Tag: connecticut

Baseball Bloodlines: The Morhardt’s

In the Morhardt family, professional baseball has become a genetic trend. Three generations have ascended from the amateur ranks to the professional level. The Morhardt’s have been a staple of Connecticut baseball for more than sixty years. The patriarch of the Winsted-based family, Moe, is the father of Darryl, Greg, Kyle and grandfather of current GHTBL player, Justin Morhardt. From the Twilight League to the big leagues, the men of the Morhardt family have positively impacted the game and have garnered a reputation for leadership.

L to R: Moe, Justin, Greg and Darryl Morhardt, 2012.
L to R: Moe, Justin, Greg and Darryl Morhardt, 2012.

Meredith Moe” Morhardt

Meredith “Moe” Goodwin Morhardt was born on January 16, 1937 in Manchester, Connecticut. He excelled in three sports; baseball, basketball and soccer at Manchester High School. On the diamond, he threw and hit lefty with all five tools. Morhardt first attracted the attention of major league scouts in high school where he was a teammate of GHTBL legend, Gene Johnson. As a center fielder, Morhardt batted a combined .452 in his junior and senior seasons.

1954 Manchester High School Varsity Baseball Team.

Morhardt was a 6’1″ multi-sport athlete who attended the University of Connecticut and excelled as an All-American in baseball and soccer. While at UConn, Morhardt helped the Huskies win two NCAA District titles. He was appointed UConn co-captain, batted .365 and was considered the finest collegiate prospect in New England. During the summer months, Morhardt played for St. Cyril’s baseball club in the Hartford Twilight League. After 4 seasons in GHTBL and 3 seasons at UConn, Moe Morhardt signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1959 as a free agent.

1957 University of Connecticut Baseball
Moe Morhardt, First Baseman, University of Connecticut, 1959.

Twelve major league clubs scouted Moe Morhardt but Cubs chief scout, Lennie Merullo was first in line. Morhardt agreed to a contract with a $50,000 bonus. The newest Cubs prospect was assigned to Fort Worth, Texas, and would find himself at three different minor league levels that year including the Class D Paris Lakers in Paris, Illinois. In 1960, he was first baseman for the Class A Lancaster Red Roses of the Eastern League and was assigned to the Class B Wenatchee Chiefs in 1961.

Moe Morhardt, First Baseman, Chicago Cubs, 1961.

Morhardt was called up to Chicago and made his major league debut on September 7, 1961. He appeared in 7 games for Cubs, hit for a .278 batting average and was the first Manchester native in 40 years to reach the major leagues. The following year he played 18 games as a pinch-hitter. His last major league at bat ended in a swinging strike out against Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Morhardt was sent down to the minors and split the season between Wenatchee, Washington and Class AA San Antonio, Texas. He spent 1963 and 1964 in the Cubs farm system and retired from professional baseball thereafter.

Moe Morhardt, First Baseman, Chicago Cubs, 1962.
Moe Morhardt (right) slides, Chicago Cubs, 1952.

In the summer of 1965, Moe Morhardt rejoined the Hartford Twilight League with the Moriarty Brothers franchise and won the league title. After his playing career, Morhardt became head baseball coach at The Gilbert School in Winsted, Connecticut, from 1967 to 1987, and also served as athletic director. At Gilbert, he recorded 299 wins, 134 losses, 8 league titles and 4 Class M state championships. Morhardt was elected to the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

Moe Morhardt and his three sons – Hartford Courant excerpt, 1979.

In 1988, Moe Morhardt took a job coaching University of Hartford where he would teach baseball for seven seasons; serving as an assistant from 1988 to 1992 and as head coach from 1993 to 1994. From 1997 to 1999, he was head coach of the Western Connecticut State University baseball team. Morhardt was also head coach of the Danbury Westerners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, coaching the team from 1998 to 2004.

Moe Morhardt, Head Coach, University of Hartford Baseball, 1989.

Moe Morhardt had three sons, Darry, Greg and Kyle who were raised in Winsted. Most recently, a semi-retired Morhardt and his son Darryl established a summer youth team, the Torrington Copperheads who compete in the Pete Kokinis Baseball League (formerly Jaycee-Courant League). Morhardt also continues to support his grandson, Justin Morhardt of the People’s United Bank franchise by attending at twilight league games.

Moe Morhardt, Manager, Torrington Copperheads, Pete Kokinis Baseball League, 2019.

“You should value every at bat. The biggest regret a hitter should have is that he gave away an at bat.”

