Ray Guarino grew up playing baseball in West Haven and spent his most recent years coaching the sport in Hamden. His ties to baseball runs very deep in both towns.
So it’s only fitting that the next time Hamden and West Haven face one another in a high school game, the two Southern Connecticut Conference rivals will be playing for a huge trophy in Guarino’s honor. It will be called The Ray Guarino Baseball Series.
“We wanted to see how we can honor him through baseball, someone who has had influence on the baseball communities in both West Haven and Hamden,” West Haven baseball coach Ron Luneau said.
Guarino, 44, played for George Hanchette at West Haven. Last year, he coached the Hamden American Legion Post 88 team to a 20-6 record.
“The Hamden-West Haven rivalry is already intense,” Hamden coach Chris Borelli said. “This adds something a little extra to the rivalry. I know our kids will be very proud to hold onto that trophy for a year.”
If the two teams play twice next year, one game will be designated as the series game.
It’s what Guarino has dealt with for the past year that makes it a lot more than just about baseball. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in June, Guarino had managed to get through a season as an assistant baseball coach at Yale University, then his seventh season as the Hamden Post 88 coach, leading the team to the Southern Super Regionals.
Guarino was going through radiation last summer. He said he had his last chemotherapy treatment five weeks ago. His latest PET scan was also positive.
“The best way to describe it is the original diagnosis of the spots on my ribs (and also on his spine) are completely gone,” Guarino said. “They don’t use the term remission. I will always have it. It is basically under control.”
Guarino said his next PET scan won’t be until late July.
“It’s been a long, long year. I still have my good and my bad days,” Guarino said.
Luneau said he first thought about honoring Guarino in this way late last year.
“Chris loved the idea. He was on board immediately,” Luneau said.
The first game of the new series was supposed to be played on Tuesday. But the entire spring sports season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Ray and I have known each other since we were kids,” Borelli said. “He really helped resurrect our legion program. When I got hired in 2012, we were looking to revive Post 88. He was the first guy who came to mind. Watching him fight this has been inspiring. I feel for him every single day. It’s whatever we can do to help his fight and help him understand how much we care about him.”
Guarino was named the manager of the New Britain Bees in February. The Bees, formerly with the Atlantic League, is now starting its first season in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a wood bat league.
And despite almost every state sporting event having been postponed or canceled since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Guarino said last week that the season was still scheduled to begin in June.
“I’ve been really fortunate with the support that I have gotten throughout this entire situation, between the Yale community and the Hamden and West Haven communities just stepping up for me,” Guarino said. “It’s overwhelming. You never think that you are going to be the recipient of something like this. For me, that has been a hard pill to swallow, knowing all of these people are going to bat for me. There are a lot of people going through the same thing and don’t get the same support I am getting. It becomes at times tough to wrap your head around it.”