Category: Player Spotlight

Featuring players and alumni of the GHTBL.

Bill Holowaty, Local Sports Legend

May 26, 2020

Bill Holowaty is the current President of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League and former head baseball coach at Eastern Connecticut State University. Holowaty coached for 45 years (1967-2012) at ECSU and became one of the most successful coaches in the history of New England intercollegiate athletics. He led the Warriors to the postseason 39 out of 45 times, appearing 14 times in the Division-III College World Series and winning 4 championships (1982, 1990, 1998 and 2002). He was named Division-III National Coach of the Year 4 times. Coach Holowaty ended his career record with 1,412 wins, 528 losses and 7 ties – a winning percentage of .725, and has the third most all-time wins by a Division-III coach.

Coach Bill Holowaty, 2010.

William P. Holowaty was born on March 6, 1945 in Little Falls, New York. He was a gifted athlete with good size. Holowaty starred in football, basketball and baseball at Mohawk High School in Mohawk, New York. He became a top basketball recruit and visited Dean Smith’s University of North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest before deciding on the University of Connecticut. Coach Fred Shabel’s Huskies included UConn greats like Toby Kimball, Wes Bialosuknia and Tom Penders. Holowaty played basketball at UConn from 1964 to 1967, winning 3 season titles in the Yankee Conference. He was later recognized as a member of the UConn Basketball All-Century Ballot.

Bill Holowaty (center), UConn Basketball, 1965.
1965 UConn Basketball Team
1967 UConn Basketball Team
Bill Holowaty (left), UConn Basketball, 1967.

During college, Holowaty played baseball in the Hartford Twilight League with the Hamilton Standard team. Great local players like Wally Widholm and Hal Lewis were Bill’s teammates and mentors. Immediately after his basketball career, Holowaty became head baseball coach at Eastern Connecticut State College (renamed Eastern Connecticut State University in 1983) and quickly turned the program around. In 1973, he was the assistant coach for the Chatham A’s of the Cape Cod Baseball League. Holowaty was a guiding force for instituting the NCAA Division-III baseball championship in the mid-1970s. While coaching, he also served as ECSU Athletic Director for 15 years.

Bill Holowaty, ECSU Baseball Coach, 1969.
1970 Eastern Connecticut Baseball Team
Bill Holowaty (right), ECSU Head Baseball Coach, 1970.
Bill Holowaty, ECSU Basketball Assistant, 1971.
Holowaty earns 300 wins, 1979.
New England All-Star Game at Fenway Park, 1979.

1980 ECSU Baseball Team
Coach Holowaty celebrating the holidays at home plate, 1980.
Bill Holowaty, ECSU Head Baseball Coach, 1982.
Holowaty featured in Hartford Courant, 1983.
Bill Holowaty and Jason Holowaty, 1984.
Bill Holowaty, ECSU Head Baseball Coach, 1985.
Bill Holowaty, Eastern Connecticut, 1986.
Coach Holowaty, Eastern Connecticut, 1987.
Coach Holowaty, Eastern Connecticut, 1987.
Holowaty receives Gold Key, 1988.
Coach Holowaty, Eastern Connecticut, 1989.
Coach Holowaty, 1990.
1993 Eastern Baseball Team
1993 Eastern Baseball Team

Bill Holowaty built his coaching legacy upon competitiveness, consistency and fundraising. His vision for success included a Varsity and Junior Varsity team, Spring Training trips to Florida and a state-of-the-art ballpark in Willimantic, Connecticut. The ECSU Warriors posted at least 30 wins in 28 seasons under Holowaty leading to four national championships. In 2003, the Warriors lost the Division-III College World Series championship game in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded. Afterwards Holowaty was quoted saying,

Coach Bill Holowaty, 1998.
Nick Tempesta and Bill Holowaty, 2000.
Coach Holowaty wins 1000th game, 2002.
Eastern Connecticut wins D-III College World Series, 2002.
The Holowaty Family at National College Baseball Hall of Fame Induction, 2002.
Coach Bill Holowaty, 2003.
Coach Bill Holowaty, 2008.
Bill Holowaty, ECSU Head Baseball Coach, 2012.

“We’ll be back again. It’s like putting on a Red Sox uniform; you are hoping to win a World Series. You put on a Yankee uniform and you are expected to win. You put on an Eastern uniform and you’re expected to win.”

– Bill Holowaty
Holowaty Baseball Camp, Pomfret, Connecticut, 2014.
Holowaty speaks to Connecticut Mustangs AAU program, 2016.

In the final stage of his career, Holowaty continued to win. His Warriors had a streak of 11 consecutive 30-win seasons into 2012. The team fell one win shy of extending that streak in 2013. As a result of his success, Coach Holowaty earned several accolades and was inducted into the following Hall of Fame organizations: ABCA, Greater Utica Sports, National College Baseball, NEIBA and the Eastern Connecticut State University Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a co-founder of the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA). He served as ABCA President, was a long-time member of the ABCA All-America committee and is currently a member of the ABCA Board of Directors.

Coach Holowaty playing golf, 2016.
The Holowaty Family, 2017.
Evan Chamberlain and Bill Holowaty at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford, 2017.
Bill Holowaty, GHTBL President, 2017.
Andy Baylock and Bill Holowaty, 2017.