Moe Morhardt

“Moe Morhardt was a wonderful as a hitting coach. He kept it very simple. He’s just a great baseball mind in so many different ways. Every time I hear ‘Moe Morhardt,’ I smile.”

Jeff Bagwell, former University of Hartford player and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.

Darryl H. Morhardt

Darryl Morhardt was born on October 23, 1962, as the oldest of his siblings. As a 1980 graduate of The Gilbert School in Winsted, Connecticut, Morhardt was a standout catcher and utility man. He was also a top basketball player for Manchester Community College in 1982. Morhardt went on to play college baseball at Coastal Carolina University for three years. Upon graduation he signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves and enjoyed an undistinguished professional career.

Darryl Morhardt, Catcher, The Gilbert School, 1983.

After suffering a shattered wrist on a fastball from reliever John Wetteland, Morhardt returned home to coach. He was an assistant coach at the University of Hartford (1991-1995), Gateway Junior College, Western Connecticut State College, Marietta College and George Washington University. In his time at Marietta, Morhardt aided legendary coach Don Schaly in achieving five Ohio Athletic Conference titles and three Division III World Series appearances. Morhardt eventually went on to work for the Baltimore Orioles organization as scout.

Darryl Morhardt featured in the Baltimore Sun for collecting baseball equipment for U.S. Troops in Iraq, 2007.

During the summer months Morhardt was also a pitching coach in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the Torrington Twisters for eight seasons, winning two division titles during his tenure. He then served as head coach of the Holyoke Blue Sox in the NECBL (2008-2012). Then in 2016, he was tapped as pitching coach for the Newport Gulls. When he found time, Morhardt also played on teams in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, Tri-State League and the Waterbury Twi-Met League.

Darryl Morhardt (left), Head Coach, Holyoke Blue Sox, NECBL, 2009.

Darryl Morhardt is an unsung hero of amateur baseball. For a span of nearly 40 years, Morhardt has competed in summer leagues throughout Connecticut and nationally. He played his first Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League season for Middletown’s Bordiere Travel team in 1982. He returned to the league in 1991 to join the Society for Savings team led by Manager Tom Abbruzzese. At catcher, pitcher and first base, Morhardt suited up for Abbruzzese’s bankers franchise until 2007 and captured five leagues titles with People’s United Bank.

Darryl Morhardt, Catcher, Bank of Boston, GHTBL, 1995.
2000 People’s United Bank

In 2013, Darryl Morhardt became head baseball coach at Housatonic High School. He has also coached several AAU teams, including his current club, the Torrington Copperheads. Recently, he won a Men’s Senior Baseball League 50-over national championship as a member of the Salty Dogs, a Rhode Island-based team. In a 55-over MSBL national championship against a team form Florida, Morhardt played against Dante Bichette and Mark Whiten. Darryl continues to play amateur ball on a 38-over team in the Northeast Baseball Association; a league Morhardt has won four straight years.

Darryl Morhardt, Head Coach, Housatonic HIgh School, 2018.
Darryl Morhardt (left), Head Coach, Housatonic HIgh School, with former player, Willy Yahn, 2019.
Darryl Morhardt (right), Head Coach, Torrington Copperheads, 2019.
2019 Salty Dogs, 50+ MSBL Champions

Gregory R. Morhardt

Greg Morhardt was born on October 25, 1963. He learned to play baseball from his father Moe and alongside his two brothers, Darryl and Kyle. Greg was a star athlete at The Gilbert School in multiple sports. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 1981 MLB June Amateur Draft but instead decided to attend college at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. In his junior season he batted .346 with 17 homers and 57 RBIs and was picked by the Minnesota Twins in the 2nd round of the 1984 MLB June Amateur Draft. 

Greg Morhardt, Center Fielder, The Gilbert School, 1981.
Greg Morhardt, First Baseman, Orlando Twins, 1985
Greg Morhardt, First Baseman, Portland Beavers, 1987.
Greg Morhardt, First Baseman, Glens Falls Tigers, 1988.

Greg Mohardt’s professional career began in Orlando, Florida, as first baseman for the 1984 Orlando Twins of the Class AA Southern League. By 1986, he was called up to the Toledo Mud Hens, the Twins AAA affiliate. He ended the season with a career best .263 batting average, 13 home runs and 70 RBI. Morhardt was well-traveled during the 1987 season as a member of the Portland Beavers in Oregon and the Orlando Twins. After a tough year at the plate, the Twins released Morhardt but the Detroit Tigers picked him up. His brief stint as a Tiger ended in 1989, and Greg returned home to Connecticut.

Greg Morhardt, MLB Scout, 2014.

