Tag: south windsor

Baseball Bloodlines: The Spanswick Family

The Spanswicks of Enfield, Connecticut, were once the most talented family of pitchers in New England. Two brothers, William Henry “Bill” Spanswick Jr. and James “Jim” Spanswick as well as Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, excelled as amateurs and professionals. At some point in their careers, each of them also appeared in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Let’s take a closer look at their story…

The Spanswick family lived in the Thompsonville section of Enfield. Bill’s father, William Henry “Harry” Spanswick Sr. originally hailed from Hartford, while his mother, Bonnie Spanswick was from Enfield. Harry was an employee of the Hartford Machine Screw Company, an amateur ball player, a local bowling champion, and a soon-to-be Little League coach. Harry and Bonnie had four children: Bill, James, Barbara and Nancy. Bill Spanswick Jr. was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on July 8, 1938, and Jim arrived three years later.

Bill Spanswick Jr., 1956.

Both Bill and Jim Spanswick developed into standout athletes at Enfield High School. The brothers once pitched no-hitters in the same week for American Legion Maciolek Post 154. Bill was a 6’3″ left-handed pitcher with a lively fastball. He threw seven consecutive shutouts, one no-hitter and seven one-hitters in his senior year of high school. Nicknamed “Span,” Bill matriculated to the College of the Holy Cross and starred on the freshman baseball team.

Enfield High School yearbook, 1956.

Then in 1958, Bill Spanswick signed with his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. However, his quick decision was costly. He accepted the contract over the phone with Jack Onslow, a Red Sox scout and a former manager of the Hartford Senators. Onslow showed up at the Spanswick house the next morning. The $4,000 contract was inked at the kitchen table, but Major League Baseball soon revoked a bonus rule and Spanswick lost out on $60,000.

Nevertheless, Bill Spanswick traveled west to join Boston’s Class-D Midwest League affiliate in Waterloo, Iowa. He was promoted mid-year to the Lexington Red Sox of the Nebraska League, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.13 ERA and a league-leading 142 strikeouts. In a game against the Superior Senators on August 21, 1958, he tallied a Nebraska League record 22 strikeouts.

Raleigh wins behind Spanswick, August 4, 1959.

The following season he advanced to the Carolina League and dominated with the Raleigh Capitals. His win-loss record soared to 15-4 behind a 2.49 earned run average. He led the league in both categories and Raleigh went on to capture the pennant. At the time, Bill Spanswick was considered a top prospect in the Red Sox organization among other talented pitchers including Dick Radatz, Dave Morehead, Earl Wilson and Wilbur Wood.

That same year Jack Onslow signed Bill’s brother, Jim Spanswick. He was another hard-throwing southpaw who chucked three consecutive no-hitters at Enfield High School. In the minors Jim tossed a total of 407 innings with the Red Sox (1960-1962) and the Washington Senators (1963). After being released by the Winston-Salem Red Sox in 1964, he took the mound at Colt Park in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League for Herb’s Sports Shop and later for Royal Typewriter.

Meanwhile, Jim’s older brother worked his way through the minors. Bill Spanswick endured a few bumps in the Pacific Coast League with Boston’s Triple-A affiliate, the Seattle Rainiers. In 1963, he conquered control problems to become an All-Star and the PCL strikeout king (209) . He earned a 14-8 record for the last place Rainers and three of his defeats were by a difference of one run. During this time, both Spanswick brothers served their country as reserves for the United States Marines Corps.

Coming out of 1964 Spring Training in Tucson, Arizona, Manager Johnny Pesky admired Bill Spanswick’s ability and judged him as ready for the Red Sox. The Associated Press ranked Spanswick, “…the brightest pitching prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization.” When he made the team, the 25 year old lefty credited his minor league coach, Mace Brown, for helping him prepare mentally. It would be Spanswick’s only big league season.

Bill’s Red Sox teammates started calling him “Crow” for his bird-like appearance and dark features. He was known to have a habit of stashing Camel cigarettes in his cap – something he may have learned in the Marines. Spanswick made his debut by tossing three innings of hitless relief at Fenway Park on April 18, 1964, against the White Sox. His first win came on May 8, versus the Washington Senators in a 9-3 victory.

