Jim Bransfield’s Best and Worst of Greater Middletown Spring Season

Portland's baseball team celebrates its Class S baseball title over Thomaston (Photo Peter Paguaga)

Portland’s baseball team celebrates its Class S baseball title over Thomaston (Photo Peter Paguaga)

MIDDLETOWN >> The spring high school season has come and gone. Heck, before you know it, we’ll be shoveling snow.

There were lots of bests, some worsts, and some genuine goofy things that happened this spring. So in no specialorder of importance, chronology or anything else, here is the spring season in review.

Usual rules: I had to see it, hear about it, think about it, or imagine it. Some of it is serious, some isn’t and it’s up to you to take it for what it’s all about: lots of kids playing games. Have fun with it.

BEST MOMENT: Portland High’s baseball championship. Rick Borg can coach like crazy and his kids seized the opportunity.

WORST MOMENT: H-K’s loss to Rocky Hill. It will be forever known as the game that featured The Play At The Plate. Which leads to the next category.

WORST CALL: The ump’s unbelievably bad call when he called the Rocky Hill kid safe at the plate in the M championship game. But some of the more excitable folk need to know that no one, least of all me, is criticizing the ump’s integrity, his honesty and his desire to get calls right. That’s a given. But he had a very bad night and that is fair game. We hold kids accountable; no question adults must be so held.

See photo, page 1, sports, Hartford Courant, June 15. Case closed.

CLASSIEST MOMENT: H-K coach Mark Brookes arguing The Call. Brookes never lost his cool. No way I could have remained rational after that. But he did, therefore his kids did. You should be so lucky as to have Mark Brookes coach your kid.

BEST COACHING JOB: 1. Alex “Sandy” Tucci, Middletown sprinters coach. He didn’t have a 4×100 relay team worthy of the name until midway through the season. He then put together a team that featured a kid, Kareem Bracket-Woodberry, who had never run track until this, his senior year. The team finished fifth in New England. By definition, a great coaching job. 2. Rick Borg, Portland baseball. 3. Mark Brookes, H-K baseball.

WORST WHINERS: 1. Some people who whined about having to park off-site and walk some distance to the State Open track meet at Middletown. I tried to explain to them that when the meet was booked a year ago, it was a scheduled half-day at Middletown as school would have closed that week.

Then came snow. Lots of it. So the school year was extended and the day of the Open was a full day so teachers’ and kids’ cars were in the lots. No question it was nuts as 1,300 kids were dismissed while thousands were arriving for the meet. It was unavoidable. But MHS did its best as it deployed staff and administration to assist with parking.

To some, the explanation and effort made no difference. Finally I told one this: Look, the education of 1,300 kids at Middletown High School is more important than a track meet and your convenience.

WORST OUT-OF-SEASON IDEA: Hand football coach Steve Fillippone’s notion that every high school football coach in the state be “deputized” as a recruiter for UConn football. Uhhh, no. Hey, he and many of his fellow state coaches were the guys who recommended Paul Pasqualoni, a.k.a. the Captain of the Titanic, as UConn coach a few years ago.

BEST AMATEUR BALLPARK: 1. Palmer Field. Yeah, it’s here and I’m biased, but it is a great place to watch a game. The trees in center and left fields and the stands in right make it, well, beautiful. 2. Muzzy Field in Bristol. A truly gorgeous throwback of a park. Only knock is not enough parking, but it’s as pretty a place as you’ll find. And Bristol is pouring many dollars into its renovation to make it even better.

RISKIEST PARKING LOT: Five Guys lot on Route 66 right off the first base line of Palmer Field. The cars got lucky as during the CIAC playoffs not one was drilled (although one woman nearly jumped out of her skin when a ball landed near her) by a foul ball. But there’s a lot more games to be played including the American Legion Northeast Regionals. Trust me, there are baseballs biding their time, destined for windshields.

