NAUGATUCK — The players on the Naugatuck Riverdawgs of the Northeast Baseball Association still have that fire in their bellies to compete on the baseball diamond.
“This game keeps you young,” said Pat Granahan, a 55-year-old Naugatuck High School graduate and the team’s designated manager. “We are a bit slower than we used to be. I hit a line drive to right field and got thrown out at first base with a bum knee, but the passion never leaves you.”
The over-38 league features 16 teams that play an 18-game schedule throughout Connecticut on Saturdays from April through August. The Riverdawgs play their home games at Breen Field.
“About three years ago we began to integrate some of the younger kids, if you call 38 younger kids, and it has become one big family. The wives and girlfriends are out here to support us as well as our families. It’s a great way to spend the weekend playing ball,” Granahan said.
At the end of the regular season in August, the top eight teams play in the championship bracket of the playoffs and the remaining eight teams square off in the presidents bracket. The Riverdawgs, who were 5-4 through nine games this season, finished second in the league last year.
David Ranno, a 46-year-old Naugatuck High graduate and one of the team’s coaches, said Billy Grabowski started the Riverdawgs. Naugatuck is one of the original four teams from when the league started about 16 years ago, he added.
“It gives us the opportunity to go out there and play a game we love,” Ranno said. “I was trying to play both softball and baseball, but the scheduling got to crazy. Now I just play baseball.”
The passion for the game of baseball never gets old for this group of ballplayers. At first glance it may appear that the game has passed them by, but the intensity of play from the first pitch until the last out can resemble that same desire found on countless Little League fields across the country.
“I’ve been here now ten years,” said Dom Ciarlo, a 1989 graduate of Wilby High School who coaches youth baseball in Wolcott. “When I first came on board I didn’t know anyone. But this is a great bunch of guys.”
“The key is to stay in condition,” he added. “Get into the gym year-round, three times a week, so you stay off the DL, because at our age you don’t recover as quickly.”
The oldest player on the team and first baseman is Ken Deschino at 61 years young. Richie Aviles, Mike Doran, Gino Grant and Bill Hankey head up the pitching staff, with Dave Roberts and Joe Pisco catching behind the plate.
The roster also includes Matt Fortney, Ken Stone, Ryan Murphy, Stanley Jaroneczyk, Ron Swierbitowicz, Casey Conklin, Dave Walsh, Dom Ciarlo, Joey Edmonds, Keith Stirk and Steve Nester.
The Riverdawgs also run a 45/48-and-older team that plays at Naugatuck High School on Wednesday nights. The older team is in its inaugural season and is looking to become just as established as the younger version.
“Ibuprofen is the key,” said Bill Hankey, a 1991 Naugatuck High graduate and another of the team’s managers. “We start our season right after the Super Bowl, meeting up at the batting cages. We hang out after the games and catch up on family things and we are really close.”
The Riverdawgs are supported by three local sponsors — All Brand Appliance Repair, Best Oil and Propane, and A Plus Electrical Contractors — as well as a loyal fan base.
“My husband, Captain America, plays on this team,” said Valerie Fortney with a laugh. “I think it’s a great way for these guys to come out here and relive some of those glory days.”
Tina Dambowsky is the Team Mom and brings the snacks.
“I think the guys have a lot of fun and we are here to support them,” she said.