On June 12, 1964, Bill Spanswick faced his toughest opponents yet. Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees beat up on the Red Sox, 10-6 at Yankee Stadium. Mantle had two hits and a pair of RBI in the contest. It was indicative of Span’s 1964 season. He pitched in 29 games with a bloated 6.89 ERA, 55 strikeouts, 44 walks and a 2-3 record. The Red Sox sank to 8th place in the American League. Even though Spanswick showed flashes of brilliance, reporters described his time in Boston as a failure.

Bill Spanswick, Boston Red Sox, 1964.

In 1965, Bill Spanswick was traded to the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs. He achieved a 6-3 record before being released again. The California Angels organization picked him up in 1966, but his pro career was coming to an end due to elbow injuries. He returned to Connecticut once more to be with his family and to take a sales job in the trucking industry. In a surprise appearance, he pitched his last game for Hamilton Standard of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, beating Moriarty Brothers 4-3 on June 28, 1967. Bill would later established Spanswick Trucking, which remains a family business to this day.

Bill Spanswick stayed connected to baseball through coaching. In 1991, he managed American International College to the NCAA Division-II College World Series. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame as the town’s only major leaguer. Upon retiring to Naples, Florida, he became an usher for Red Sox Spring Training games at JetBlue Park. Bill Spanswick died peacefully in Naples on December 2, 2020, and was buried at Thompsonville Cemetery.

Bill Spanswick featured in Globe Sports, July 17, 1967.

I feel good about saying I pitched in the big leagues. Back then, there were only eight teams in the American League. You were one of 72 guys pitching. You had to prove yourself in the minor leagues. It’s pretty special.

– Bill Spanswick Jr.
Bill Spanswick, 1979.

Bill’s nephew and Jim’s son, Jeff Spanswick, represented the next generation of the family. Naturally, Jeff was an ace pitcher at Enfield High School. The young right-hander had great coaches including Enfield’s longtime skipper, Bob Bromage. Jeff suited up for American International College where his Uncle Bill was head coach. At AIC, Jeff became an ECAC All-Star and a Division-II Second Team All-American. Though he was never drafted, Jeff followed his family’s footsteps by pitching at Fenway Park in the 1992 College All-Star Game (the Division-I All-Stars defeated the Division-II & Division-III All-Stars, 6-3).

Jeff Spanswick took time off from baseball after college, and in 1994 he married Lisa Noyes of Enfield. Four years later he made a return to the diamond with the East Hartford Jets of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Thanks in large part to Jeff’s 7-0 record, the Jets and their manager Hal Benson were co-champions of the 1998 Regular Season. Jeff Spanswick played for East Hartford until 2002 when he changed teams to Mr. G’s (Giansanti) of South Windsor. It was his last year in baseball and Mr. G’s won GHTBL’s 2002 Regular Season.

Sources

1. Bill Spanswick by Bill Nowlin, SABR Bio Project, 2021: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/Bill-Spanswick/.

2. Bill Spanswick Dies, Enfield’s Only Major League Baseball Player by Tim Jensen, Patch.com: 2020, https://patch.com/connecticut/enfield/bill-spanswick-dies-enfields-only-major-league-baseball-player.

3. Mass Live article by David Dorsey, The News-Press, 2012: Bill Spanswick, formerly of Enfield and Boston Red Sox, finds new home at Jet Blue Stadium

Eight Twi-Loop Clubs to Return This Year

With summer around the corner, the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League is gearing up for our next Opening Day. Though an exact date has yet to be determined, you can expect more announcements as the schedule unfolds. Eight GHTBL franchises will return to action around late May of this year. The 2024 Regular Season should include another charity series at Dunkin’ Park. Each team will fundraise for a different food bank around the state. Read more about this effort called Stadium Series 4 Food Banks at Dunkin’ Park: Givebutter.com/ss4fb (more to come on this).

The twilight league continues to present a uniquely competitive experience for players of all ages. A mix of young and old teammates – local amateurs, college players, high school prospects, and ex-professionals – have developed talent, camaraderie and lifelong friendships. Deep into each season, teams seem to melt together in one way or another in pursuit of a common goal. To describe the GHTBL, one might say we’re a meritocracy operated by a large group of friends with help from umpires.

Peter Kelley, 1B, Vernon Orioles
GHTBL’s switch-hitting home run king of 2023.