In twilight of his playing career, Greg Morhardt was a star in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. He played for Tom Abbruzzese’s Society for Savings franchise from 1992 to 1996. He continued his career in baseball as an area scout for the Los Angeles Angels. Most notably, Morhardt scouted Mike Trout at 16 years old and insisted the Angels take Trout in the 2009 MLB Draft. Greg had been a minor league teammate of Mike Trout’s father Jeff Trout. In 2010, Morhardt earned a lifetime achievement in athletics award from The Gilbert School. Greg now works for the Boston Red Sox as a professional scout and resides in Winsted, Connecticut.

Mike Trout, Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels, 2012.

“He had speed and strength. It was a perfect storm of athleticism.”

Greg Morhardt, on scouting Mike Trout.

Justin J. Morhardt

Justin Morhardt was born on March 3, 1994. Like his father, uncle and grandfather, Justin attended The Gilbert School and was a highly scouted baseball player. Then he became a veritable slugger at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. During college, Morhardt overcame a serious health concern called Graves Disease causing thyroid problems. In his return to Bryan as a junior he was selected as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American. That year, Morhardt helped the Lions to a 35-16 overall record and 17-10 record in Appalachian Athletic Conference play, earning Bryan their first-ever at-large NAIA National Tournament bid.

Justin Morhardt drafted by the Atlanta Braves, 2017.

A week after being named an NAIA All-American, Morhardt was drafted by Braves in the 22nd round in the 2017 MLB Draft. At rookie ball with the Braves in the Gulf Coast League, Morhardt appeared in 26 games at catcher. A series of concussions led Morhardt to call it quits on his professional career. Nowadays, Justin continues to play baseball as an amatuer in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Morhardt is a key two-way player for People’s United Bank. In his day job, Justin works as Staff Accountant at King, King & Associates CPA in Winsted, Connecticut.

Justin Morhardt, Catcher, Gulf Coast League Braves, 2017.
Justin Morhardt, Pitcher, People’s United Bank, GHTBL, 2019.

Mike Morhardt
Mike Morhardt is the uncle of Justin and first cousin to Darryl and Greg. He was a gifted baseball and basketball player from Stafford, Connecticut, and contributed to the Morhardt sports legacy. He attended the University of Hartford and pitched under the tutelage of his uncle, Moe Morhardt. In 1994, Mike pitched for the East Hartford Jets in the GHTBL. After finishing his playing career in 1994, Mike became varsity pitching coach for the Hawks at the University of Hartford. He later became coach at Windsor Locks High School for baseball and girl’s basketball. Then Mike coached Stafford High School basketball in 2009 but has since returned to Windsor Locks as baseball coach and a physical education teacher.

Mike Morhardt, Pitcher, Stafford High School, 1990.

July 8th Crush Cancer Night at Dunkin’ Donuts Park

On Thursday, July 8, 2021, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League will host a doubleheader at at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford. The event will be the league’s 5th annual charity series. This year, ticket proceeds will be donated to Connecticut Cancer Foundation and the Brian Peer Memorial Scholarship.

At 6:00 PM, People’s United Bank will match up against the Bristol Greeners and at 8:00 PM, the East Hartford Jets will face the Hartford Colts.

Tickets will be available at the Main Gate for $10 per adult and free for kids 14 and under.

Read more about these charitable causes below:


About Connecticut Cancer Foundation

Connecticut Cancer Foundation was founded in 1987 by Connecticut native John C. Ellis, a former catcher for the New York Yankees, who played Major League Baseball for 13 years. John lost his sister, brother and sister-in-law to lymphoma. He is a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that was diagnosed before John reached 40.  Fortunately, John survived and CCF was born with the idea of raising funds through sports with the help of sports celebrities. CCF has flourished under the guidance of John’s wife, Jane G. Ellis, President and Executive Director of CCF.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is connecticut-cancer-foundation-img-27.jpg
John and Jane Ellis, Founders of Connecticut Cancer Foundation.

Through the CT Cancer Patient Assistance Program, CCF helps Connecticut families requesting assistance through referrals from oncology social workers from hospitals, cancer treatment centers and hospices throughout the state. For the past 34 years, CCF has quietly granted over $6.4 million to more than 7,000 Connecticut families dealing with the financial hardship that often follows a cancer diagnosis. In addition, the Foundation has donated over $2.4 million to support ongoing cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


About Brian Peer Memorial Scholarship

This college scholarship is in the memory of Brian Peer who played and loved baseball in Windsor. He was a Windsor varsity player from 1996 until 1998, earning All-Conference honors as a senior. He also played American Legion Baseball in Windsor earning All-Zone Honors in 1998.  He continued on to Manchester Community College earning All-New England Junior College All Star recognition then on to Rhode Island College, being named Co-Captain his Senior Year. He continued to play in area adult leagues through 2018. The scholarship is awarded annually to a Windsor High School baseball player who will be attending college.

