Same coach, different sport

Coach Chris Anderson has traded the football sidelines for the third base box. –RA ARCHIVE
Coach Chris Anderson has traded the football sidelines for the third base box. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Nothing about Chris Anderson has changed.

His home colors are still black and gold. His waistband still holds his play sheet, ready to be translated into all sorts of signals. His brow still furrows, his teeth still grit, his palms still sweat. And his emotions on the field are still as raw as they come.

Actually, maybe one thing has changed. He no longer goes by football coach Chris Anderson.

These days, it’s Little League manager Chris Anderson.

Anderson, the architect of the Woodland High football program, is on a bit of a hiatus from his favorite game to focus on his new favorite pastime: coaching a bunch of 10-year-old Beacon Falls baseball players, including his son, Brady.

The opportunity to coach Brady, who was born eight months before his father led the Hawks to their first Naugatuck Valley League and state football titles in 2004, was the reason Anderson withdrew last month as a candidate for Woodland’s football job.

“I know there were a lot of rumors when the football job came around, but coaching my kid is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Anderson said. “I can’t pass that up. That program is in great hands with coach (Tim) Phipps, and I’m there if they ever need me. But to coach my son is the best thing in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Anderson and his Robert A. Cole Little League All-Stars were at it again July 17 at Peter J. Foley Little League Field in Naugatuck. Beacon Falls, which won the District 3 title for 9-10-year-olds, staged a dramatic 9-8 win over Canton in extra innings to advance in the Division 2 tournament final. Beacon falls ended up falling in the final.

The third base coach’s box is Anderson’s new 50-yard line. He uses every bit of space inside the restraining lines as he gives his signals — not too common in this age group — and if he gets the chance to wheel a runner around third, the boy’s feet can’t quite keep up with those of his coach.

From the dugout, Anderson examines his play sheet whenever an opponent reaches base and shouts a code that sounds like something heard on the line of scrimmage.

The old dog hasn’t learned any new tricks. He’s just changed his audience, for now.

“I’m an offensive coordinator by nature. With my no-huddle systems, I did a lot of signals in my day,” said Anderson, who added that he hopes to be back in high school football someday. “I work these kids hard, as you can imagine. They’re all on board.”

Anderson likes building teams from the ground up. That’s what he did 13 years ago, and that’s what he’s doing now with assistant coaches Bill Brooks and Tom Deegan. But Anderson knows he can’t do it again without the support of his fellow parents.

“I have a lot of pride in this town,” Anderson said. “It’s the parents who are dropping off the kids for practice, no matter when I ask them to get there. It’s the character that they’ve instilled in their kids. They don’t go in the tank if they get yelled at, and we work them hard.”

When Beacon Falls won the District 3 championship July 13 with an 11-1 win over Prospect, it brought Anderson back to the other titles he’s celebrated. All of them, he says, carried a common theme.

“Usually when you build team unity, you’re hard to beat,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t matter what level — I’ve coached college football, high school and now down in the minor leagues of youth baseball — but when you work hard and you have success, (every title) is special.”

Anderson had another special moment in the win over Canton.

Canton took five different leads, but the local kids rallied each time.

Jason Palmieri’s diving catch to end the top of the sixth helped Beacon Falls stay close and eventually tie it on Matt Deegan’s two-out double in the bottom half.

Down again in the seventh, Brady — the leadoff hitter in his dad’s lineup — tied the game on a two-strike Texas Leaguer before he scored the winning run on Jayden Tomasella’s single up the middle.

As Brady slid across home, his dad came charging in from third base, high-stepping and jumping and whooping and screaming.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m coaching,” Anderson said, his voice growing softer, yet more intense. “I want to win.”

Nothing about Chris Anderson has changed.