Maybe that’s why GHTBL has staying power? For the last 95 years, the league has clung to a classic style of the game. Baseball purists seem to appreciate that the league requires nine players to a lineup while disallowing leniencies like metal bats, courtesy pinch-runners, and free-for-all substitutions. Whatever the reason, the tradition continues. After all, traditions are important, and they don’t go unrecognized. When a sport as beloved as baseball is played and witnessed in a pure form, virtually unchanged from years gone by, that’s something people can appreciate.

On behalf of President Holowaty and the Executive Committee, enjoy the rest of your off-season and here’s to another summer!

To apply for a roster spot, players are asked to fill out a Player Application found at GHTBL.org/join. Here’s a list of our current teams and managers:

League Management









GHTBL Executive Committee

Jack Ceppetelli
Treasurer
Wes Ulbrich Secretary
Wes Ulbrich
Secretary
Ryan Ruggiero GHTBL Assistant Secretary
Ryan Ruggiero
Assistant Secretary




Back in 1979, Gene Johnson of Moriarty Brothers in Manchester was bestowed with the “Player of the Half Century Award” by the GHTBL Hall of Fame. Here’s Gene (right) accepting the award from his teammate, Peter Sala (left).



GREATER
HARTFORD
TWILIGHT
BASEBALL
LEAGUE


Expos Expose Phillies, 7-0

By Joshua Macala
raised || by || cassettes

Exactly one week after their season opener, the Record-Journal Expos returned to Ceppa Field to take on the South Windsor Phillies and scored 7 runs once again. The Phillies and Expos have quite the rivalry going, and so this was promising to be a stellar matchup. Both teams have, in recent seasons, finished in first place even though the then champions would go on to become either the Orioles or Jets. Some teams are at the top of the league, the middle of the league and the bottom of the league. The Expos and Phillies are both top-of-the-league teams, so playing each other should be exciting baseball.

The Expos scored five runs during the bottom of the second inning. It was a deficit from which the Phillies were unable to overcome. A hit-by-pitch, two walks and then a run was walked in as well before AJ Hendrickson hit a deep shot to center field to clear the bases. That double drove in three runs. It would’ve been a grand slam if it went over the fence (I thought it did at first). In the bottom of the sixth inning, Hendrickson would do the same as he hit a long shot out to left field to score two more runs. Five of the seven runs in the game would be AJ Hendrickson’s runs batted in.

While this might not seem like a big deal because players can have big offensive nights, the fact is that AJ Hendrickson was also pitching the entire game and he managed to shut out the Phillies, barely giving up any hits. There were only one or two occasions where it really felt like the Phillies might have a chance to score and then those opportunities quickly got shut down. In many ways, it felt like Hendrickson was doing everything in this game and that just feels even more surreal considering how he played last game, but this was definitely a team effort when you don’t just consider the statistics of it all.

For one thing, the Expos have a new player in Javon Malone and he not only drove in a run but also had a few well-made defensive plays. Everyone seemed to step up offensively for Record-Journal; taking the walk when they needed to, and going that extra mile defensively to make it so that the Phillies couldn’t score. To start off this season with these first few games, everything is clicking for the Expos and their offense and defense are both delivering the way they should.

But with this game it should also be noted that the Phillies played well. The second inning was their biggest downfall and aside from that the combined pitching efforts of Noah Shaw and Connor Egan left the Expos scoreless for five innings. Offensively, the Phillies were missing Brody Labbe and Mike Lisinicchia, as well as Trevor Moulton as a pitcher, but these are just things which happen at the beginning of the season. Jack Rich has yet to play for the Expos as he is off doing great things with the ECSU Baseball team.  

With only two games into the season for the Expos (and the most games being played is three) it might be a bit early to see this as being a runaway season for the Expos. What the standings look like now- with the Expos, Jets and Orioles on top. But it is interesting to see that the new team of the Cardinals is 0-2 while the somewhat new team of the Greeners is 0-3. Whether they can turn their seasons around or not remains to be seen but there is a lot of baseball to be played still so it’s anybody’s game.

While the Expos only had one game last week, they play three this week. They go to Muzzy Field on Thursday night to take on the Greeners, who will be looking for their first win. Then on Friday night they welcome the Jets to Ceppa Field – a matchup to anticipate because the Jets are the reigning and defending Twi Champions. Baseball is one of those unpredictable sports though where it seems like the Greeners should be an easy win but they might not be. I’ve seen it before where first place teams fall to last place teams (mostly the Mets in previous years) and it doesn’t make sense but it happens.  

