting average for American Legion Post 133 of South Windsor. To develop his skills against more experienced players, Gary also competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League in between his legion schedule. As a teenager, he manned the outfield and filled in at first base for the Moriarty Brothers franchise, managed by twilight legend Gene Johnson.

Gary Burnham (kneeling, 2nd from left), American Legion Post 133, South Windsor, 1989.
Gary Burnham, South Windsor American Legion, 1990.

Gary graduated from South Windsor High School where he earned four varsity letters in baseball and football. He captained South Windsor baseball to the Class-L State Championship in his senior year and was named All-Conference, All-State and All-American along with Gatorade’s CT High School Player of the Year. Gary also captured the Hugh Greer Award as Outstanding Athlete of South Windsor’s Class of 1993. He was then drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft but instead, Gary chose to accept an athletic scholarship to Clemson University in South Carolina. 

Gary Burnham projected as high draft pick, Hartford Courant excerpt, June 3, 1993.
Gary Burnham named state’s best, 1993.

As a freshman at Clemson, Gary started in left field and batted fifth and Clemson was ranked first in the nation during most of the 1994 season. In 1995, he spearheaded a College World Series run and achieved All-ACC and All-American honors. He walloped a .344 batting average and ranked second in NCAA Division-I with 27 doubles. That summer, the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League tapped Gary to play in Massachusetts. After a formidable performance, he was selected to the 1995 Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Boston’s Fenway Park and secured MVP of the game.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clemson University, 1994.

In 1996, Baseball America ranked Gary Burnham as the 56th “Best College Prospect” and 3rd Team Preseason All-American. He took Clemson to their second College World Series appearance and was voted to the All-ACC team. The Oakland A’s selected Gary in the 40th round of the 1996 MLB draft though again, he did not sign. Gary returned to the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores in the summertime. During his senior year, Gary led the Tigers in almost every offensive statistic and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He hit .391 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 106 hits and concluded his college career by setting the program’s doubles record (77).

Gary Burnham trots home after walk-off homer against University of Alabama, 1996.

For a third time Gary was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies organization in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft. It was the start of a fourteen year professional career highlighted by eleven years in the minors and four years in Asia. Gary got his start in rookie ball on the Batavia Clippers of the New York-Pennsylvania League and led his club in base hits, batting average and total bases. In 1998, he was promoted to High-A ball with the Clearwater Phillies alongside Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Gary crashed a .296 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples and 93 runs, while leading Florida State League first basemen with a .994 fielding percentage.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clearwater Phillies, 1998.

Gary won another promotion to the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1999, where he split time between first base and outfield. He compiled 12 home runs and 49 RBI over 116 games, though his batting average slumped to .249. The next season, Gary bounced back, hitting .268 with 28 doubles for Reading. In 2001, he suited up for a third season with Reading and hit .318 with 25 doubles and 15 homers. He had the best average in the Phillies farm system, which was third-best in the Eastern League.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2001.

After five seasons with the Phillies organization, Gary ended up being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training of 2002. The Blue Jays gave the 27-year-old his first shot at the Triple-A level with the 2002 Syracuse SkyChiefs. Gary had a career year, hitting .281 with 151 base knocks, 34 doubles, 17 home runs and 88 RBI. He paced Syracuse in RBI and was chosen as the team’s MVP. He also led the Blue Jays organization with 238 total bases, was third in the International League in RBI and had the most assists among all first basemen.

Gary Burnham (right) and teammate, Kevin Cash, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2002.

In 2003, Gary served as Toronto’s Triple-A backup plan for their star first baseman, Carlos Delgado. Gary carved out a .269 batting average for Syracuse with 9 home runs in an off-year. He then split the 2004 season between the St. Louis Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds affiliate (.292 in 35 games) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Louisville Bats club (.261 in 69 games). In 2005, the 30-year-old southpaw played for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He led his team in runs (75), doubles (32), home runs (18) and RBI (84). Gary finished second in the Atlantic League with a .320 batting average. He was saluted with All-Star honors and awarded team MVP of the Bluefish.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2003.

Gary started the following season with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He began the year batting .319 over 19 games and played well. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice and signed Gary to another minor league contract on May 23, 2006. He went on to clobber a .341 batting average in 80 games for the Double-A Reading Phillies with 16 homers and 60 RBI. He was recognized as a Topps National Player of the Month for hitting 10 dingers in August. Despite missing about a month of the season, Gary achieved the Triple Crown in the Phillies farm system and set the Reading Phillies career home run record (56).

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2006.
Paul Galloway and Gary Burnham (right) at Clemson Alumni Game, 2006.