Bill Holowaty remains a fierce competitor to this day. He enjoys playing golf regularly with friends and family. He spends much of his time with his wife Jan Holowaty, his children Jason, Jennifer, Jared and his grandchildren. Jason and Jared Holowaty played professional baseball in Australia after college and carved out their own careers in baseball. Bill attributes much of his family’s success to his wife Jan and often mentions their shared love of sports.

Bill and Jan Holowaty, 2018.
GHTBL donates to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, 2018.
Jan, Bill and Jennifer Holowaty at the 2018 NEIBA Hall of Fame induction, 2018.
Coach Holowaty (right) with other college coaches at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association conference, 2019.
Bill DePascale and Bill Holowaty, 2019.

Coach Holowaty inducted into the National Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame

Willy Yahn’s Baseball Blog

Yahn, a professional infielder in the Baltimore Orioles organization has written a great blog on recent baseball experiences in amateur and professional leagues. Here’s what he wrote about his time on People’s United Bank:

“Back on June 25th, the day of our first game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, a man approached me after the contest and asked if I wanted to play for his team in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (GHTBL). The GHTBL was established in 1929 and is one of the oldest baseball leagues in the U.S. That man turned out to be Tom Abbruzzese, the manager of the People’s United Bank team out of Wethersfield. Tom and I stayed in contact and I was also in touch with Justin Morhardt, former Atlanta Braves minor leaguer and two-way player for People’s United Bank. I hashed out dates that I could work around Gator games and sent them to Tom. On July 21, Lindsey made the trek over with me to Riverfront Park in Glastonbury as I made my Banker debut.”

“I did not make a glowing first impression with the bat, as I went 0 for 4. But Justin started that game on the mound and I remember converting on about a dozen plays at shortstop en route to a close victory over Rainbow Graphics out of Manchester. I quickly began to enjoy playing for People’s Bank for a few reasons. For starters, I always find it fun getting to know a new group of teammates and showing proving that no matter who I played for I wanted to win badly and that I had my eye on two league rings that summer. 

Between the People’s United Bank team and his Great Falls Gators, Yahn was just shy of playing 30 games last summer.

Second, I was a touch more anonymous in the GHTBL, or at least I felt like that was the case (correct me if I’m wrong people). But with the Gators everyone generally knew ‘that’s Willy’s team that he made’, I would do the coaches meetings a lot of games, I stuck out like a sore thumb. But with People’s Bank I could sneak into our dugout with a plain t-shirt and the team hat that resembled that of the Philadelphia Phillies, and I could surprise the opponent at least for my first at-bat from the leadoff spot. I say that because after my first game as a Banker, many of my first at-bats I received fastballs that caught a lot of plate early in the count, as pitchers were trying to establish their fastball early in the game to the leadoff hitter. AB number one would go: knock, swipe second base, then third, another Banker drives me in for an early lead. It was at this point I felt like teams thought “oooooh it’s that long hair schmuck from UConn who belly flops everywhere” and they remember for the next at-bat. 

It was about to be playoff time for the GHTBL as well, as I needed to get into one more regular season game to qualify myself for the playoffs with People United Bank. We were playing the East Hartford Jets at Wethersfield High School after I had finally received my custom Dove Tail Bat in the mail earlier in the day. It had a natural finish with the DTB and Willy Yahn in Gator green. She was beautiful. I wanted to use her that day because she was fresh out of the box in which it was shipped. I was the lead off hitter and the first pitch of the bottom of the first with the new weapon, I smashed a line drive into center for a single. A good sign for the new bat headed into the playoffs. Then a new pitcher came in for the Jets in the 3rd innings, throwing pretty hard from a funky angle. I learned after the game that it was Lief Bigelow, former UConn sidearmer who transferred to University of Maine. I faced off against him my second at bat, first pitch was a hard runner fastball on the corner inside. I took a hack at it and the barrel of my brand new bat explodes off the handle. I watched the beautiful green label saucer away in disgust. My running so fast in anger and the infielders being distracted by a flying wooden knife allowed me to reach on an infield single. But at what cost, folks? I jokingly called out to Lief (at this point was still trying to remember who he was) saying he owed me a new Dove Tail.”

“I finished the game with three knocks and three swiped bags, the Bankers came out on top 4-2. We were able to win all five regular season games for which I made the trip, as we had a pretty solid team. About the same average age as the Gators, with a lot of solid hitters throughout the line up and a few college pitchers who knew what they were doing. Justin Morhardt contributed highly on both sides of the ball. On top of hitting some bombs out of the clean-up spot, he is a competitive pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls, which as a shortstop makes him a guy that is fun to play behind. People’s United Bank finished 6-6 as we would face off against the GHTBL powerhouse the Vernon Orioles.”

Stay tuned to Willy Yahn’s baseball blog – Chapter 6: The Gator was also a Banker

Yahn is expected to play for the Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League in 2021.

Jim Schult Named to D3 Team of the Decade

Schult, an Eastern Connecticut Baseball Alum and GHTBL Champion.

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The No. 5 stitched to Jim Schult’s uniform as a four-year member of the Eastern Connecticut State University baseball program may very well have stood for ‘5-tool’, as in ‘complete’ player.

This past week, Schult — voted the Division III National Player-of-the-Year in 2011 — represents Eastern on D3baseball.com‘s second all-decade team this century, the 2010s All-Decade Team.

An honorable mention selection at the utility position, the Wappingers Falls, NY native was one of 82 players named to the team, which also includes first, second and third teams which were voted upon by D3baseball.com staff and their colleagues at The Podcast About Division III Baseball. Players had to have played at least two seasons to be eligible for consideration in the decade.

