Peter “Lefty” Naktenis was the first Hartford Twilight League player to advance to Major League Baseball. Naktenis was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1914. Soon after his birth, the Naktenis family moved to Manchester, Connecticut. He grew up to be a talented pitcher at Hartford Public High School, and set the state record for strikeouts in a season. As a young pitching phenom, he dominated the Hartford Twilight League during the summer months. At 18 years old, Naktenis pitched well for the Frederick Raff team in the summer of 1932.
The following summer he hurled for the Mayflower Sales team, who became champions of Hartford Twilight League. Naktenis pitched a no-hitter in the 1933 championship series against Charlie Repass of the Home Circle team, winning 4 to 0. In his second game of the day, Naktenis took the mound again and beat crosstown rival, Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, a hard-throwing right hander from Bulkeley High School. Taylor, who later became a Negro League star and Naktenis would become two of Hartford’s greatest pitchers.
The 6’1” Pete Naktenis was highly sought after by professional teams, but he would take the advice of a Philadelphia Athletics scout and attend college instead. After graduating from Duke University in 1936, he signed his first professional contract to pitch for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics. Naktenis made his major league debut for the Athletics that same year at age 22. He played in seven games and compiled an 0-1 record, allowing 24 hits and 26 runs with 18 strikeouts.
However, Naktenis ended up spending most of his time in the minor leagues. In 1937, he competed in the New York-Pennsylvania League, pitching for the Binghamton Triplets of the New York Yankees organization. The following year he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds and pitched well for their minor league team, the Albany Senators of the Eastern League . Naktenis didn’t compile eye-popping numbers, but he many memories.
I remember one time in 1936 when I was with the A’s, I had my hair parted by a line shot off the bat of Joe Vosmik of the (Cleveland) Indians. The drive hit the button of my cap and the centerfielder picked up the ball on one short hop. A little lower and it would have parted me in half. That was what you would call a narrow escape.”Pete Naktenis
When his professional seasons were complete, Naktenis often returned to Hartford during the off-season and signed with the Savitt Gems. The Gems were a semi-pro team led by their owner, Bill Savitt and player-Manager, Jigger Farrell. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s Naktenis drew great crowds to Bulkeley Stadium for the Gems. “Lefty” made his first appearance for the Gems in Hartford on September 25, 1938. He delivered a complete game performance versus the Philadelphia Colored Giants, allowing just 3 hits and one unearned and leading the Savitt Gems to victory.
In 1939, the southpaw from Connecticut logged three games in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds. While property of the Reds, Naktenis found more competitive opportunities with the Savitt Gems. On September 24, 1939, he took the mound for the Gems against the Scranton Red Sox (previously known as the Scranton Miners) of the Eastern League. He out-pitched Mickey Harris and the Gems trounced Scranton by a score of 11 to 3.
In 1940 and 1941, Naktenis was a starter in the Reds organization with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association. His next minor league stop was with the 1942 Milwaukee Brewers led by Bill Veeck and Charlie Grimm, former big leaguers turned owners. During World War II, Naktenis returned home and gained employment at Colt Manufacturing to support the Am erican war effort. He continued to pitch on a part-time basis for the Hartford Senators, choosing to throw solely in home games. In 1944, he led Hartford to an Eastern League pennant title.
Naktenis retired after the 1945 season. He and his wife Kathleen became residents of Newington, Connecticut, where they raised three daughters. He continued to work in manufacturing and became president of Dean Machine Products in Manchester, Connecticut. Later in his life, Naktenis was inducted into the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame and the Hartford Public High School Hall of Fame. He eventually moved south to Singer Island, Florida, in the 1980s. Peter “Lefty” Naktenis went to rest in eternal peace on August 1, 2007.
1. Hartford Courant
2. Reading Times