At the end of 2006, the Phillies called him up to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Gary had a torrid hot stretch hitting .391 average, 9 runs and 8 RBI in 10 games. It was clear that he was a major league caliber player, but the Phillies had 2006 MVP Ryan Howard at first base. Gary remained in Triple-A in 2007, starting at designated hitter, first base and outfield for the Ottawa Lynx of the International League. After batting .292 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 84 RBI and a league-best on base percentage, Ottawa dubbed him team MVP.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Ottawa Lynx, 2007.

After concluding his minor league career in the United States, Gary welcomed new opportunities from abroad. In the off-season, he made appearances in the Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League. Then in 2008, Gary signed a contract with the La New Bears of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over a total of 70 games for the Bears, he batted .323 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. At 33 years old, he set a league record among foreign-born players by hitting in 23 consecutive games.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, La New Bears, 2008.

Gary parlayed his Taiwan season’ into a role in Japan. He joined the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, managed by Bobby Valentine. In a game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Gary hit a game-winning homer off of future New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. Gary was also selected to team Italy’s preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he did not compete in the tournament. However in 2010, he inked his last professional deal with the Godo Knights of the Italian Baseball League, ranking top ten in most offensive categories.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary with his wife, Rachel Burnham in 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary retired from professional baseball at 35 years old. In total, he amassed 155 home runs, 856 RBI, a .293 career batting average and a .375 on base percentage. He was also an underrated defender; in 662 minor league games, he maintained a .992 fielding percentage with only 51 errors. Gary was named an all-star at every minor league level and received three team MVP awards. In 2010, the Reading Phillies named him to the All-Decade team. Then in 2016, the Reading Phillies inducted Gary Burnham into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in the same class as Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell.

Gary Burnham accepting his induction into Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, 2016.
L to R: Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Gary Burnham, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell – Reading Phillies Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

During his professional career, Gary spent several off-seasons as a substitute teacher and a baseball instructor in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, he helped to establish the South Windsor Phillies franchise in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nowadays, he gives private and group lessons as owner of Gary Burnham Baseball Instruction in South Windsor. He works in surgical device sales as National Accounts Manager of Vanguard Medical while operating a real estate investment business, GRB Properties LLC. Gary lives in South Windsor with his wife Rachel and their three children.

Gary Burnham reunites with Bobby Valentine at a World Series Club event, West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017.

Gary Burnham sets Reading Phillies career home run record, 2006.

Brett Burnham

Born January 1, 1981, Brett Burnham was a tough kid and natural athlete who began his teenage years by overcoming cancer. At the age of 13, Brett made his first appearance on the national stage with the Connecticut Mariners at the 1994 AAU National Tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa. Brett was named Most Valuable Player after hitting a grand slam and pitching four hitless innings in relief to win the championship. His head coach was longtime AAU contributor, Bob Hetu. The following year, Brett smashed a three-run homer and was the driving force to another AAU national title run in Cocoa, Florida.

Brett Burnham (3rd from right) and the Connecticut Mariners win AAU National Title, 1994.
Brett Burnham earns MVP award and AAU National Title, West Des Moines, Iowa, 1994.

Brett attended South Windsor High School where he started all four years on the baseball and football teams, like his brother Gary. He was named to the Class-LL All-State team, compiling a .474 batting average with 6 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a sophomore. During the summers, Brett was key to the South Windsor American Legion baseball team (1995-1998) and was twice named to the Connecticut all-star team. In July of 1997, Brett was scouted by the Boston Red Sox at Yale Field to compete in the Area Code Baseball Games in San Diego, California.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, South Windsor High School, 1996.
Brett Burnham (standing, center with striped uniform), Class-LL All-State Team, 1997.

In the summer of 1998, Brett Burnham joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. He was a rookie on Newman Lincoln-Mercury, the franchise formerly known as Moriarty Brothers. As a 17 year old, Brett improved his game in the GHTBL while leading the South Windsor American Legion team to their second straight Zone 8 title. In 1999, he batted a whopping .649 average during his senior year at South Windsor High School. He earned All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association for his high school season. After winning GHTBL’s 1999 Season Title with Newman Lincoln-Mercury, Brett traveled south to attend Auburn University.

Brett Burnham featured in Hartford Courant, June 30, 1999.

As a freshman, Brett guarded third base for the Tigers, slashed .268, scored 28 runs and drove in 33 RBI with 9 doubles and 2 home runs. In early 2000, Brett was selected by the newly established Manchester Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League that summer. The following year at Auburn, he batted .275, scored 31 runs, stole 28 bases with 11 doubles and 22 RBI. Brett wanted a bigger role and an opportunity to get drafted going into his Junior season. Wanting greater responsibility and to be closer to home, Brett transferred to University of Connecticut in the fall of 2001.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Auburn University, 2001.
Brett Burnham plays for the Manchester Silkworms, 2000.