“It’s definitely a big honor to be on this (all-decade) team… it’s nice to be thought of,” admitted Schult, when reached by telephone Friday afternoon.

Eastern, a four-time NCAA Division III national champion, was represented on the first all-decade team of the century (released in 2010) by three players: first-teamers Ryan DiPietro, a left-handed pitcher, and utility player Shawn Gilblair and second-teamer Dwight Wildman, an outfielder.

During their careers, all four of Eastern’s all-decade selections were named Player or Pitcher-of-the-Year by either the American Baseball Coaches’ Association (ABCA) or National College Association (NCBWA), or both. Schult was the only one of the four named to both.

Schult (right) in an elimination game of the 2009 NCAA New England Regionals at the Eastern Baseball Stadium, with battery mate Steve Cammuso stifled Husson University to 7 hits and the Warriors advanced to the championship. The pair also combined for 5 hits, 4 runs scored and 3 runs. Schult’s  2-out HR set the tempo for the 18-3 win.

In his four-year career (2008-11) as a right-handed pitcher, outfielder and DH, the six-foot, 200-pound Schult led the Warriors to four straight NCAA tournaments, at least a share of two Little East Conference regular-season championships and one LEC tournament title, and a 72.7 winning percentage. He batted third in the order in each of his final three years — playing primarily right field — until moving to DH as a senior tri-captain.

As a first-team ABCA All-America and National Player-of-the-Year in 2011, Schult set personal career-highs and led his team in most every statistical category. At the plate, he batted .392 with 76 hits (currently tied for tenth all-time in a season) while starting all 47 games for the 34-13 Warriors. He stole 20 of 21 bases that year with 138 total bases (tied for fifth all-time in a season) and 64 RBI (sixth) and his combined total of 120 RBI and runs scored currently equals the sixth-most in a season in program history. On the mound, he was 10-1 with 92 strikeouts in 87 innings with a 3.31 ERA., his only loss coming in one of his two relief appearances.

During that final season, Schult was credited with four of the staff’s five complete games, his final one coming in a five-hitter with 12 strikeouts in a 2-0 win – the only shutout of his career — over the College of Brockport in the NCAA regional tournament opener in the final pitching appearance of his career. It was that game, where he walked five batters and hit one and stranded ten runners – seven in scoring position —  that Schult feels defined his career. “I think if you had to sum me up in a single game, I think that game would probably tell you what you needed to know about me. I didn’t have great stuff that day — I think I threw about 165 pitches — but I was able to get out of (jams nearly every inning).”

A third baseman at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction, New York, Jim Schult worked hard to make himself a solid right fielder at Eastern, 2017.

In his career, Schult threw complete games in both of his regional tournament starts, also going the distance in an elimination-game win against Husson University in the 2009 regional that moved the Warriors to within a win of advancing into the championship round.

In a 20-13 win over the University of Chicago in Chandler, AZ as a sophomore in 2009, he became the sixth player in program history to hit for the cycle (tripling in the ninth inning to complete the feat), tying program game records in the process with six hits and six runs scored.

A pitcher and third baseman (shortstop was taken by future major league Gold Glover Joe Panik) in high school, Schult was sent to right field on the first day of his first fall season at Eastern to replace a teammate who failed to appear. In that game, hit a home run in his first fall at-bat, and he spent the majority of his career – when not pitching — at that position. After struggling defensively as a freshman, he spent the summer playing center field in a local league at home, honing his craft under the tutelage of Negro League legend Willie Mack. He committed only one outfield error as a sophomore and subsequently led the team in outfield assists each season thereafter.

Schult says that he is most proud of his teams’ three LEC titles and the Warriors’ prodigious power-hitting teams of 2009 and 2010. The 2009 team batted an astounding .355, won its first 13 games, was ranked No. 1 nationally for three consecutive weeks, carried a 14-game hitting streak into the NCAA tournament, and finished as the national leader in doubles and was second in runs and hits. Those two teams set season records in six offensive categories that remain today.

“We stepped on the field with so much confidence, knowing that we were going to do whatever we needed to do to win that game from an offensive standpoint,” Schult recalls of his sophomore and junior seasons.  

A .371 career hitter, Schult today ranks among the program’s all-time career Top Ten in 12 offensive categories, including second in doubles (63), third in total bases (417) and fourth in runs (199) and RBI (189). As a pitcher, he fell one win shy of being one of 13 hurlers in program history with 20 career wins. He finished 19-2 with two saves and a 3.24 ERA in 203.0 innings. Among pitchers with a minimum of ten career decisions, his career winning percentage of 90.5 ranks sixth all-time.

Schult says that he turned down several Division I offers out of high school because Eastern afforded him the opportunity to play every day, as well as pitch.

While freshmen rarely cracked the starting lineup on veteran teams stocked with All-America players under Hall of Fame coach Bill Holowaty, Schult was an exception. Appearing in 40 of 49 games in 2008, he batted .301 with 23 RBI and 30 runs scored, then blossomed as a sophomore by batting .388 with 122 total bases and 58 runs score. “I always thought of  myself as a competitor and  somebody who would rise to that level of competition,” says Schult of his fast start.

Schult believes that a series of adjustments throughout his career were the keys to his success, from learning the nuances of the outfield and being able to hit a curveball after his freshman year, to mastering the art of opposite-field hitting and to learning to ‘pull the trigger’ early in the count as his career progressed. “Every time something got exposed with me, I spent the summer and the winter working on that weakness,” he recalls. “I think, really what it was, was just being willing to learn.”