BEST GOLD MINE: The concession stand at Palmer Field. “We were sold out,” said Bob Scanlon, the Legion’s man in charge said Saturday night. I did get one complaint from a longtime Palmer Field hot dog consumer. He said they cook them early on big day games and the one he got was shriveled like a prune and was cold. Exception to the rule, but just sayin’.

BEST FOOD NOT YET EATEN: The kielbasa at Hale-Ray softball games. Almost got there, but had a conflict when former coach Lou Milardo invited me to a game. So I’ll give the award on faith.

GOOD PEOPLE GET GOOD THINGS: Nick Neumann is a former star pitcher at MHS, the Middletown Legion and CCSU. He got drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and is now in the minor leagues with a chance to pursue his dream. Kid worked his posterior off after Tommy John surgery. Wish him luck. A good guy.

CONTINUING POINTLESS RULE: The rule that allows teams with 40 percent winning records into CIAC postseason tournaments. Just because once in a great while a blind squirrel finds an acorn is no reason to continue this.

BEST KID INTERVIEW: Middletown pitcher Ben Gilliland when asked what it felt like to get his first varsity win: “It feels $%%$#& good. Oh, please don’t print that.” Priceless. Actually, what he said was nowhere near as bad as the kid thought. Kid is hereby absolved.

MOST SURPRISING LOSS: Cromwell to Thomaston in the semifinal round of the CIAC baseball tourney. If any team was a lock to get to a title game, I thought it was Cromwell. But as Yankee announcer John Sterling says, “Can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.”

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE: No contest. Richard Ciamarra, Xavier tennis player who hit the trifecta. He won the Southern Connecticut Conference title, the Class LL state championship and the State Open. And here’s the thing: the kid is a freshman. For Christmas the Southington resident might be getting his first razor. Pretty cool to be the very best when you’re that young, huh?

BEST HOT DOG*: 1. John Greco’s dog at Middletown High School, but only when he smothers it with fried peppers and onions, which are not for sale to the public. Just for special folks. Like me. Eat your heart out. 2. The Palmer Field dog, which everyone can buy, is still the champ.

*This is the Irate Parent Award. Some years ago, an AAU mommy yelled at me for saying I didn’t like AAU sports — and I still don’t — and told me I knew nothing and should stick to rating hot dogs. Angry mommies scare me. So I do what I’m told.

WORST PRACTICE: Kids pitching too much. This year-round pitching is crazy. Experts theorize it is responsible for all the arm injuries we see in pro ball. Spring and summer is enough, fellas. And be sure to go to the beach. Be a kid, not a specimen on an operating table.

BEST KID: Almost all of them. I hardly ever run into a not nice kid on the fields, pools, courts or track. They are excited to be interviewed, are happy their games are covered and have that boundless energy and idealism that comes with youth. They keep me feeling young.

Get out and see kids play. Legion ball is lots of fun, so get out to Palmer Field, grab a hot dog and some fries — we won’t tell your cardiologist — and catch a game or three. Or get up to Cromwell or down to East Haddam, bring a lawn chair, and watch the kids play.

There are much worse ways to spend a summer evening.


  1. ncaa coach says

    I work as an assistant NCAA coach in the Northeast. I was at the game Saturday. First the umpire you are questioning is formerly a professional baseball umpire and presently works for the NCAA. He works our games and is very highly rated. You should have been honored to have him work that game. Second people including myself feel that the runner was safe on the play, maybe that explains the coaches approach, he wasn’t sure if he what the call was, it was so close. Stop trying to create a situation. Lastly at the game I viewed this writer from the press box yelling at the umpires during this game. How is that allowed? He also is reporting on the game while doing the official scoring, sounds like a conflict of interest to me? I will be contacting the CIAC. He should be removed from all duties, he is a dishonest and gutless and simply looks for ways to create controversy.

      • The tag is there in the picture says

        That picture ain’t lying. He was out. Even an NCAA coach should be able to see that. But that’s why baseball is such a great game. The umpires can make a mistake. It’s imperfect. Been that way for over a hundred years. Gives ya something to talk about.

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