Brian Peer played in the GHTBL from 2004 to 2018 and is remembered as a good teammate and team leader.

Giving Back to the Greater Hartford Community

On Sunday, July, 9, 2017 the GHTBL hosted a “Charity Series” at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. Four games were played and $5,641 in ticket proceeds were donated to Hartford’s Camp Courant. On June 21st and 22nd of 2018 the league hosted a pair of doubleheaders that raised $4,500 for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. In 2019, the Twilight League held another day at Dunkin’ Donuts Park and raised $7,000 for a Multiple Sclerosis charity named MS4MS. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the league managed to play a shortened season in 2020, including a doubleheader at Dunkin’ Donuts Park that raised $2,000 for the new Johnny Taylor Field in Hartford’s Colt Park.

Camp Courant Kids Day at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, 2017

June 13th Hardball For Heroes at Palmer Field

4 games to benefit the American Legion on Sunday, June 13, 2021.

  • 8 GHTBL teams will play 4 Regular Season games in a single day at Palmer Field to benefit the American Legion. 
     
  • $10 tickets are being sold at Malloves Jewelers at 404 Main Street Middletown, CT and will be available at the main gate on the day of the event.
     
  • Free for all veterans, military service members and kids 14 and under.

Johnny Taylor Field Opens at Colt Park

A Colt Park field now holds the name of Hartford baseball legend Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the first Black professional athlete to come out of the city.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, Hartford Public Schools and members of the community gathered to honor Taylor’s legacy and dedicate the newly renovated Field #9 to him before its inaugural game — Bulkeley High School against Rocky Hill. A fitting first match, since Taylor started his baseball career as a senior at Bulkeley.

“The icing in on the cake will be for Hartford youth to embrace the American game of baseball and move Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor’s legacy far into the future,” said Lynne Taylor-Grande, Johnny’s daughter.

Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

“This is absolutely like being in Walt Disney World.”

Lynette Taylor-Grand, Johnny Taylor’s Daughter
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon.
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

The high school baseball teams shared the excitement, as they returned to the field after a pandemic, wearing ceremonial jerseys with Taylor’s picture on them.

“Enjoy the moment. Make Johnny proud,” said Alex Mercado, Hartford head coach. “Focus on the moment.”

Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park's Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park’s Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

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

Despite the racial discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues, Taylor made a name for himself with his high leg kick and legendary fastball. He is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players to come out of Connecticut.

Hartford's Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans.
Hartford’s Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans. (Handout)

Taylor played for the Negro League from 1935 to 1945. He pitched eight career no-hitters and was a standout player in leagues in New York, Cuba and Mexico. Though he retired from the game before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, it was players like Taylor who left the United States to play in other countries that helped pressure Major League Baseball and the American League to integrate.

Taylor couldn’t stay away for long. He returned two years after his retirement to become the first Black athlete to sign with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League for his final season in 1949, keeping the nickname he earned in Cuba — “El Rey de Hartford” (or the King of Hartford).

Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950.
Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy of Estelle Taylor)

“He’s probably the most worthy figure in Hartford’s baseball history,” GHTBL secretary Weston Ulbrich told the Courant when he started the effort to name the field after Taylor in 2019.

Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford in 1916 and raised in the South End, where he played pickup games at Colt Park as a kid. He ran track at Bulkeley High School before joining the baseball team his senior year. More on the life and legacy of Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor »

Beyond baseball, he worked at Pratt & Whitney and in construction with his father. Taylor helped build Hartford Hospital. His wife Estelle, who was the first Black nurse at New Britain General Hospital, later became one of the first Black nurses at Hartford Hospital, too.

Johnny enjoyed taking his four children to the Hartford Public Library Campfield Avenue branch to exchange books. Estelle loved bringing the kids shopping at local department stores and to the Wadsworth Atheneum.

In 1982, Taylor was inducted into the Twilight League Hall of Fame. He died in 1987 at the age of 71. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the Bulkeley High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

This article was written by Sabrina Herrera who can be reached at sherrera@courant.com. Sabrina is a visual journalist. She joined the Hartford Courant in 2018, after working as a video editor in broadcast news at NBC Connecticut. She studied journalism and French language at UConn. She grew up in Greenwich and now calls the Hartford area home. Sabrina is passionate about the arts, education, language, and people.