So even though it feels like Thursday should be an easy win and Friday will be more of a competitive game, anything can happen and you never really know until that game happens. The historic Muzzy Field is a great place to watch baseball and these two games just feel like they’re going to set an important tone for the rest of the season. Either way, win or lose, it’s a nice time of year to be outside watching baseball again. 

Baseball Bloodlines: The Burnham Brothers

The Burnham brothers are two of the best baseball players ever to hail from South Windsor, Connecticut. Gary Burnham Jr. and Brett Burnham, sons of Deborah and Gary Burnham Sr. each became minor leaguers and traveled to world doing what they loved. Separated by six and a half years, the brothers were heavily influenced by their grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. and their uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. both of whom also played professional baseball.

Gary Burnham Jr.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 13, 1974, Gary Burnham showed athletic promise from an early age. At 15 years old he was a left-handed prospect who corked a .500 batting average for South Windsor’s American Legion Post 133. To develop his skills against more experienced players, he competed in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League in between his legion schedule. As a teenager, he manned the outfield and filled in at first base for the Moriarty Brothers franchise, managed by twilight legend Gene Johnson.

Gary Burnham graduated from South Windsor High School where he earned four varsity letters in baseball and football. As captain, hed led South Windsor baseball to the Class-L State Championship in his senior year and was named All-Conference, All-State and All-American along with Gatorade’s CT High School Player of the Year. Gary won the Hugh Greer Award as an outstanding athlete of South Windsor’s Class of 1993. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 22nd round of the 1993 MLB Draft but instead, Gary chose to accept an athletic scholarship to Clemson University in South Carolina. 

As a freshman at Clemson, Gary started in left field and batted fifth. Clemson was ranked first in the nation during most of the 1994 season. In 1995, he spearheaded a College World Series run and achieved All-ACC and All-American honors, walloped a .344 batting average and ranking second in NCAA Division-I with 27 doubles. That summer the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League tapped Gary. After a formidable performance, he was selected to the 1995 Cape Cod League All-Star Game at Fenway Park and secured Most Valuable Player of the game.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Clemson University, 1994.

In 1996, Baseball America ranked Gary Burnham as the 56th “Best College Prospect” and as a Third Team Preseason All-American. He took Clemson to their second College World Series appearance and was voted to the All-ACC team. The Oakland A’s selected Gary in the 40th round of the 1996 MLB draft, but again, he refused to sign and returned to the Cape Cod League with the Falmouth Commodores. During his senior year, he led the Tigers in almost every offensive statistic and earned the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He hit .391 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI, 106 hits and set a program record with 77 doubles.

For a third time Gary was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 22nd round of the 1997 MLB Draft. It was the start of a 14 year professional career highlighted by 11 years in the minors and 4 seasons in Asia. He got his start in rookie ball on the Batavia Clippers of the New York-Pennsylvania League and led his club in base hits, batting average and total bases. In 1998, he was promoted to High-A ball with the Clearwater Phillies alongside Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell. Gary crashed a .296 batting average with 33 doubles, 10 triples and 93 runs, while leading all Florida State League first basemen with a .994 fielding percentage.

Gary won another promotion to the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1999, where he split time between first base and outfield. He compiled 12 home runs and 49 RBI over 116 games, though his batting average slumped to .249. The next season, Gary bounced back, hitting .268 with 28 doubles for Reading. In 2001, he suited up for a third season with Reading and hit .318 with 25 doubles and 15 homers. He had the best average in the Phillies farm system, which was third-best in the Eastern League.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Reading Phillies, 2001.

After five seasons with the Phillies organization, Gary ended up being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays during Spring Training of 2002. The Blue Jays gave the 27-year-old his first shot at the Triple-A level with the 2002 Syracuse SkyChiefs. Gary had a career year, hitting .281 with 151 base knocks, 34 doubles, 17 home runs and 88 RBI. He paced Syracuse in RBI and was chosen as the team’s MVP. He also led the Blue Jays organization with 238 total bases, was third in the International League in RBI and had the most assists among all first basemen.

Gary Burnham (right) and teammate, Kevin Cash, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2002.

