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The following is a story about Stamford baseball in the Stamford Advocate

May 10, 2008

Stamford still has a passion for baseball
By Dave Ruden
Advocate Staff Writer

STAMFORD – It was not long ago that a sign attached to the center-field fence at Cubeta Stadium proclaimed Stamford as "The Baseball Capitol of The World."

It was good fodder for William Safire's On Language column and grammar teachers everywhere, as well as fans of hyperbole. But there was no disputing the expressed sentiment: this city had a love affair with baseball.

Anyone who has followed the sport on the summer circuit recently had to wonder whether that marriage was headed for divorce, or at least a trial separation. Stamford was not insulated from societal problems afflicting youth sports across the country.

Self-interests led to a splintering process to the point there now seems to be as many different leagues and teams as there are players. Babe Ruth, American Legion, AAU, travel ball, the talent was spread out and the overall product diluted. It has been evident during Babe Ruth tournaments that Stamford was not fielding the very best team possible.

It was hard not to be cynical and wonder if the city's great baseball heritage was fractured beyond repair.

Then there are days like Wednesday, when a crowd of several hundred fans packed Westhill High School for its highly anticipated showdown with Stamford, and it had the same effect as a rainbow following a rain storm.

Stamford still loves a big baseball game. And this city will still rally together in the stands if it can, like on the high school level, ever find the path back to coming together on the field.

If not for the stakes, with both schools jockeying for a high seed in the forthcoming Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference Tournament, and holding realistic hopes of championship runs, the Black Knights' 12-7 victory might have been secondary to what was happening in the stands. Or, more accurately, on the hill overlooking the Vikings' diamond.

"I thought it was a winner for Stamford baseball in general, said Bobby Augustyn, the Black Knights' coach for the past 20 years. "You looked around and saw all those people and it was a beautiful site. I think Stamford still is a baseball town."

For the past few weeks the teams seemed on a collision course. It has been a while since two schools from the city were on similar rolls and meeting this late in the regular season.

The Black Knights came in at 15-1, ranked fifth in the state, winners of eight straight games. The Vikings, before a loss to Norwalk two days earlier, were 12-4 and had won seven straight games.

If the game had been played that night at Cubeta Stadium, it is not unreasonable to think the crowd might have been larger by half, as athletes from other sports at the schools, as well as Trinity Catholic, trickled in as afternoon turned into early evening.

"It was a lot of fun," Stamford right fielder Anthony Pandone said. "It's a big rivalry and both teams are doing so well. It's special and makes you want to play the best you can."

Would anyone be surprised if there was an all-Stamford FCIAC final in two weeks? The Black Knights lack an exploitable weakness. It has arguably the most dangerous offensive team in the league, as well as three starting pitchers who could be the ace of most staffs.

The Vikings are equally lethal - it has scored at least five runs in all but two games - and have a quality pitching staff.

"If you look at the nine starters on our team and the nine starters on Westhill, you could mix and match and I don't know what the result would be," said Augustyn in the Stamford gymnasium yesterday, as his team took batting practice after its game with Trumbull was rained out. "What's great about this is it is a friendly but competitive rivalry because most of the players have played with each other."

Wednesday's game would have far greater resonance if the people in charge of the various summer programs used it as a template to help reunify the city. That might be wishful thinking because concessions would have to be made somewhere, and it is hard to see that happening.

"I wish it could be that way, with just one team," said Pandone, who plays in the Babe Ruth league. "We would be unstoppable."

There will be plenty of time in the near future to address that dreamscape. For now, let's revel in the splendor that Wednesday provided, idealism returned to reality.

Maybe lightning will strike twice, say, in the FCIAC championship on May 24 at Harbor Yard. If that plays out, for one night, Bridgeport will be transformed into the Baseball Capitol of the world.

Copyright © 2008, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sports in Stamford