Silver Sluggers—A homerun for baseball buffs
DERBY-It’s opening day.
And a standing room only crowd is waiting for baseball.
But this isn’t Yankee Stadium, Citi Field or even Hartford’s Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
It’s a second floor meeting room at the Public Library.
And the crowd? They call themselves the Silver Sluggers. They wear t-shirts attesting to that. For two hours beginning 10 a.m. every Thursday morning from April to November, they’ll be talking baseball.
Leading the group is Rich Marazzi, an Ansonia author, former high school coach, athletic director and umpire and now a major league, Fox and ESPN rules consultant.
It’s the first day of the Silver Slugger’s new season and it begins with Bob Barth, the Yale and Ansonia High public address announcer, reading the day’s program. Then Vince Russo of Woodbury, often assisted by Landon Marazzi, the host’s three-year-old grandson, leads a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
From there anything goes—baseball trivia, nostalgia, rules, videos, trips and an assessment of the week in baseball. On this cold April morning about 75 Sluggers are assembled.
Marazzi calls out to two faces he’s never seen before —Dave Sanford of Stratford and Bob Ahearn, the former three-sport Derby High School star now living in Cheshire. But not all are men. A smattering of women like Megan Allen of Shelton fill the chairs.
“It’s an eclectic group, a diverse group,” said Marazzi, who coached high Ansonia freshman football, served as Emmet O’Brien’s athletic director, wrote for New York Yankee magazine and authored several books including a history of Yale Bowl. “We’ve got factory workers, accountants, educators, radio personalities—but what ties everyone together is their love of baseball. If the library let us we could probably go all day.”
It was back in April, 2006 when Cathy Williams, then the library director approached Marazzi, known for his local Inside Yankees Baseball radio show, to host a one-hour baseball discussion group for four weeks.
“About a dozen guys showed up,” said Bill Pucci, of Ansonia.
Joining Marazzi and Pucci at that first meeting were Joe McCoy, a radio disc jockey and program director, the late Dennis Gleason, an athletic director and Pete Klarides, the father of Themis and Nicole who serve in the state legislature,
“As word got out it got more and more popular,” said Pucci.
Attendees now number close to 70.
Some like Jack Ahearn, the group’s traveling secretary, come from nearby Ansonia. It’s Ahearn’s job to arrange trips to places like Citi Field, the Hall of Fame and in late May to Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
There’s Al Yeager and Sal Fauci, who played on Stamford’ 1951 Little League World Series champions and three years later on the Babe Ruth National Champs.
There’s Rich ’the Maven from West Haven” Graham.
“The guy’s amazing,” said Marazzi. “He’s our trivia expert. You give him a number from Roger Maris’ 61 homeruns and he’ll tell you the day and the pitcher that threw it.”
And there’s Rudy Costello, a former Catholic school principal from Bridgeport, who everyone agrees is the biggest tease.
“He says things just to break people’s chops,” Pucci said.
On this day Costello, an ardent Yankee fan, proclaims the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had baseball’s best record in 2017, won’t “even make the playoffs.”
And the hated Boston Red Sox?
“They’ll win the World Series,” he predicts over a chorus of boos. “But it’ll be their last in this century.”
“He’s a corker that guy,” said soon-to-be 84-year-old Joe Gulia who makes the weekly 70-minute drive from Scarsdale, N.Y.
“Coming here is like religion to me,” said Gulia, who as a five-year-old watch Lou Gehrig give his famous “Luckiest man on...earth speech in Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. I love these guys.When I had open heart surgery they were sending me cards and letters. One of them, Gene Sabados, sent me a card almost everyday with a baseball image.”
Once the singing ends Marazzi, harking back to his umpire days, emphatically shouts “Play Ball.” He throws the first pitch—a trivia question: “Who was the only person to win a World Series and participate in the Masters?”
Not Ralph Terry, the New York Yankee pitcher forever known for serving up Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 World Series ending home run that cost both General Manager George Weiss (who lived in Greenwich) and Manager Casey Stengel. Terry become a professional golfer.
Nor was it Jackie Jensen, the American League’s 1958 Most Valuable Player, whose fear of flying led him to broadcasting and golf.
“It was Sammy Byrd,” Marazzi said ending the suspense. Byrd, known as Babe Ruth’s legs because he pinch ran and served as the Bambino’s late inning defense replacement, played in the 1932 World Series and several Masters’ tournaments—finishing third in 1941 and fourth in 1942.
Marazzi jogs memories by offering birthday wishes to former ballplayers Ron Hansen, the 1960 American League Rookie of the Year who turned 80 this day and Rennie Stennet, the former Pittsburgh Pirate infielder who got seven hits in the same 1979 game, for reaching 67.
Then Marazzi rolled the video tape showing highlights of Rusty Staub, the former New York Met who died at 73 on baseball’s opening day.
“You know Rusty had a red book on all the pitchers and how they tip what they’re throwing,” Marazzi said. “Keith Hernandez (a Mets teammate) asked to see the book. And Rusty told him “No. You didn’t earn it.
After Staub retired in 1985, he gave Hernandez the book which the slick-fielding retired first basemen keeps on his desk.
Marazzi froze some of the clips to show how high Staub choked up on the bat after two strikes and another that displayed the Houston Colt 45s cap he wore breaking in as a 19-year-old in 1963.
“Its the only major league cap with numbers on it,” Marazzi said.
There’s a long discussion on rules. Marazzi is the baseball rules consultant for 15 major league teams as well as FOX Sports and ESPN.
During spring training he discusses rules with players and managers like the one he calls “Baseball’s Affordable Care Act”—which allows a manager to immediately substitute for a runner injured during a ground rule double or home run.
There’s the new minor league rule that starts off each extra inning with a runner on second base deamed to be their by a team error.
“The minor leagues are worried not so much about winning or losing but developing players,” Marazzi said. “This goes against baseball tradition but maybe it creates excitement.”
When he was the rules consultant for the Israeli Baseball League, Marazzi said they decided tie games with a home run hitting contest.
The two-hour session ends with a raffle.
Allen, the Shelton woman beloved for advising her male counterparts how to get Yankee telecasts during the YES-Comcast dispute, walks away with a Washington Nationals’ spring training program.
“ I’ve already got a ticket and a hotel for their July 3 game so I can see the fireworks display,” said Allen who recalls going to a Brooklyn Dodgers’ game when she was four.
Marazzi said hosting the Sluggers is the best time he’s had.
“It’ll go as long as I am having fun and in good health,” he said. “Coming here every week and talking with informed baseball fans is a pleasure.”