Over his final three seasons, Jim Schult stole 35 of 37 bases, 20 coming in 21 tries in 2011.

In addition to his baseball accomplishments, Schult was a two-time CoSIDA Academic District I selection and Eastern Outstanding Scholar-Athlete qualifier in both years of eligibility and LEC All-Academic qualifier in all three seasons of eligibility.

Schult grew up in a baseball family, with his grandfather, Art (Dutch) Schult, enjoying a five-year MLB playing career with four organizations in the 1950s and 60s as a 1949 New York Yankees signee, and his father, Jim, being a 33rd-round MLB draft pick of the Texas Rangers as a power-hitting outfielder in 1981. Schult’s younger brother, Jeff, played four seasons at Western New England University as a centerfielder and DH, earning all-region and all-conference honors before graduating in 2014. Like Jim, he was also a CoSIDA academic all-district selection.

After earning his B.S. Degree in Business Administration from Eastern in 2011, Schult spent three summers playing in independent leagues and a winter season as one of the top pitchers in the Australian Baseball League with the Brisbane Bandits before retiring after tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery.  In the summer of 2019, he came out of retirement at the request of Holowaty – the current president of the Greater Hartford Twilight League–  to resuscitate a struggling East Hartford franchise. As a player-coach, he helped lead the Jets to the GHTL championship this past summer.

In 2018, Schult earned a B.S. Degree in Accounting from Marist College and is employed at Blum Shapiro as a senior consultant, and resides in Simsbury.

Jim Schult (center) and his teammates had plenty to celebrate after he scored the winning run when the East Hartford Jets won the GHTBL title this past summer.

ARTICLE FROM GOWARRIORSATHLETICS.COM

Herb Sheintop, Twilight League Legend

Hartford lost an institution on November 10, 1997, with the passing of Herb Sheintop, who owned Herb’s Sport Shop in Hartford for nearly 40 years.

When you walked into Herb’s – on Asylum, Trumbull, Allyn or the present location on 250 Main Street – you could only stand there in amazement, and look at the cramped quarters that were full of sports merchandising, always piled to the ceiling.

Of course, Herb would greet you with one of his patented, at-times corny jokes. Without fail, Herb’s jokes always drew a laugh or a chuckle, regardless of how many times he had told the joke.

A visit to Herb’s could last for hours because he was always in tune with what was happening because of his dealings with hundreds of high school athletic directors and coaches from around the state.

“Hey, you wanna a scoop?” Herb would usually ask when I walked in. “Vanilla or chocolate?”

Baseball was Herb’s favorite sport.

Herb pitched in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, once even had a no-hitter. A Herb’s-sponsored team has been a fixture in the GHTBL for parts of five decades and for that, he was inducted into the Twilight League Hall of Fame in the sponsor’s division.

Sheintop has 5 RBI in Keene Baseball League at Colt Park, 1941.
Herb Sheintop, Hartford VFW Baseball Club, GHTBL, 1953.
Herb Sheintop. President, Keene’s Senior League, Hartford, Connecticut, 1950.
Hartford Maccabees Basketball Team, 1943.
Sheintop tosses a no-hitter, GHTBL, 1950.

“Herb was the oldest active sponsor and one of the best we had,” league president Jim Gallagher said Saturday.

“Herb was a great friend, a very unselfish man. Very often players would come into his store looking for a team to play on. He would direct them to me to make sure they had a place to play. He was great to everybody in the league, helped keep a lot of teams going.”

Gallagher said the league will dedicate its awards banquet in January to Sheintop.

Herb also sponsored teams in the Jaycee-Courant League, and Babe Ruth and Little League teams in West Hartford, where he lived with his wife, Ruth.

Lefty Gomez and Herb Sheintop at Hartford VFW #254, 1956.
Sheintop presents trophy to Hartford VFW Post #254 Softball Champions, 1960.
Sheintop presents trophy to the Hartford Softball League Division D Champions, 1962.
Herb’s Sport Shop announces opening, Hartford, 1960.

“He was a very generous, kind man and very supportive of youth sports,” said Herb Lawton, who has worked at the store 18 years with Bill Stewart, Norm Kershaw, Herb’s son, Andrew, and Herb’s nephew, Al Sogolow.

“We couldn’t begin to count how many times he bailed out teams so they could wear their new uniforms. He often would say, `Pay me when you raise the money.’ ” That’s how we got our American Legion program in Wethersfield started.”

“That was my father,” said Andrew, who now runs the business. “The main thing with my father was that he always wanted to make sure kids had an opportunity to play ball. Be part of a team.”

GHTBL Opening Day, 1963.

Herb knew every inch of the store, knew where everything was: whether it was that high school team’s uniform order, special baseball bat, or the maroon or royal blue laces for those Chuck Taylor Converse All- Star sneakers the kids bought for $7.95 a pair in the 1960s and ’70s.

In 1988, the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance honored Herb with the Good Sport Award, given to those who volunteer their time and support to local athletics.

A true good sport, Herb will be missed.

This article was written by Bohdan Kolinsky, Hartford Courant Assistant Sports Editor on November 23, 1997.