May 25th Opening Day at Muzzy Field

On Tuesday, May 25th, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League will host Opening Day of the 2021 Regular Season at Muzzy Field in Bristol, Connecticut. A doubleheader will be played hosted by the Bristol Greeners, the GHTBL’s newest expansion franchise.

At 6 PM, the Greeners will take on the Hartford Colts, the other expansion franchise to join the league this summer. Then at 8 PM, the Greeners will welcome the 2020 Regular Season title winning South Windsor Phillies. Fans will be allowed to attend the games.

The league’s full schedule will be published in early May. More announcements are forthcoming regarding our 2021 fundraising events. The GHTBL invites you to support our mission, to promote and preserve the game of baseball, while giving back to the local community.

April 28th Ribbon Cutting at Johnny Taylor Field

In Hartford’s newly refurbished Colt Park, the Bulkeley High School Varsity baseball team will take on New Britain High School at Johnny Taylor Field, 3:45 PM on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. The matchup will mark the inaugural game at the field. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place 30 minutes before the first pitch.

The schedule of events will be:
3:15 – Welcome
3:25 – City Councilman John Gale
3:35 – Superintendent of Schools/Diane Callis Bulkeley High School Athletic Director
3:45 – Cut the ribbon – scoreboard revealed
3:50 – Lynette Taylor Grande, Bobby Grande & Taylor family
4:00 – Let the game begin!

RSVP to the event of Facebook. Click here.

In attendance will be members of the Taylor family who still reside in the Greater Hartford area. Local officials, park advocates and members of the press are also expected.

Complete with real grass, a well-manicured Igor of, custom scoreboard, bullpens and dugouts, Johnny Taylor Field is a major improvement for baseball at Colt Park. For more than three decades, the enclosed “Field #9” was in disrepair and unplayable more often than not.

The field is named after Johnny Taylor, perhaps Hartford’s greatest pitcher of all-time. In the 1930’s, Taylor was a graduate of Bulkeley High School and a local star in the Hartford Twilight League. The New York Yankees scouted Taylor, but due to racial discrimination they declined to sign him.

Taylor went on to play for the New York Cubans of the Negro National League. In the 1937 all-star game at the Polo Grounds, Taylor pitched a no-hitter to defeat baseball great, Satchel Paige.

After a long career in various professional leagues, Taylor returned to Hartford. He was signed to pitch by the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League, the Boston Braves minor league affiliate.

Taylor was Hartford’s first professional black athlete. His legacy of perseverance and athletic dominance still resonates today. Taylor’s story now has a permanent place in Colt Park and in Connecticut’s capital city.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is pleased to have led the effort to commemorate Johnny Taylor. The league partnered with the Friends of Colt Park (now Colt Park Foundation) and local activists to collect signatures to petition for the renaming. The initiative gained full support from the City Council and Mayor Luke Bronin.

The renovation project at Johnny Taylor Field was finished earlier this year. Hartford schools, American Legion and twilight league clubs intend to use the diamond this summer. Two GHTBL teams, Hartford Colts and People’s United Bank, expect to schedule several home dates at Colt Park.

The return to Colt Park is significant for the GHTBL because our summer league was established on the premises in 1929. For about 40 years, the park and its many diamonds served the Greater Hartford area as a veritable baseball playground for youth and adults. During the 1950’s and 1960’s Dillon Stadium, on the easternmost parcel of Colt Park was used for baseball games by various leagues including the twilight league.

As the league returns to Colt Park, we pledge to be good stewards and donors of the park. In 2020, GHTBL raised $2,000 for Johnny Taylor Field in charity games held up the road at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. The donation will be used to improve and maintain the diamond.

Ron Pizzanello, A Baseball Life

In 1977, former star catcher at Bulkeley High School and Eastern Connecticut State University, Ron Pizzanello, signed a professional baseball contract. He did so with the Colombo Nettuno team of the Italian Baseball League (now known as Serie A1). At the time of his signing, Pizzanello played for the Vernon Orioles of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League managed by Frank McCoy. After playing in Italy, he returned to the Vernon Orioles franchise as the team’s backstop.

Hartford Courant excerpt, 1977.
Ron Pizzanello (#12) and Colombo Nettuno teammates, 1977.
Ron Pizzanello, Catcher, Vernon Orioles, 1985.
Hartford Courant excerpt, June 12, 1987.