Under the tutelage of Head Coach Andy Baylock, Brett played shortstop for the Connecticut Huskies. In 2002, he raked .335 with 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 49 RBI and led NCAA Division-I with 32 hit by pitches. For his terrific season, Brett was honored with a 2nd Team All-Big East Conference nod. He played in the GHTBL that summer as shortstop for Mr. G’s franchise – named for Brett’s grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. The club was sponsored by his uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. and former big leaguer, Ricky Bottalico. Brett helped Mr. G’s win the 2002 GHTBL Season Title, while collecting the 2002 Herb Sheintop Player of the Year Award.

Brett Burnham drafted by San Diego Padres, 2003.

After serving as captain during 2003 season at UConn, Brett as was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 21st round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft. He went west for rookie ball in the Pioneer League. As a second baseman on the Idaho Falls Padres, Brett performed well over 50 games, leading the team in on base percentage and doubles while batting for a .290 average. At 23 years old, he was promoted to Single-A with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. During that 2004 season Unfortunately, Brett broke his hand in a Spring Training game. He returned six weeks later and in the first game back, broke his hand again. Brett was released and retired from professional baseball in 2004.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Eugene Emeralds, 2004.
Eugene Emeralds logo, 2004.

Eventually, Brett rejoined the GTHBL aboard Mr. G’s franchise once again. He led the league in stolen bases during the summer of 2005. When Mr. G’s disbanded, he reunited with his former manager, Gene Johnson, who headed the Foss Insurance team (previously called Newman Lincoln-Mercury). By the end of his twilight career, Brett was a 3-time batting champion with three home run titles, seven RBI titles, four stolen base titles and a Triple Crown season in 2010. Brett was a 4-time MVP, a 5-time Player of the Year and a GHTBL All-Star nearly every year. His final baseball season was in 2011, when Brett received a special honor as GHTBL Player of the Decade.

Brett Burnham, Shortstop, Foss Insurance, 2009.

In 2015, Brett and his wife, Cristi Burnham were both inducted into the South Windsor High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Together they founded Happy’s Nutrition in South Windsor, offering shakes, smoothies and teas using Herbalife products. Brett has pivoted from corporate America to full-time Herbalife entrepreneur with Cristi, and they have reached the top one percentile of sales. Brett and Cristi were high school sweethearts where it all began, in South Windsor. They now have four children and reside in Ellington, Connecticut.

Brett and and his wife, Cristi Burnham, Happy’s Nutrition, South Windsor, Connecticut, 2018.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Gary_Burnham
  3. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Brett_Burnham

Hartford Twilight Manager Spotlight: Tom Abbruzzese

Since 1976, Tom Abbruzzese has managed the same Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League franchise. Abbruzzese initially managed Society for Savings Bank with his father, Mike Abbruzzese. They fielded strong teams rostered by the likes of Mark Riemer, David Gale and Kevin Gieras. Society for Savings eventually became Bank of Boston and then People’s Bank in the summer of 2000. The franchise has amassed fifteen Regular Season and Playoff Championships. The “Bankers” have recruited and advanced numerous professional players to and from the GHTBL year after year. With Abbruzzese at the helm, People’s remains a perennial contender.

Hartford Courant excerpt, June 21, 1981.
2009 People’s Bank

Born on August 11, 1943, in Hartford, Connecticut. Abbruzzese is the longest serving GHTBL manager in history. He is a graduate of Wethersfield High School and Fairfield University (1965). Then he worked for the Hartford Parks Department for a brief period. In 1971, Abbruzzese organized and coached a team in the Junior and Senior Division of the Jaycee Courant League who played home games at Hartford’s Colt Park. His team was sponsored by team sponsored by Society for Savings, a regional bank with staying power in Hartford. Abbruzzese then entered Society for Savings into the GHTBL during the summer of 1976.

Tom Abbruzzese holds mound meeting, 2019.
Manager Tom Abbruzzese at Dunkin Donuts Park, Hartford, Connecticut, 2019.

Abbruzzese earned a Doctorate of Education from the University of Connecticut (1996). His current profession is as Director of Adult Education, in Newington, Connecticut.  Previously he was a Vice Principal of Ledyard High School Ledyard High School (1974-1995) and before that, Recreation Leader for the City of Hartford (1963-1976), According to Abbruzzese, he’s, “thankful not only for the outstanding players I have had the privilege of coaching and continue to have, but most importantly for their exceptional character as well. These two qualities are the ingredients for success.” Abbruzzese resides in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Manager Tom Abbruzzese, People’s United Bank, 2020
Tom Abbruzzese (right) accepts GTHBL service award, 2020.
Manager Tom Abbruzzese at Dunkin Donuts Park, Hartford, Connecticut, 2021.