Herb’s Sport Shop advertisement, 1966.
Herb’ Sports Shop players receive Hartford Twilight League trophy, 1968.
Bill Guida, Pitcher, Herb’s Sport Shop, GHTBL, 1969.
Herb Sheintop Honored by GHTBL at Dillon Stadium, 1970.
Herb’s Sport Shop defeats Vernon on Jim Martello’s no-hitter, 1971.
T.J. Calabrese, Second Baseman, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1981.
John Capodice, Second Baseman, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1990.
Bill Wishinsky, Manager, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1990.
Jeff Brennan, Third Baseman, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1991.
Sheintop with Bud Fidgeon, Rawlings salesman, 1971.
Herb’s son, Dave Sheintop, Shortstop, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1981.
Alan Mason, Pitcher, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1988.
Todd Mercier, Shortstop, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1990.
Jim Kitsock, Pitcher, Herb’s Sport Shop, 1992.

Herb Sheintop is a GHTBL Hall of Fame Inductee – Sponsors Division.

Hal Lewis, Baseball Star from Hartford’s North End

June 4, 2020

Harold James Lewis was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on September 4, 1927, son of Lula Randolph Deloach and James Lewis. He grew up in the city’s North End and attended Weaver High School. After school, Lewis joined the Army for eighteen months. He returned to Hartford in 1949 and gained employment as a sheet metal worker at Hamilton Standard in 1949. As an avid sportsman, Lewis became a local baseball star for the Hamilton Standard company team and other local clubs.

Hamilton Standard Propellers win the amateur state championship, 1950.

Hal Lewis led an all-black team called the Nutmeg Dukes as an infielder and outfielder. The Dukes were initially formed in 1942 as an independent club who barnstormed teams throughout Connecticut. Of the Dukes, Lewis said, “We wanted to play competitive baseball. We wanted to be in a league.” They were admitted to Hartford Twilight League in 1950. As the first African-American club in league history, the Dukes dominated the competition and won regular season and playoff championships.

Nutmeg Dukes vs. Courant All Stars, 1950.
Nutmeg Dukes, Twilight League Champions, 1950.

In January of 1951, Hal Lewis became the second African-American from Hartford to sign a professional baseball contract. Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, a childhood friend who grew up on the same street with Lewis, was the first a year earlier. Lewis appeared in 29 minor league games for the Quebec Braves, an affiliate of the Boston Braves. As the only black player on an all-white team based in Canada, Lewis said he was subjected to racial slurs and taunts. Two months into his first season, he packed his bags and returned home to Connecticut. Lewis went back to his job at Hamilton Standard and continued to play baseball for the Windsor Locks based company.

Hartford Courant excerpt, January 21, 1951.
Hamilton Standard Propellers, 1952.
Hamilton Standard Propellers, 1953.
Hamilton Standard travels to Texas, 1953.

Lewis excelled at the amateur level and became one of the best ballplayers in the Greater Hartford area. For about fifteen years, Lewis suited up for the Hamilton Standard Propellers. In his time with the company team, Lewis won 7 championships and set stolen base records in the Hartford Twilight League. In 1953, the “Props” were one of the best club’s in the state. With Lewis at shortstop, the team flew to Dallas, Texas, to play in a national tournament. In 1956, Lewis temporarily switched teams and won another Twi-loop playoff title with the Bloomfield Townies.

Bloomfield A.C. win Hartford Twilight League season title, 1956.
Hartford Courant excerpt, 1958.
Hamilton Standard, 1961.

Hal Lewis retired from competitive baseball after 18 amateur seasons in Hartford. The final game of his baseball days came in 1968. A veritable “who’s who” of Hartford Twilight League alumni played in the Old Timers Game at Dillon Stadium. 36 former Hartford Twilight leaguers took part in the game. Lewis took the field alongside local greats like Johnny Taylor, Monk Dubiel, Duffy Lewis and Bob Repass. Famed broadcaster, Bob Steele served as the PA announcer.

Hamilton Standard, 1963.
Hamilton Standard wins Hartford Twilight League playoff title, 1966.
GHTBL Old-Timers Game, 1968.

In 1969, Hal Lewis decided to go into the restaurant business. After 20 years at Hamilton Standard, Lewis changed careers and established “Hal’s Aquarius,” a popular diner on Main Street in Hartford. Visiting celebrities, local politicians, police officers, clergy and area residents congregated at Hal’s. Lewis worked a 16-hour, 7 days a week running the restaurant and a catering business while raising three children with his wife Mary. Hal’s Aquarius operated until Lewis retired in 1989 due to failing health.

Hal Lewis and his wife, Mary, 1982.
Hal Lewis’ son, Hal Lewis Jr., 1987.
Hal’s Aquarius restaurant review in Hartford Courant, 1986.
Hartford Courant features Hal’s Aquarius, 1989.

Hal Lewis was also a talented musician. He sang at many local clubs and performed with the Sam Kimble Band, Jasper Jenkins Trio, Paul Brown and others. After a comeback from heart problems, Lewis performed at a jazz concert in Bushnell Park in 2000. His performance with singer Kitti Kathryn and his solos “Fools Rush In” and “It’s Wonderful,” dazzled a Hartford crowd once more.

“I’m a happy guy, just a real happy guy. I’m having fun and I’m appreciative of everyone around me.”

– Hal Lewis, 2002

Hal Lewis singing at Bushnell Park, 2000.