After a battle with diabetes that claimed both of his lower legs, Pizzanello has persevered. He was a successful American Legion baseball for South Windsor in the 1990’s and 2000’s. In 2018, Pizzanello came back to the GHTBL as manager of the South Windsor Phillies franchise. Also supporting the team with Pizzanello is Reading Phillies Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Burnham Jr who serves as the team’s General Manager. The team’s sponsor is Tony Desmond of Allstate Insurance – South Windsor.

Diabetes forces Pizzanello to end his playing career, 1990.
2018 South Windsor Phillies

GHTBL Career

  • West Hartford Merchants, 1974
  • Vernon Orioles, 1975
  • East Hartford Merchants, 1976
  • Vernon Orioles, 1978 – 1989
  • South Windsor Phillies (Manager), 2018 – present
Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies, 2019.
Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies, 2019.

Awards & Accomplishments

  • Little League Connecticut State Champions, Hartford All Stars
  • All City Baseball Catcher, Bulkeley High School, 1971-72
  • All Conference, Bulkeley High School, 1971-72
  • Captain Bulkeley Varsity Baseball
  • All-Conference Wrestler, Second Team
  • Received a degree from Eastern Connecticut State University
  • Starting varsity catcher, ECSU Baseball, 1974-76
  • Elected Captain, ECSU Baseball, 1976
  • All-New England Second Team Catcher, ECSU Baseball, 1976
  • Inducted into the Bulkeley High School Hall of Fame, 2017
  • 2020 GHTBL Regular Season Title
GHTBL meeting with Ron Pizzanello (standing, right), 2018.

Mark Twain the Hartford Baseball Crank

Samuel L. Clemens, also known by his pen name, Mark Twain once boasted about Hartford, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Twain and his family were proud Hartford residents from 1874 to 1891. When the Hartford Dark Blues joined baseball’s National League in 1874, Twain frequented games at Hartford Base Ball Grounds, a 2,000-seat stadium at the corner of Wyllys Street and Hendricxsen Avenue. Twain later became a shareholder of the Hartford baseball club in 1887.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) regularly attended Hartford ballgames and took notes of the action on personal stationary.

While attending a game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Hartford Dark Blues, Twain’s umbrella was went missing. In response, Twain published a classified advertisement in the Hartford Daily Courant on May 20, 1875:

TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS REWARD — At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me and forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of the umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington Avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains.

-Samuel L. Clemens
Twain’s advertisement in the Hartford Courant, May 20, 1875.
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

The humorous advertisement led to a local medical student playing a morbid prank on Twain. The imaginative student left one of his case studies — the corpse of a boy — on Twain’s porch, along with a note claiming the reward. A nervous Twain thought he might be suspected of murder, until the janitor of the medical college came to claim the body and clear the author. Despite the controversy, Twain’s support of baseball in Hartford continued for more than a decade.

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut.

After a lackluster 1886 season in the Eastern League, in which the Hartford team traded Connie Mack to the Washington Nationals, a new joint stock company assumed ownership of the club. Among investors of the Harford Amusement Association were famed author, Mark Twain and Mayor of Hartford, Morgan G. Bulkeley. The stakeholders hired Charles E. Daniels, a professional umpire from Colchester, Connecticut, as manager. The Hartford club finished in 3rd place as part of the Eastern League. His ownership only lasted that year.

Samuel Clemens, 1907.

On April 8, 1889, Mark Twain dined with the who’s who of baseball at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. It was the night a Testimonial Banquet held in honor of Albert Spaulding and baseball players of the “Tour Around the World”. Twain was among the guest speakers. He gave a humorous speech to the banquet of ballplayers and dignitaries who supported the world tour. He brought the audience to their feet in applause.

“Tour Around the World” brochure cover at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
“Tour Around the World” brochure at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.

“Baseball is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”

-Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), April 8, 1889.
Testimonial Banquet at Delmonico’s, New York, April 8, 1889.
Delmonico’s Menu, New York, 1889.

That same year, Twain completed writing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The story is of a man from East Hartford who finds himself in 6th-century medieval England. The book’s main character, Hank Morgan meets King Arthur himself and teaches noblemen to play baseball. While living in Hartford, Twain also wrote such works as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“There was no joy in life for poor Tom. He put away his bat and his ball and dragged himself through each day.”

