PROSPECT — Don Ensero Sr. has built a coaching legacy in Prospect that will not soon be forgotten.
The 80-year-old Ensero is retiring from coaching this year after over a half a century on the baseball diamond.
“Going into this season I knew this was going to be my last,” Ensero said. “After 55 years I guess it’s time to step down. I will miss the kids, but I certainly won’t miss the games as I will still be there in the stands cheering them on.”
Over the years, Ensero’s family has been right by his side.
“My wife Betty stood beside me all these years because she knew the love I had for baseball and for the kids I coached,” Ensero said. “We raised our son Don Jr. and he helped me coach when he got older. We have enjoyed our daughter-in-law Diane, who is the daughter we never had, and our three precious grandchildren Matt, Zach and Molly.”
A carpenter by trade, Ensero used his building skills to help mold the lives of countless youngsters over the years.
Ensero’s coaching journey began in 1959 when Prospect, a tiny farming community of 4,300 just up the hill from East Mountain in Waterbury, was in need of a basketball coach for the CYO team at St. Anthony’s.
“I was 25 years old and just finished building my house in Prospect when my two elderly neighbors asked me if I would be interested in coaching the CYO basketball team because they had no coach,” Ensero recalled.
“I only agreed if they helped me. The first game was the following day and we got it handed to us in a 95-15 loss. I knew then that we had some work to do,” he added with a chuckle.
Ensero didn’t falter in his commitment.
“We hung in there and I coached that team for 45 years,” he said. “After many league and state championships, it all culminated with us winning the New England Championship in 1980.”
More than half a century later, the journey is coming to an end for the man who helped build baseball for a community that now stands at 9,500 residents strong.
There have been countless coaches in Prospect over the years, but none had the kind of influence on the game of baseball as Ensero has had in town. Wins and losses aside, the mark of a successful coach is measured by the commitment and dedication one puts in to reach the ultimate goal of building successful players. The terms commitment and dedication were written with coach Ensero in mind.
After seeing the commitment that Ensero brought to the basketball court, he was asked to coach a Babe Ruth baseball team that hadn’t won a game in four years. He took over the helm in 1964, winning two games the first year. By his third season is charge, the team made the playoffs.
Ensero then lent a hand to the town’s Little League program that was unaffiliated with Williamsport at the time, and worked to get the league affiliated with Little League Baseball.
Through the years, Ensero has routinely coached two and three teams at a time over the summer, including Pee Wee Reese, Stan Musial and American Legion teams. Ensero has also traveled the world going to Cuba and Russia to evaluate teams that were coming to the United States to play the Junior National team.
Ensero’s biggest project came with the formation of the Mickey Mantle League. Through his efforts, along with his longtime friend Al Damilio, Municipal Stadium in Waterbury housed the Mickey Mantle World Series from 1984 through 1992.
“I got hooked up with Al when he was the AABC president,” Ensero said. “When Al retired I became the president of the Mickey Mantle League. We were the first ones to get Mickey Mantle to show up and throw out the first pitch, and he stayed for hours signing autographs.”
Ensero also played a pivotal role in bringing about the return of American Legion baseball to Prospect with the creation of the co-op Prospect Post 194 and Beacon Falls Post 25 baseball team.
The first few years the program paid a fee to play its home games at Woodland Regional High School.
“So I went to see Mayor Bob (Chatfield),” Ensero said. “He’s been the mayor (38 years) for almost as long as I’ve been coaching and a plan was put in the works to bring about upgrades to Hotchkiss Field. Mayor Bob has always supported the youth programs in town.”
Today Hotchkiss Field boasts a new baseball field with dugouts that is home to the Legion team, among its many amenities.
“Don has been with me since day one,” Prospect-Beacon Falls American Legion baseball coach Jeff Clarke said. “Jim Augelli, Joe Steele and Larry Renna were instrumental in starting this Legion team up again, but Don was the key to making this all take place.”
Ensero will also be remembered as the man who began the Pop Warner Prospect Redskins youth football program. Most people in Prospect either know Ensero or even played for him back in the day. His character and unselfish commitment to the youth in Prospect has touched the lives of children in this community for decades.
“He will be sorely missed not only by the coaches but the kids as well,” Clark said. “What he has done in over 50 years is just incredible. We even named a field after him in town. He has certainly left his mark on the town of Prospect.”