Former Hartford Fire Chief John B. Stewart Jr. described Hal Lewis as being ahead of his time for having been one the city’s first successful black businessman, a singing talent and a polished second baseman. “He could do it all. He was one of the most talented men I know,” Stewart said. “He’s the last of old Hartford. A member of Union Baptist Church, Hal was a fun loving spirit with quick wits and a compassionate soul. Hal Lewis departed this life on June 15, 2004 at his home in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

Chris Denorfia Coming Home to Manage Yard Goats

Former GHTBL outfielder signs on as Hartford Yard Goats Manager.

At 39 years old, Chris Denorfia has been named Manager of the Hartford Yard Goats. In his new role Denorfia will be greeted back to his home state of Connecticut following a 10-year Major League career.  He was a journeyman outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Chicago Cubs and for other minor league clubs. In 2018 he joined the Cubs as Special Assistant to the President/General Manager, Theo Epstein.  During the 2019 MLB season Denorfia was the Cubs’ Quality Assurance Coach as part of Manager Joe Maddon’s staff.

Chris Denorfia carried by Cubs teammates after game-winning homer, 2015.
Chris Denorfia doused by Cubs teammates for a walk-off homer, 2015.

Denorfia was born in Bristol and was raised in Southington, Connecticut.  He played prep school baseball at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut, under Head Coach Tom Yankus and was inducted into the Choate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.  During the summer of his high school years Denorfia was a standout player for the Wallingford Legion program. 

Chris Denorfia inducted into Choate Athletics Hall of Fame, 2012.
Chris Denorfia inducted into Wheaton College Athletic Hall of Fame, 2013.

He went on to play college ball at Wheaton College where he was a Division III All-American and would later be inducted in the Wheaton College Athletic Hall of Fame. In the summer of 1999 Denorfia played in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for a full season with a Simsbury-based franchise operated by Tim Vincent and Tom Vincent of Simsbury, Connecticut.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1999.
Chris Denorfia, Outfielder, Wheaton College, 2000.

Denorfia officially became a professional prospect when he led the Manchester Silk Worms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in the summer of 2000 and 2001, making the NECBL All-Star Game both years.  Winsted native, former Major Leaguer and GHTBL alumnus, Moe Morhardt was Denorfia’s manager with the Silkworms in 2000. 

Hartford Courant excerpt, 2001.

Denorfia was said to be a highly coachable ballplayer, a plus defender, fleet of foot and capable of hitting for power.  He was later picked out of Wheaton College in the 19th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds and later made his Major League debut for the Reds in 2005.

Chris Denorfia, Cincinatti Reds organization, 2002.
Dayton Daily News excerpt, 2007.

Perhaps the top highlights of Denorfia’s baseball career came from starring in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and 2013 for Team Italy.  After hitting 41 home runs, driving in 196 runs and batting for a .272 average in the big leagues, Denorfia played his last MLB game on October 4, 2015 with the Cubs. 

Chris Denorfia celebrates home run at World Baseball Classic, 2013.

He signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants the following season.  Listed at 6 feet tall and 195 pounds, he ended his playing career after the 2017 season in the Colorado Rockies organization with the Triple-A affiliate, Albuquerque Isotopes. Denorfia’s invaluable baseball experience and ties to the Greater Hartford community is expected to serve the Hartford Yard Goats very well as Manager in their 2020 Eastern League campaign.

Chris Denorfia (left) doused during interview after walk-off homer, 2013.

Honoring Johnny Taylor at Colt Park in Hartford

Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League works to officially rename new ball field after Johnny Taylor.

By REBECCA LURYE | HARTFORD COURANT | NOV 21, 2019 | 6:00 AM

Negro Leagues star Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor may be Hartford’s greatest baseball player; and with enough signatures, a city ballfield may be named for him.

The name Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor may soon grace a ballfield in Colt Park, where the Hartford native honed the high kick and fastball that made him a pitching legend in the Negro Leagues.

Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor, left, was one of the greatest players from Connecticut, a standout pitcher and hitter as a senior at Bulkeley High before becoming one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues from 1935 to 1945. He beat Satchel Paige, right, 2-0 in an All-Star game at the Polo Grounds, pitched eight career no-hitters and was a star in Cuba and Mexico before returning to Connecticut.
Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, left, was one of the greatest players from Connecticut, a standout pitcher and hitter as a senior at Bulkeley High before becoming one of the best pitchers in the Negro Leagues from 1935 to 1945. He beat Satchel Paige, right, 2-0 in an All-Star game at the Polo Grounds, pitched eight career no-hitters and was a star in Cuba and Mexico before returning to Connecticut (Photo courtesy Of Estelle Taylor).

“He’s probably the most worthy figure in Hartford’s baseball history,” said Weston Ulbrich, secretary of the 91-year-old Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, where Taylor got his start in the 1930s. Ulbrich is leading the effort to recognize Taylor. Also helping with the effort is Leslie Hammond, a longtime Hartford real estate agent and close friend of Taylor’s late niece, Pat Anderson.

Taylor, who died in 1987, is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players to come out of Connecticut, despite the racial discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues.

He was retired from the game when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, though Taylor integrated professional baseball in Hartford two years later when he signed with the Hartford Chiefs for one final season in 1949.

Two-hundred-fifty signatures from Hartford residents are needed to move forward the process of permanently renaming the public Field #9 in Colt Park, where renovations are underway. They’re being gathered this month by Ulbrich, Hammond and others active in the city’s parks.