In 2003, Gary served as Toronto’s Triple-A backup plan for their star first baseman, Carlos Delgado. Gary carved out a .269 batting average for Syracuse with 9 home runs in an off-year. He then split the 2004 season between the St. Louis Cardinals’ Memphis Redbirds affiliate (.292 in 35 games) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Louisville Bats club (.261 in 69 games). In 2005, the 30-year-old southpaw played for the independent Bridgeport Bluefish. He led his team in runs (75), doubles (32), home runs (18) and RBI (84). Gary finished second in the Atlantic League with a .320 batting average. He was saluted with All-Star honors and awarded team MVP of the Bluefish.

Gary Burnham, First Baseman, Syracuse SkyChiefs, 2003.

Gary started the following season with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League. He began the year batting .319 over 19 games and played well. The Philadelphia Phillies took notice and signed Gary to another minor league contract on May 23, 2006. He went on to clobber a .341 batting average in 80 games for the Double-A Reading Phillies with 16 homers and 60 RBI. He was recognized as a Topps National Player of the Month for hitting 10 dingers in August. Despite missing about a month of the season, Gary achieved the Triple Crown in the Phillies farm system and set the Reading Phillies career home run record (56).

Gary Burnham, Reading Phillies, 2006.
Paul Galloway & Gary Burnham at Clemson Alumni Game, 2006.

At the end of 2006, the Phillies called him up to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. Gary had a torrid hot stretch hitting .391 average, 9 runs and 8 RBI in 10 games. It was clear that he was a major league caliber player, but the Phillies had 2006 MVP Ryan Howard at first base. Gary remained in Triple-A in 2007, starting at designated hitter, first base and outfield for the Ottawa Lynx of the International League. After batting .292 with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 84 RBI and a league-best on base percentage, Ottawa dubbed him team MVP.

After concluding his minor league career in the United States, Gary welcomed new opportunities from abroad. In the off-season, he made appearances in the Mexican Pacific Winter League and the Dominican Winter League. Then in 2008, Gary signed a contract with the La New Bears of Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. Over a total of 70 games for the Bears, he batted .323 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. At 33 years old, he set a league record among foreign-born players by hitting in 23 consecutive games.

Gary parlayed his Taiwan season’ into a role in Japan. He joined the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, managed by Bobby Valentine. In a game against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Gary hit a game-winning homer off of future New York Yankees pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka. Gary was also selected to team Italy’s preliminary roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but he did not compete in the tournament. However in 2010, he inked his last professional deal with the Godo Knights of the Italian Baseball League, ranking top ten in most offensive categories.

Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary with his wife, Rachel Burnham in 2009.
Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.
Gary Burnham, Chiba Lotte Marines, 2009.

Gary retired from professional baseball at 35 years old. In total, he amassed 155 home runs, 856 RBI, a .293 career batting average and a .375 on base percentage. He was also an underrated defender; in 662 minor league games, he maintained a .992 fielding percentage with only 51 errors. Gary was named an all-star at every minor league level and received three team MVP awards. In 2010, the Reading Phillies named him to the All-Decade team. Then in 2016, the Reading Phillies inducted Gary Burnham into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in the same class as Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell.

Gary Burnham accepting his induction into Reading Phillies Hall of Fame, 2016.
L to R: Nick Punto, Eric Valent, Gary Burnham, Jason Michaels and Pat Burrell – Reading Phillies Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

During his professional career, Gary spent several off-seasons as a substitute teacher and a baseball instructor in the Greater Hartford area. In 2018, he helped to establish the South Windsor Phillies franchise in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. Nowadays, he gives private and group lessons as owner of Gary Burnham Baseball Instruction in South Windsor. He works in surgical device sales as National Accounts Manager of Vanguard Medical while operating a real estate investment business, GRB Properties LLC. Gary lives in South Windsor with his wife Rachel and their three children.

Gary Burnham reunites with Bobby Valentine at a World Series Club event, West Hartford, Connecticut, 2017.

Gary Burnham sets Reading Phillies career home run record, 2006.

Brett Burnham

Born January 1, 1981, Brett Burnham was a tough kid and natural athlete who began his teenage years by overcoming cancer. At the age of 13, Brett made his first appearance on the national stage with the Connecticut Mariners at the 1994 AAU National Tournament in West Des Moines, Iowa. Brett was named Most Valuable Player after hitting a grand slam and pitching four hitless innings in relief to win the championship. His head coach was longtime AAU contributor, Bob Hetu. The following year, Brett smashed a three-run homer and was the driving force to another AAU national title run in Cocoa, Florida.