– Mark Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1885.
A knight in armor playing baseball, 1889
Mark Twain at his 70th birthday celebration, Delmonico’s, New York, 1905

When Ty Cobb Came to Hartford

More than a hundred years ago, Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, center fielder of the Detroit Tigers visited Hartford on three separate occasions. Like many players of baseball’s Golden Age, Cobb made appearances in exhibition games at cities and towns across the United States for additional income. Before Cobb’s first visit to Hartford in the fall of 1916, he was already known as the best baseball player who ever lived. He had won the batting title a record 9 times in a row and earned Most Valuable Player of the American League in 1911. He was nicknamed “The Georgia Peach” by sportswriter, Grantland Rice as an ode to Cobb’s home state. Cobb was a ferocious competitor with a short temper, great speed, hitting ability and a split handed batting style.

Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, 1906.
Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, 1907
Ty Cobb with his children, 1913.
Ty Cobb, 1913.
Ty Cobb, 1913.

Prior to Cobb’s arrival in 1916, the United States were preparing for what would become World War I. Hartford held its largest public gathering to date – a Preparedness Parade in response to heightened conflict in Europe. The city was comprised of 100,000 residents as well as the nation’s top insurance, banking and manufacturing firms. Per capita, Hartford was one of the wealthiest cities in America. Baseball was by far Hartford’s most popular sport. There were more baseball fields in Hartford than any other city in New England. This included Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, where the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League played home games, and where a brand new grandstand was constructed in 1912.

Wethersfield Avenue Grounds, 1912.
WWI Preparedness Parade, Main Street Hartford, Connecticut, 1916.

When a 30 year old Ty Cobb first came to Hartford, it was after a splendid 1916 Major League season. Cobb’s .370 batting average, 68 stolen bases and 113 runs scored led the Majors. The Detroit Tigers won 87 games and lost 67 under manager Hughie Jennings, finishing third in the American League. After the season, Cobb began to barnstorm New England with independent clubs like the New Haven Colonials for a guarantee of $300 per appearance. Alongside Cobb on the Colonials side were former New York Yankees pitcher, Ray Keating and Philadelphia Athletics shortstop and Torrington High School alumnus, Joe Dugan.

New Haven Colonials with Ty Cobb, 1916.
New Haven Colonials vs. Brooklyn Robins at Lighthouse Point, New Haven, September 10, 1916.
1916 New Haven Colonials

On Tuesday, October 24, 1916, Ty Cobb delighted a small crowd of 800 fans at Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. The game was not well publicized in advance but onlookers would not be disappointed. Cobb and the New Haven Colonials faced off against the city’s best semi-professional club, the Hartford Poli’s. He played center field, first base and served as relief pitcher. Cobb had two hits, showed off his speed in a run-down and pitched 3 innings of one-hit ball. He gave up a double to the Poli’s catcher, John Muldoon, a future professional from Hartford who had three hits on the day. Cobb and Colonials shut out the Hartford Poli’s by a score of 7 to 0.

Ty Cobb and the New Haven Colonials defeat Hartford Poli’s, Hartford, October 24, 1916.
1916 Hartford Poli’s Baseball Club

When the United States entered the Great War in April of 1917, baseball clubs began drilling as if they were military units, including Ty Cobb’s Tigers. He became eligible for military service earlier than most professional ballplayers when he applied to the Augusta, Georgia Draft Board on May 23, 1917. Baseball was played throughout the war and Cobb went on to win two more batting titles with the Tigers before being drafted into the United States Army in late 1918. That year, he won his 11th batting title, hitting .382 in a shortened season due to hostilities in Europe between the Allies and the Axis Powers.

Ty Cobb’s draft card, 1917.
Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb in Army uniforms, 1917.
Captain Ty Cobb in his Army uniform, 1918.
Signed portrait of Ty Cobb in Army uniform, 1918.

A week before the 1918 season ended, Cobb made his second cameo in Hartford. On August 25th, the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Browns staged a benefit game to support American Expeditionary Forces who were deployed on the Western Front. The Tigers and the Browns arrived in Hartford by train. The Browns featured their first baseman George Sisler, a gifted batsman and a Hall of Fame player in the making. Sisler was seven years younger than Cobb and he revered the Georgia Peach. “The greatness of Ty Cobb is something that had to be seen,” Sisler said, “and to see him was to remember him forever.”

Cobb and Sisler to play in Hartford, August 11, 1918.
George Sisler and other players of the St. Louis Browns, Hartford, 1918.

The benefit game drew more than 6,000 fans who filled the grandstand and lined the perimeter of Hartford’s Wethersfield Avenue Grounds. Ty Cobb wore a Cornell College baseball uniform because the team’s luggage was accidentally left at Union Station. Cobb’s play on the field was described as resplendent. He cracked two hits and made a one-handed catch in center field to save two runs. George Sisler had a ground rule double to left field and led his team in putouts. By the end of nine innings, Sisler and the Browns beat Cobb and the Tigers, 3 runs to 1.