The measure was welcomed by the city council when Councilman Thomas “TJ” Clarke II introduced it in May, and it drew strong support at a public hearing the next month. However, the resolution stalled from July to November due to a miscommunication over the requirements to permanently rename public property—specifically, signatures were not gathered and the city’s Building Dedication Committee, which is led by the mayor, did not explain why it was not meeting to review the resolution.

Hartford's Johnny Taylor, among the best baseball players ever to come out of Hartford, is pictured at his home in July 1976. "When I pitched in the Mexican League during the war, the owner would buy me a new suit for every shutout I hurled. When the season was over, I came home to Hartford with 15 new suits. Yes, those were the days," Taylor, then 60, told The Courant.
Hartford’s Johnny Taylor, among the best baseball players ever to come out of Hartford, is pictured at his home in July 1976. “When I pitched in the Mexican League during the war, the owner would buy me a new suit for every shutout I hurled. When the season was over, I came home to Hartford with 15 new suits. Yes, those were the days,” Taylor, then 60, told The Courant (Hartford Courant file photo).

The dedication committee has not met since December 2018, according to David Grant, an assistant in Mayor Luke Bronin’s office. This week, Clarke said the process is now on track.

“Lessons learned all the way around,” Clarke said. “Communication is key.”

Taylor’s daughter, Lynette Taylor Grande of Bloomfield, said the delay isn’t important and probably wouldn’t have bothered her father, who never sought recognition.

“I think he would have been a little overwhelmed by such honoraria during his lifetime,” said Grande, who was born the year before her father left baseball for good. “I think he kind of said, ‘No’ to some things people wanted to do back when he was alive.”

However, the family was pleasantly surprised when they learned about the Twilight League’s effort in the spring. Grande sees it as part of a deeper commitment by the city to recognize the historical figures who made a difference to their communities.

“It’s fun to think that someone still remembered his story and wanted it to be indelibly imprinted in the Hartford community,” she said.

Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford in 1916 and raised in the South End, where Colt Park drew youth to its fields for pickup games and organized sandlot ball. He was a track star for the Bulkeley High School Maroons, then joined the baseball team his senior year.

On June 2, 1933, Taylor, pitching in his final high school game, set the Connecticut record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game at Colt Park. A scout for the New York Yankees came to see the ace pitcher in Hartford that year, not realizing that the light-skinned Taylor was black, The Courant reported in 1976.

Hartford’s Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor circa 1936 or ’37, when he played for the New York Cubans, a team in the Negro Leagues. (Handout)

The scout tried to convince Taylor to pretend he was Cuban and take a Hispanic last name in order to join the major leagues, but he refused. Taylor kept a newspaper clipping with that story in his wallet for the rest of his life, his late widow once told The Courant.

“He just was a person of principal who would have done the right thing and stood up for the right thing,” Grande, a retired teacher, said. “He really cared about the underdog and saw the potential for the world to be a better place for everybody.”

Taylor played two seasons with the Hartford Twilight League, which was informally integrated, though Taylor was one of the few black players.

In 1935, Taylor joined the New York Cubans, a Negro League team, and later played for a number of teams, including the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Toledo Crawfords.

Over the years, he also pitched for and against the Savitt Gems, an independent, semipro team sponsored by jewelry store proprietor Bill Savitt, who also owned a South End ballpark called Bulkeley Stadium. The stadium was named for Morgan Bulkeley, a Hartford politician and businessman who was the first president of the National League. An opponent of racial discrimination, Savitt signed several black and Latino players and organized regular games with teams from the Negro Leagues.

Taylor once helped the Gems to an exhausting 7-6 victory over the Boston Royal Giants, pitching 22 innings at Bulkeley Stadium.

Later, playing for the New York Cubans in 1937, Taylor pitched a no-hitter to beat the Negro Leagues All-Stars team — and its ace pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige — 2-0 before a crowd of 22,500 at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Satchel Paige, left, and Hartford’s Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor meet at a Negro League All-Star game in 1937 at New York’s Ebbets Field, the day Taylor no-hit Paige’s team. (Photo courtesy of Estelle Taylor)

“I gave up only eight hits that day,” Paige said at the time, “but it wasn’t nearly enough with what that kid [Taylor] did.”

Taylor later replaced Paige on the Pittsburgh Crawfords when Paige and 19 other team members left the Negro Leagues for the Dominican Republic, to play for dictator Gen. Rafael Trujillo. That year, it was Taylor who made the All-Star team.

But after one more season in the U.S., Taylor, too, left for a foreign team and a higher salary than the Negro Leagues could offer him. The millionaire Jorge Pasquel paid Taylor $600 a month to play for his Mexico City team, Azules de Veracruz, and later sweetened the deal with a new bespoke suit for every shutout he pitched.

Taylor collected 15 custom suits by the end of the 1941 season, when he returned to the U.S. for a break from baseball until he would return for two more seasons in New York.

His early retirement was hastened by a back injury he sustained nine years earlier in Cuba, where he was playing for a winter league and earning the nickname “El Rey de Hartford” — the king of Hartford.

Still, it was players like Taylor flocking to foreign leagues that helped pressure Major League Baseball and the American League to integrate in 1947.

Taylor had long thought the day would come. He told a Bridgeport Sunday Herald reporter in the 1930s, “It may not come in my career as a pitcher, but I’m sure it will come. Baseball shows signs of needing tonic, and it’s my frank opinion that the Negro will be just the tonic needed.”

Four years into his retirement, Taylor returned to become the first black athlete to sign with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League.