Brett Burnham attended South Windsor High School where, like his brother Gary, he started all four years on the baseball and football teams. Brett was named to the Class-LL All-State team as a sophomore, compiling a .474 batting average with 6 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Brett was also key to the South Windsor American Legion baseball team (1995-1998) and was twice named to the Connecticut All-Star team. In July of 1997, Brett was scouted by the Boston Red Sox at Yale Field to compete in the Area Code Baseball Games in San Diego, California.

In the summer of 1998, Brett Burnham joined the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League. He was a rookie on Newman Lincoln-Mercury, the franchise formerly known as Moriarty Brothers. As a 17 year old, Brett improved his game in the GHTBL while leading the South Windsor American Legion team to their second straight Zone 8 title. In 1999, he batted a whopping .649 average during his senior year at South Windsor High School. He earned All-Region honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association for his high school season. After winning GHTBL’s 1999 Season Title with Newman Lincoln-Mercury, Brett traveled south to attend Auburn University.

As a freshman, Brett guarded third base for the Tigers, slashed .268, scored 28 runs and drove in 33 RBI with 9 doubles and 2 home runs. In early 2000, Brett was selected by the newly established Manchester Silkworms of the New England Collegiate Baseball League that summer. The following year at Auburn, he batted .275, scored 31 runs, stole 28 bases with 11 doubles and 22 RBI. Brett wanted a bigger role and an opportunity to get drafted going into his Junior season. Wanting greater responsibility and to be closer to home, Brett transferred to University of Connecticut in the fall of 2001.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Auburn University, 2001.

Under the tutelage of Head Coach Andy Baylock, Brett played shortstop for the Connecticut Huskies. In 2002, he raked .335 with 14 doubles, 6 home runs, 49 RBI and led NCAA Division-I with 32 hit by pitches. For his terrific season, Brett was honored with a 2nd Team All-Big East Conference nod. He played in the GHTBL that summer as shortstop for Mr. G’s franchise – named for Brett’s grandfather, Ralph Giansanti Sr. The club was sponsored by his uncle, Ralph Giansanti Jr. and former big leaguer, Ricky Bottalico. Brett helped Mr. G’s win the 2002 GHTBL Season Title, while collecting the 2002 Herb Sheintop Player of the Year Award.

After serving as captain during 2003 season at UConn, Brett as was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 21st round of the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft. He went west for rookie ball in the Pioneer League. As a second baseman on the Idaho Falls Padres, Brett performed well over 50 games, leading the team in on base percentage and doubles while batting for a .290 average. At 23 years old, he was promoted to Single-A with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. During that 2004 season Unfortunately, Brett broke his hand in a Spring Training game. He returned six weeks later and in the first game back, broke his hand again. Brett was released and retired from professional baseball in 2004.

Brett Burnham, Infielder, Eugene Emeralds, 2004.
Eugene Emeralds logo, 2004.

Eventually, Brett rejoined the GTHBL aboard Mr. G’s franchise once again. He led the league in stolen bases during the summer of 2005. When Mr. G’s disbanded, he reunited with his former manager, Gene Johnson, who headed the Foss Insurance team (previously called Newman Lincoln-Mercury). By the end of his twilight career, Brett was a 3-time batting champion with three home run titles, seven RBI titles, four stolen base titles and a Triple Crown season in 2010. Brett was a 4-time MVP, a 5-time Player of the Year and a GHTBL All-Star nearly every year. His final baseball season was in 2011, when Brett received a special honor as GHTBL Player of the Decade.

In 2015, Brett and his wife, Cristi Burnham were both inducted into the South Windsor High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Together they founded Happy’s Nutrition in South Windsor, offering shakes, smoothies and teas using Herbalife products. Brett has pivoted from corporate America to full-time Herbalife entrepreneur with Cristi, and they have reached the top one percentile of sales. Brett and Cristi were high school sweethearts where it all began, in South Windsor. They now have four children and reside in Ellington, Connecticut.

Brett and and his wife, Cristi Burnham, Happy’s Nutrition, South Windsor, Connecticut, 2018.

