Naugatuck residents Dan Kaminski and Mike Fox are baseball fanatics.
For the last two winters, the two have refused to wait until springtime to start the baseball season. Kaminski and Fox joined a baseball team and headed to Puerto Rico to play. Their most recent voyage took place last month.
While most of us were scraping ice off our windshields, wearing heavy coats and avoiding extended time outdoors, Kaminski and Fox were stepping on the field in San Juan and leading their team to a tournament title. It was an opportunity to take some swings, run the bases and throw the ball outside in a comfortable temperature—during the winter—for the second year in a row.
And according to Kaminski, it was worth every minute.
“I thought to myself, just a few weeks ago at this time, I was playing,” Kaminski said last week. “Just to get a taste of it was worth it. Now, I have to wait another month to start the season here. It kind of upsets you.”
From Feb. 19-21, the duo played five games with a collection of baseball players who compete each summer in a National Adult Baseball Association league based in the Naugatuck Valley.
The 23-year-old Kaminski played shortstop, while 25-year-old Fox played first base and pitched. They have played together each summer since 2007 with the Hackers, a local NABA team.
While it was still winter in Naugatuck, the games in San Juan had an October-like, playoff feel. The atmosphere of the trip quickly turned from early spring training to that of a late-season playoff game.
Fox started on the hill in a pivotal game four that decided which teams would make the championship game. Did he feel pressure?
“Absolutely,” Fox said.
After losing game one, 11-7, in a five-team tournament, Kaminski and Fox’s Connecticut team needed to recover. It won games two (6-0) and three (5-0).
Fox took the ball in a must-win situation and delivered. Connecticut won, 8-1, against a New York-based team to advance to the title game.
“He pitched like he always does,” said Kaminski, who also played baseball at Naugy. “And that’s a good thing.”
Not only did Fox dominate on the mound, but also he connected with Kaminski in a rare, pickoff double-play that started at second base. With one out and runners on first and second, Fox spun off the rubber and threw a strike to Kaminski, who was covering.
Kaminski made the tag to get the out and noticed the other runner walking off first base to his dugout. Immediately, Kaminski darted to the runner, who was unable to make it back to first before being tagged for the third out.
Fox and Kaminski would come together for one more memorable moment on the field. It came in the championship game.
With Connecticut clinging to a 4-3 lead and needing one more out to close the game, a grounder bounded toward Kaminski at short. He fielded it cleanly, threw across the diamond to Fox, at first, and finished the game with the out.
“I started running to first and was celebrating before the ball was in his glove,” Kaminski said.
Fox said he was glad he made the trip and would go back again. It helped him prepare for the season ahead, with the Hackers.
“It was good competition,” Fox said. “Good competition brings out the best in everyone.”