Outside of baseball, Taylor worked at Pratt & Whitney and in construction with his father as he raised his four children with his wife, Estelle, who carried the distinction of the first black nurse at New Britain General Hospital. After Johnny Taylor helped build Hartford Hospital, Estelle Taylor became one of the first black nurses there, too.

It was a rich, uneventful life, Grande recalls. In the 1950s and ’60s, the Estelle Taylor would walk the kids downtown every weekend and Johnny Taylor would walk them to the library every Wednesday.

At the Wadsworth Atheneum and the department stores, to the Mr. Peanut store and a movie — and to Savitt Jewelers, where Johnny Taylor was prominently featured in the photos on the walls.

At the library, Taylor loved to read about space: “He was very much in tune with the futuristic, with what’s to come,” Grande says.

Just five years before he died at age 71, Taylor was inducted into the Twilight League Hall of Fame in 1982. He accepted it humbly, as with all recognition throughout his life, said his daughter, Maureen Taylor Hicks, who lives near Philadelphia.

“I, too, am humbled by the research into my father’s career revealing the deep respect for his talent shown by the Hartford community of classmates, teammates, sportswriters and sports fans during a time of racial segregation and discrimination,” she said.

“After so many years, it is indeed an honor for my father to be remembered.”

Rebecca Lurye can be reached at rlurye@courant.com.

Jeff Bagwell, From Hartford to the Hall

  • Born: 5/27/1968 in Boston, Massachussetts
  • High School: Xavier High School (Middletown, Connecticut)
  • College: University of Hartford
  • GHTBL: Malloves Jewelers
  • Cape Cod League: Chatham A’s
  • Drafted: 1989, Boston Red Sox, 4th Round, 109th Overall.
  • Traded: Boston Red Sox send Bagwell to Houston Astros for pitcher Larry Andersen in 1990.
  • Major League Debut: 4/8/1991
  • Awards: Rookie of the Year (1991), National League MVP (1994) and 4-time All-Star.
  • National Baseball Hall of Fame: 2017
Jeff Bagwell, Malloves Jewelers, GHTBL 1987.
Jeff Bagwell (right), Malloves Jewelers, GHTBL, 1987.
Jeff Bagwell, Chatham A’s, Cape Cod League, 1988.
Jeff Bagwell, New Britain Red Sox, 1990.
Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros, 2004.
Jeff Bagwell (left) with teammates from University of Hartford, 1987.
Jeff Bagwell, University of Hartford, 1988.
Jeff Bagwell, University of Hartford, 1988.
Jeff Bagwell, New Britain Red Sox, 1990.
Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros, 1991.
Jeff Bagwell, Houston Astros, 1991.
Jeff Bagwell inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 2017.

View Jeff Bagwell’s MLB career batting statistics on Baseball-Reference.com

2019 Annual Awards – Complete List

People’s United Bank Rakes in the Accolades

Here are the 2019 GHTBL Award Winners:

Frank McCoy Award – Most Valuable Player – Jason Sullivan, 3B, Record-Journal Expos

Ray McKenna Award – Player of the Year – Ian Halpin, INF, Vernon Orioles

Mike Liappes Award – Most Valuable Pitcher – Charlie Hesseltine, P, Record-Journal Expos

Rev. Thomas Campion Award – Outstanding Playoff Hitter – Daren Grabowski, OF, People’s United Bank

Mike Abbruzzese Award – Outstanding Playoff Pitcher – Jimmy Schult, P/OF, East Hartford Jets

Hal Lewis Award – Most Versatile Player – A.J. Hendrickson, P/C, Record-Journal Expos

Jack Repass Award – Gold Glove – Jack Risley, SS, People’s United Bank

James Gallagher Award – Rookie of the Year – Pete Barrows, Ulbrich Steel and Mac Finnegan, OF, People’s United Bank

Gene Johnson Award – Regular Season Batting Title – Daren Grabowski, OF, People’s United Bank

Ralph Giansanti Sr. Award – Stolen Base Leader – Hector Gonzalez, SS, Record-Journal Expos

Mark and Jane Foss Award – RBI Leader – Mac Finnegan, OF, People’s United Bank

Jack Rose Trophy – Playoff Champion – Vernon Orioles, Jack Ceppetelli, Manager

Jake Banks Trophy – Regular Season Champion – Record-Journal Expos, Charlie Hesseltine, Manager

A Farewell to Wethersfield Ballplayer, Joe Hallisey

Inducted into the GHTBL Hall of Fame in 1986.

Joseph McMahon Hallisey passed away on September 13, 2019. Born November 20, 1925, at his home on Hillcrest Avenue in Wethersfield, Joe was the son of the late Joseph A. and Katherine (McMahon) Hallisey; he resided in Wethersfield his entire life.

A retired structural engineer, Joe owned and operated Hallisey Engineering Associates, Inc. in Wethersfield and Hartford for more than sixty years. Hallisey was married to his wife Maureen for 63 years.

Joe Halisey was a gifted third baseman and batter who played for the following GHTBL teams: Wethersfield Shadows, Yellow Cab and Wethersfield A.C.

He graduated from Wethersfield High School in 1943. Joe proudly served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was honorably discharged in 1946. He earned a Bachelor of Architectural Engineering degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1951.

A certified private pilot, Joe earned his instrument rating and was the proud owner of a Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer N7838D. Joe was inducted into the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Wethersfield Alumni Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.