Sources

  1. Hartford Courant database on Newspapers.com
  2. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Gary_Burnham
  3. BR Bullpen – https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Brett_Burnham

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.

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.

South Windsor Captures Regular Season Title

Ron Pizzanello and the fightin’ Phillies clinch 1st place.

The South Windsor Phillies defeated the Vernon Orioles on Thursday, August 6th and captured the 2020 Regular Season Title.  In 2018, the Phillies pressed the reset button on a Twilight franchise in South Windsor. It only took 3 seasons for the club to achieve a pennant. Over our 12-game season, the Phils relied on the slugging of Mike Lisinicchia, Brody Labbe and Jordan Zima and solid pitching from Trevor Moulton and Andre Jose.

Trevor Moulton, Pitcher, South Windsor Phillies.

Ron Pizzanello, former catcher in the GHTBL and professional player in the Italian Baseball League, recruited and managed the South Windsor Phillies to victory. This is Ron’s third year as manager. By leading the Phillies and by overcoming health complications, Ron continues to prove that, with grit and passion, any goal is achievable.

Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies.

The GHTBL Executive Committee thanks and recognizes Tony Desmond (1944-2020) and Gary Burnham Jr. for supporting the South Windsor franchise for many years. Congratulations to the South Windsor Phillies on their success as they proceed to the 2020 Playoff Tournament starting Sunday, August 9th at various sites.  Will the Phillies win both championship titles this summer? We shall see. Stay tuned! 

Pizzanello’s Return, a Life-changing Experience

Ron Pizzanello is manager of the South Windsor Phillies.

Magical things sometimes happen on and around the baseball field, and one need look no further than the South Windsor Phillies dugout to be reminded of this.

Ron Pizzanello, in his second year as coach after a reluctant return to a sport he left years ago, calls the shots there. He makes the lineup with players he recruited to this Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League team. He argues with the umpires. This is where he comes and this is what he does to feel whole again.

“I don’t know what I’d do without baseball,” Pizzanello said.

About four years ago, with Type-1 diabetes wreaking havoc on his circulatory system, Pizzanello started having body parts removed. His left leg was amputated below the knee in 2015, and above the knee in 2016. Doctors took his right leg below the knee in 2017.

Ron Pizzanello, Manager, South Windsor Phillies, 2018.
(Photographer: Johnathon Henninger / Special to the Courant)

Pizzanello, a Hartford native who was a feisty catcher under Bill Holowaty at Eastern Connecticut before graduating in 1976, lost equally meaningful parts of himself through years of debilitating health, too — some pride, some purpose, a whole lot of confidence. He became depressed.

But what Pizzanello has gotten out of a return to baseball, with a nudge from Holowaty, speaks to the power of feeling included, the power of sport, the power of having someone believe in you, the power of human connection and common goals.

Pizzanello, prosthetic legs and wheelchair and all, is just another guy spending a few evenings a week on the dusty diamonds of central Connecticut, again just one of the boys.

“When you wake up in the morning and you know you have something to do, it’s good,” said Holowaty, who won 1,404 games and four national championships in 45 years at Eastern and is now the GHTBL president. “It makes your life a lot better. True or false? That’s what it’s doing for him, and I just feel delighted.”

South Windsor Phillies at Rotary Field, South Windsor, Connecticut.
(Photographer: Johnathon Henninger / Special to the Courant)

Holowaty hadn’t spoken much to Pizzanello, now of Eastford, over the years but kept up with his story, which included Pizzanello’s year as a professional baseball player in Italy just after graduating from college. He arrived at 195 pounds and left at 128 pounds.

He couldn’t figure out what was happening to his body. His father came for a visit and said it must be diabetes. People in Italy suggested the same. Pizzanello didn’t want to hear it.

“I was playing like crap, and that’s what really ticked me off,” Pizzanello said. “I was 22, and you don’t get diabetes at 22, but I had all the symptoms. I was eating like a horse and losing weight. My dad said he wanted me to return home. I said, ‘Dad, we’re one game out of first place and there’s a $15,000 bonus if we win the championship.’”

Pizzanello, now 64, stuck it out as long as he could.

