BY KEN MORSE
The chatter and bantering for bragging rights filled the air at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant on May 1, as members of Naugatuck baseball’s fabled 64-game winning streak gathered together, along with keynote speaker Paul Hensler, the author of “Pride of the Greyhounds”, who sponsored the get together.
The stories that were told were stories that have been told again and again over the last 50 years, but they are stories that never get old.
“My only regret was we weren’t able to have more of the guys who were part of the streak to be there for the luncheon,” said Hensler, a 1974 Naugatuck graduate. “But to see the smiles and the hugs of guys who probably haven’t seen one another in years was very rewarding. A reunion of sorts is what it really turned out to be.”
Players greeted one another with the familiar hand slaps, heartfelt hugs and the occasional chest bumps as they immediately began chatting about the days of old.
“You look around this room and this is one of the last great teams under coach Legenza,” said Rich Rydzik, 1972 Naugy graduate and member of the Hall of Fame. “As much as people remember the streak, this team went 105-2 over a five-year period. What Paul did is put all of that history into a book that people will be able to look back on for years to come.”
Hensler received an associates degree from Waterbury State Tech in 1976, a bachelors degree from Central Connecticut State University in 1978 and a masters degree from Trinity College in 2008.
He has served as adjunct lecturer at Trinity College and Manchester Community College. He has authored numerous research papers for the Society for American Baseball Research. In 2012, Hensler published his first book, “The American League in Transition, 1965-1975: How Competition Thrived When the Yankees Didn’t.”
“I never would have imagined anything like that could have happened. Back 10 years ago I presented a paper I had written to Cooperstown at a symposium about American culture,” said Hensler. “Here we are years later and there is a 300-page book that chronicles the whole streak. I never did imagine that happening.”
Most of the players traveled from other states and cities to be there for this event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the streak, which ended June 6, 1972 against Shelton in the state semifinals. For some players that have called Naugatuck home all their life, the impact of a book like this made those memories come flooding back like it was yesterday.
“If you believe that history inspires us, then this book has come out in a very timely manner with this being the 50th year,” said Frederick Dlugokecki, a member of the streak team and a Naugatuck attorney.
“Paul is a classmate of mine Class of 1974, a smart guy, he’s written multiple books on the subject of baseball. But the bonding from playing for Naugy is something that you carry for the rest of your life.”
Since his first book published in 2012, Hensler has authored “The New Boys of Summer” (2017), “Mr. October (2019), “Bob Steele on the Air: The Life of Connecticut’s Beloved Broadcaster” (2019), “Swagger Comes to Town” (2020), Gathering Crowds (2021) and “Pride of the Greyhounds”.
“That’s what made this project so rewarding in its own way,” said Hensler. “I have written other books where I interviewed people here and there about various events but this is the first one where I actually witnessed what took place.
“I wasn’t at every single game but I was there to take in the whole atmosphere of the streak as it kind of took on a life of its own. There was a deep personal connection witnessing this first-hand.”
Hearing the story again through the eyes of pitcher Jim Hankey, how this team came within one pitch of having the streak reach 86 games, was a memory that conjured up so many what ifs.
In 1969 Hankey had a no-hitter going in the ninth inning of the state championship game against Lyman Hall. The game wound up called due to darkness after the teams battled to a 2-2 tie through 15 innings. The game had to be played over in its entirety the following day and John Caneira took a 3-1 loss in 10 innings. The following year, 1970, the streak began when Naugy won the season opener, 8-5, against St. Bernard of Montville. They would not lose another game until June 6, 1972, and that came after compiling 64 straight wins, a record that some say will never be broken.
New book spotlights Naugy baseball’s memorable win streak
BY KEN MORSE