A left-handed hurler named Pete Naktenis was the first Hartford Twilight player to advance to the Major Leagues. Naktenis was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1914. Soon after his birth the Naktenis family moved to Manchester, Connecticut. Naktenis grew to be a talented pitcher at Hartford Public High School who set strikeout records with his blazing fastball. The phenom nicknamed “Lefty” 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. He then pitched for the 1933 Mayflower Sales, champions of Twilight League and would continue with them until 1935. Naktenis also signed with the Savitt Gems after the twilight seasons when they challenged semi-pro clubs at Bulkeley Stadium. He would often face his crosstown counterpart, Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the hard-throwing right hander for Bulkeley High School, Home Circle team in the Hartford Twilight League, and a soon-to-be Negro League star. Naktenis and Taylor are known to this day to be two of the top pitchers in Hartford’s history.
During this time, 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's 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 Indians," he said in the interview. "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
The southpaw from Connecticut also logged three games with the Cincinnati Reds in 1939. In his penultimate minor league city, 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 career" in baseball.
During World War II, Naktenis would continue to pitch professionally for the Hartford club of the Eastern League from 1943 to 1945. In 1944 he led Hartford to an Eastern League title. He would only pitch in home games at Bulkeley Stadium because he worked full-time for Colt Manufacturing supporting the wartime effort. Naktenis would become president of Dean Machine Products in Manchester, Connecticut.
Later in his life, Naktenis was inducted as a member of the Greater Hartford Twilight League Hall of Fame and the Hartford Public High School Hall of Fame. He left Manchester for Singer Island, Florida in the 1980s. “Lefty” Pete Naktenis went to rest in eternal peace in 2007.