Pizzanello fills out his scorebook, South Windsor, 2018.
(Photographer: Johnathon Henninger / Special to the Courant)

“We’d go to the best restaurant in town and I’d have a big dish of pasta,” he said. “They called it rigatoni abbondante. That means a lot. I’d eat the whole thing by myself. I’d have a steak or a fish. I’d have some kind of dessert. On the way home, I’d stop and get a big bottle of Coke. I’d have an ice cream.”

When Pizzanello returned to Connecticut he said his blood sugar was over 800 and doctors wondered how he was still alive. He began to properly manage his health and went about a relatively normal life. His first marriage lasted 28 years, and he is a father of three. He was a good player for years in the Twilight league for the Vernon Orioles, the team he coached against last week, until a case of frozen shoulder — people with diabetes are particularly susceptible — made it impossible for him to keep catching.

“I couldn’t hit, anyway, so if I couldn’t catch, I was done,” he said.

Pizzanello, who remarried last year, laughed. He has a lot to laugh about these days. There’s a joy in his voice, even when retracing the obstacles diabetes has produced since he stopped playing in 1990. He spent much of the next 10 years coaching American Legion ball while working as a mainframe system programmer for The Hartford and later IBM. He had a heart attack nearly 15 years ago and has a defibrillator. He had a kidney removed.

Eventually, Pizzanello’s legs were so damaged that blood wasn’t reaching his feet unless he stood, and it was impossible to sleep through agonizing pain. His prosthetic legs — one of which he goes without, occasionally, for fear of a skin infection — are emblazoned with Red Sox logos.

Baseball was always on his mind and in his heart. He didn’t think it was in his future. But Holowaty called last summer, urging him to coach the South Windsor team with the help of Gary Burnham.

“I said ‘Coach, I don’t know,’” Pizzanello said. “I could barely walk. I couldn’t hit a fungo, couldn’t do any of that stuff. And I was in the stages of depression.”

Manager Ron Pizzanello and the South Windsor Phillies, 2018.
(Photographer: Johnathon Henninger / Special to the Courant)

Holowaty kept on his former player, wouldn’t let Pizzanello accept limitations. Pizzanello’s return would be good for Pizzanello and good for a league that is always looking for tough, serious, knowledgeable baseball people.

That’s Pizzanello — tough guy, always, and a baseball guy again.

“It was probably the best decision I’ve made,” Pizzanello said. “I just got so into it. It changed my whole demeanor, everything. I had a lot of fun. Just being part of this has done wonders for me. You wouldn’t believe how much this means to me.”


Story printed in the Hartford Courant: https://www.courant.com/sports/hc-sp-greater-hartford-twilight-baseball-ron-pizzanello-column-20190612-ysxrs5ynhraspcvdnprdwmspju-story.html
 

Article written by Mike Anthony
Mike Anthony

Mike Anthony was named The Courant’s sports columnist in May 2018. He has written about the state’s most prominent athletic programs, including the UConn men’s basketball beat from ’05-11. After a five-year period focused on feature writing, Mike spent two years on the UConn football beat. He also covered the ’17-18 UConn women’s basketball season.

Expansion Announced: South Windsor Phillies

South Windsor Phillies to be 8th GHTBL franchise.

On behalf of the GHTBL, I am pleased to announce the addition of another franchise into our historic baseball league. The league is excited to welcome a South Windsor franchise back to the GHTBL. A team called Mr. G’s of South Windsor last played twilight baseball in 2006.

Now the league an eighth team in the South Windsor Phillies and will be led by a former professional player and longtime GHTBL player and contributor, Gary Burnham Jr.  Gary’s hails from South Windsor, and is one of the best hitters to ever come out of the Greater Hartford area. 

Burnham is a minor league Hall of Fame inductee (Reading Phillies) and will be general manager of the South Windsor franchise. Gary played AAA baseball in four different organizations before signing to play Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. His brother Brett Burnham also played GHTBL and minor league baseball with the San Diego Padres after an outstanding collegiate career at Auburn University and the University of Connecticut.

Gary Burnham Jr. Reading Phillies, Eastern League (AA).

Manager of the South Windsor Phillies will be Ron Pizzanello. He is a GHTBL alumnus and a former catcher who played professional baseball in Italy. Pizzanello will bring his experience and his passion (big Red Sox fan) for the game to the league. We are lucky to have him.

Ron Pizzanello featured in Hartford Courant, 1971.

League Notes:

1st Annual GHTBL Golf Tournament & Awards Banquet on Sunday, May 6, 2018.