The West Haven-Hamden baseball rivalry doesn’t need anything extra to spice it up. It is already pretty intense.
But the two programs decided last year to add something more to this Southern Connecticut Conference rivalry.
It is being called The Ray Guarino Baseball Series, named after a man who has had an impact on both baseball communities. The rivalry will be renewed Thursday at Piurek Field in West Haven at 5:30 p.m.
“These are two prominent Class LL schools which have a huge tradition in sports,” West Haven baseball coach Ron Luneau said. “In the 1970s and 1980s, Hamden and West Haven were the benchmark for high school athletics.”
Guarino, 45, played for West Haven High under George Hanchette, He also coached the Hamden American Legion Post 88 team for seven seasons, the last leading the team to the Southern Super Regionals in the Legion tournament in 2019.
“I’ve known Ray for close to 30 years and when we were looking to revitalize the Hamden Legion program I couldn’t think of a better guy to do it,” Hamden coach Chris Borelli said. “He was the perfect complement to what we were trying to do at the high school. We have similar coaching styles and philosophies and I knew that our guys would be in great hands in the summer.”
Guarino will be on hand Thursday night to hand out the trophy to the victorious team as both teams prepare for the postseason to begin next week.
Guarino was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in June of 2019. He went through both radiation and chemotherapy. He was going through radiation when he led the Post 88 team to the Southern Super Regionals.
Guarino said blood work taken at the beginning of this month was normal. He is due for a PET scan at the end of June, but as the two-year anniversary of his diagnosis nears, things are going well health-wise.
“I still have good days and bad days. I still have a considerable amount of pain, especially in the right rib cage area (pain that led to his original cancer diagnosis),” said Guarino, who teaches history, science and religion at All Saints Catholic Academy in New Haven.
“I consider myself pretty lucky. The game of baseball has been really, really good to me, along with the people I have been able to meet and become friends with. What baseball has done for me over the last two years is something I will never forget, something I will never be able to repay, although I try to repay it every day.”
After several seasons as an assistant baseball coach at Yale, Guarino just completed his first season as an assistant at the University of Bridgeport. He will be an assistant with the Mystic Schooners of the NECBL after managing the New Britain Bees last summer.
The two schools announced the series last May. The first game in the series was supposed to be last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire CIAC spring season.
The series almost had to wait another year. The two teams were not scheduled to play one another when the spring schedule came out in March. Both coaches credited their athletic directors, Joe Morrell at West Haven and Tom Dyer at Hamden, along with SCC commissioner Al Carbone, to make this game happen on Thursday.
“If that didn’t work, we were going to work out a time to play a scrimmage. Either way we were going to play a game this year. We didn’t want this series to be called off two years in a row,” Borelli said. “We’re both eager for our teams to square off on Thursday as both of us are enjoying good seasons up to this point.”
Hamden is 16-1, now at No. 5 in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 baseball poll after its come-from-behind win against Fairfield Prep last Friday. West Haven stands at 13-4.
“Many of my players were boys two years ago when they played last and they came back this year as men. I could tell that many of them made a commitment to the weight room as well as baseball training during COVID,” Borelli said.
Luneau said both teams will be wearing shirts during pregame warmups with Guarino’s name on the back of them.