L to R: Mayor Kinsella, U.S. District Attorney Thomas Spellacy and Ty Cobb, August 25, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, August 26, 1918.

In October of 1918, Cobb was drafted and assigned to the Army’s Chemical Warfare Services division. He simultaneously announced his retirement from baseball even though Cobb continued to play in benefit games. Before shipping out to France for 67 days, he made his final visit to Hartford on October 5, 1918. He returned as a member of the New Haven Colonials to play for the “semi-pro state championship” against Hartford’s top company team from Pratt & Whitney. Before the game, Cobb gave a speech in front of Hartford’s Liberty Loan Cottage encouraging people to buy war bonds. Pratt & Whitney ended up winning the contest 5 to 3 in windy weather over Cobb and the Colonials.

Ty Cobb in Detroit Tigers uniform, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, October 3, 1918.
Ty Cobb featured in the Hartford Courant, October 4, 1918.
Liberty Loan Cottage, Hartford, Connecticut, 1918.
Hartford Courant excerpt, October 6, 1918.

Ty Cobb’s second and third game in Hartford raised over $3,000 for the Bat and Ball Fund headed up by Clark Griffith, Manager of the Washington Senators. The fund supplied active United States soldiers of World War I with baseball uniforms and equipment. Hartford Soldiers Athletic Committee Chair and former professional ballplayer, John F. Gunshanan corresponded with Griffith to organize the Tigers versus Browns matchup. As the end of the war neared, the baseball goods were gifted to American soldiers in France and Italy. When Armistice Day arrived, people flooded Main Street for the greatest parade the city ever saw. As for the veteran Cobb, he returned home from military service wouldn’t officially retire until 10 years later as a member of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics.

Armistice Day parade, Main Street, Hartford, November 11, 1918.
Clark Griffith’s Bat and Ball Fund, 1919.
U.S. Soldiers recieve baseball goods from the Bat and Ball Fund in France, 1918.

After 22 Major League seasons, Ty Cobb set 90 statistical records. These included highest career batting average (.367) and most career batting titles with 12. He held many of these records for almost a half century or more, including most career hits (4,191) until 1985 most career runs (2,246) until 2001, most career games played (3,035), at bats (11,434) until 1974 and the modern record for most career stolen bases (892) until 1977. Not surprisingly, Cobb has retained the career record for stealing home (54 times) and for stealing second base, third base, and home in succession (5 times). He ranks fifth all-time in games played and first in errors committed by an American League outfielder with 271. In 1936, Cobb received the most votes of any player on the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame ballot with 222 out of 226 votes.

Ty Cobb slides home, 1920.
Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers, 1926.
A retired Ty Cobb at his home in Atherton, California, 1957.
Ty Cobb’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.

Sources:

  1. Hartford Courant on Newspapers.com
  2. Baseball-Reference.com

Learn more about Cobb from Charles Leerhsen’s
“Ty Cobb’s Character: What We Know That’s Wrong” on YouTube
:

Learn more about Ty Cobb in “Ty Cobb’s Character: What We Know That’s Wrong” by Charles Leerhsen.

The Bristol Merchants, a Twilight League Dynasty

Over 11 seasons (2001-2011), the Bristol Merchants were 9-time GHTBL Champions, winning 4 Playoff Championships and 5 Season Titles. Their home site was the venerable Muzzy Field. The franchise was led by their player-manager, Bunty Ray and Joe Parlante who have since founded a wood bat company, Rally Bats in Bristol, Connecticut. Other major contributors to the Merchants were GHTBL veterans including: Joe Parlante, Brian Archibald, Eric Butkiewicz, Rick Barrett, Rick Hewey and Adam Peters. The following Bristol Merchants players also advanced to play professional baseball:

Bristol Merchants win 1st GHTBL championship, 2004.
Kevin Rival, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2006.
Bristol Merchants win 2nd GHTBL championship, 2004.
Bristol Merchants win 4th GHTBL championship, 2009.
Bunty Ray, Player-Manager, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Jason Maule, Outfielder, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Nick Macellaro, Shortstop, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Nick Macellaro, Shortstop, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Adam Peters, Designated Hitter, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Adam Peters, Designated Hitter, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Joe Parlante, First Baseman, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Scott Martin, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
Ryan Pacyna, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2009.
2009 Bristol Merchants
Jarrett Stawarz, Pitcher, Bristol Merchants, 2011.
Baserunner, Bristol Merchants, 2011.
Muzzy Field, Bristol, Connecticut.