Every baseball player that ever pulled on a uniform has played those imaginary games in the backyard, starting at the age of eight years old or so, emulating his heroes.
Few if any actually get the chance to play that game for real. Ever since there was baseball, boyhood dreams have been filled with the notion of someday being in what is now known as The Show.
Naugatuck players have seen their share of baseball stardom in The Show, starting with Frank “Spec” Shea; the last one to reach that pinnacle of success was John Caneira.
Spec Shea’s dreams came true beginning in 1947, when he was the winning pitcher in the All-Star game and led the Yankees to the World Series, compiling a 14-5 record as he won games one and four in the Fall Classic.
Shea finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to none other than Jackie Robinson. The Naugatuck Nugget, as dubbed by Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen, got his nickname from his many freckles.
In his first major-league start, the Borough of Naugatuck cancelled school so the kids could go to Yankee Stadium to see Frank “Spec” Shea take on the Boston Red Sox. It was the start of an eight-year, 56-46 career cut short by a neck injury in 1955 Shea sustained while playing with the Washington Senators.
John Caneira turned down offers after being drafted by the Pirates in 1970 and the Brewers in 1974 so he could get his degree at Eastern Connecticut State University. The former Naugatuck Greyhound was tabbed in the 1974 supplemental draft with the first pick of the second round by the California Angels.
Caneira made his major-league debut in September 1977 at the age of 24, and pitched his final game in the big leagues in July 1978. He complied a 2-2 record with a 4.71 ERA in his two seasons with the Angels.
Three years ago, Jeff Farrell was signed out of Southern Connecticut State University by the Boston Red Sox and spent one glorious summer as a member of the Lowell Spinners in the N.Y.-Penn League (a short-season, Red Sox rookie affiliate).
Farrell lasted only one year as a professional baseball player, but before he hung up his glove he put himself and Lowell on the map, combining to pitch in the only no-hitter in franchise history.
This summer, two more Naugatuck hopefuls signed on the dotted line and began a trek that could very well take them all the way to The Show. Pat Dean, a former Peter J. Foley Little League standout, and Steve Hiscock, a former Union City Little League standout, have made the borough proud as both pitchers are now carving their way up the ladder.
Greg and Lisa Dean knew they had a special little pitcher when Pat threw a no-hitter at Saint Francis Elementary School, striking out all 21 batters he faced. He went on to throw a no-hitter as a freshman at Naugatuck and then concluded a stellar high school career with back-to-back no-hitters.
Dean received a full-ride to Boston College and finished up his senior season with a 5-2 record. He was drafted by the Twins in the third round of the amateur draft on June 8. The left-hander has now pitched in four games for the Gulf Coast Twins, going five innings while allowing three hits and no runs and recording with five strikeouts and no walks.
Dean has pitched in relief, as the Twins are watching his pitch count, but in his professional debut, the lefty got a rousing hand from the fans at Lee County Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla. as he set down the Red Sox three up and three down, striking out one.
Tim and Diane Hiscock spent many of nights at Union City Little League with dad coaching and mom in the stands. Steve graduated from Naugatuck High School in 2006 and went on to play at UConn-Avery Point for two years, compiling an 11-1 mark with a stingy 1.71 ERA. Then it was off to Rollins College in Florida, where Hiscock went 7-2 in his senior year with a 3.64 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 100 innings.
The Tampa Bay Rays signed him as an undrafted free-agent, and Hiscock packed his bags to Dutchess Stadium in Wappinger Falls, N.Y. for a stint in the N.Y.-Penn Single-A league. Hiscock got off to a blazing start, hurling four strikeouts in three innings over two games out of the bullpen and earning his first professional win.
Then he hit a bump in the road. Over the next three games, Hiscock was tagged for eight hits and five runs in seven-plus innings over a three-game span. This is the point at which players who move up the ladder make the adjustment or get ready for life beyond baseball.
Hiscock made the adjustment alright, and over the next six games he’s gone 13-plus innings, allowing just seven hits and no runs and striking out 17 while walking only three. He now has a season total of 23 innings, 15 hits, 5 runs, 28 strikeouts and five walks for an eye-popping 1.91 ERA and the kind of stats that coaches notice.
The Major Leagues and the bright lights of The Show are a long way off for these two Naugatuck hopefuls, but they are making the most of their opportunities. To get this far is what dreams are made of. To take it to the next level and make The Show is why they play the game.