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. Pete Naktenis grew up to be a talented pitcher at Hartford Public High School where he 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 for the Frederick Raff team in the summer of 1932.
The following summer he pitched for the Mayflower Sales team, champions of Hartford Twilight League. During this time, 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 versus a crosstown rival: Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, a hard-throwing right hander for Bulkeley High School and Home Circle. Taylor, a Negro League star and Naktenis are known to this day to be two of the top pitchers in Hartford’s storied history.
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, Naktenis signed his first professional contract to pitch for Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics. Naktenis made his major league debut for the Athletics in 1936, at age 22. He played in seven games and compiled an 0-1 record, allowing 24 hits and 26 runs with 18 strikeouts.
Naktenis ended up spending most of his time in the minor leagues. He made stops in the New York-Pennsylvania League as a pitcher for the Binghamton Triplets of the New York Yankees organization in 1937. 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 in 1938. Naktenis didn’t compile eye-popping numbers, but he made 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 in 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” Naktenis made his first appearance for the Gems in Hartford on September 25, 1938. Naktenis turned in a complete game performance versus the Philadelphia Colored Giants. He allowed 3 hits and one unearned run over 9 innings and the Gems won by a tally of 9 to 1.
The southpaw from Connecticut went on to log 3 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1939. On September 24, 1939, while property of the Reds, Naktenis 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 the Scranton team by a score of 11 to 3. At his penultimate minor league stop, Naktenis played for the 1942 Milwaukee Brewers led by Bill Veeck and Charlie Grimm, former big league players turned owners. In 1942, Naktenis ended his “full-time” baseball career.
Naktenis pitched his last game for the Savitt Gems on September 24, 1944, hurling a complete game against the Brooklyn Royal Giants. A veteran Naktenis led the Gems to a 9 to 3 victory at Bulkeley Stadium, allowing 3 hits while striking out 13 batters. During World War II, Naktenis continued to pitch professionally for the Hartford Senators of the Eastern League from 1943 to 1945. In 1944, Naktenis led Hartford to an Eastern League title. Naktenis chose to only pitch in home games at Bulkeley Stadium because he worked full-time for Colt Manufacturing supporting the wartime effort.
Naktenis and his wife Kathleen became residents of Newington, Connecticut and had three daughters. He went on to become president of Dean Machine Products in Manchester, Connecticut. Later in his life, Naktenis was inducted as a member of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League Hall of Fame and the Hartford Public High School Hall of Fame. He eventually moved south for Singer Island, Florida, in the 1980s. “Lefty” Naktenis went to rest in eternal peace in 2007.