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The New Haven Register sports department is celebrating our 200th birthday by sharing 200 of the most interesting stories relating to sports in Greater New Haven over the past 200 years. Check back daily for historical updates.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Adam Greenberg's only major league pitch faced

Adam Greenberg dug into the batter’s box, stared out at left-hander Valerio de los Santos and got into his stance.

De los Santos delivered the pitch, and … Greenberg rapped a base hit, his second of the night.

Not the outcome you were expecting? Well, it’s a real one.

While Greenberg will forever be remembered as the guy who was hit in the head by the first and only pitch he ever saw as a major leaguer — a pitch delivered by de los Santos in 2005 — the above-mentioned sequence did happen in April 2011 when Greenberg was a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish in a game against de los Santos and the Long Island Ducks.

The hit provided a certain amount of closure for Greenberg, a three-sport star at Guilford High who went on to the University of North Carolina.

“I’m way more at peace with everything now,” Greenberg said. “Even though it was an independent league game … we could have been playing on a Little League field, it didn’t matter. I faced the guy who hit me, six years later, in a random situation and got a hit off him. That was the greatest experience and hit of my career.”

As the well-chronicled story goes, Greenberg had just received a surprise call-up from Double-A West Tennessee in mid-July 2005. Before he knew it, he was facing de los Santos on a warm night in Miami.

Then came the ill-fated, wayward fastball that hit Greenberg in the head, knocking him to the ground, out of the game and, to this point, out of the major leagues. He suffered terrible headaches and a bout with vertigo in the ensuing weeks, months and years.

Read Dave Borges' complete story.

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Ted Williams plays at Yale just days before Boston debut

Ted Williams was still three days away from his first major league baseball game when he came to Yale Field with the Boston Red Sox for an exhibition against Yale on April 17, 1939.

“The Kid” was very much still a kid.

But expectations were sky high for Williams, a sweet-swinging lefty who, at 19, won the Triple Crown as a minor leaguer the previous season. Boston’s lineup was already loaded with veteran stars like player-manager Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx and ace Lefty Grove as well as rising stars like second baseman Bobby Doerr. The Red Sox cleared room in right field so Williams could be the opening-day starter, and his debut was anticipated around baseball.

Boston, swimming in talent, was expected to give the Yankees a run for the American League pennant. Register sports editor Dan Mulvey, previewing the exhibition, wrote, “The 1939 world champions (that’s what they think up in Boston) will play the Yale varsity nine at Yale Field this afternoon and the Red Sox will use all of their regulars with the exception of the top ranking hurlers.”

Boston, in fact, wanted to pitch Grove, and asked Yale to move the game up from 4 p.m. to 1. Cronin, who played minor league ball in New Haven, didn’t want his top pitchers working in the late afternoon chill. Yale wouldn’t budge. But not because it was looking for a competitive advantage.

Yale had dropped four straight games on a trip to the South. “Smoky” Joe Wood, star of Boston’s 1912 World Series championship team then in his 17th season as Yale’s coach, was unhappy with his team. He decided to start seven sophomores against the Red Sox, the lone upperclassmen being second baseman Al Alter and outfielder Eddie Collins Jr. — son of Hall of Fame infielder Eddie Collins, the Red Sox general manager at the time.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Brad Ausmus outlasts entire 1987 Draft class for MLB

After a standout career at Cheshire High, Brad Ausmus was selected in the 1987 Major League Baseball draft by the New York Yankees with the 1,152nd overall pick — sandwiched between luminaries Troy Mentzer and Manny Cervantes, and long after Ken Griffey, Jr. (No. 1 overall), Mike Mussina, Craig Biggio and Albert Belle were off the board.

But by June 2010, when Griffey announced his retirement, Ausmus was the last player from that draft class still standing.

“You take pride in showing up for work, being able to show up for work for almost two decades, in an occupation where it’s tough to stick around,” Ausmus told the Register in October 2010.

Ausmus, born in New Haven, finally retired after the 2010 season. He wound up logging 1,971 career major-league games — 1,938 of them as a catcher, good for seventh all-time — five trips to the postseason, one to the World Series, one to the All-Star Game and none — zero, zip, nada — to the disabled list.

Read Dave Borges' complete story.

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New Haven's Major League season: 1875

When it comes to fan allegiance these days, New Haven is caught smack in the middle of a turf war between New York and Boston.

But for one season in the summer of 1875, New Haven was home to its own major league franchise — the New Haven Elm Citys. And on the corner of Howard and Spring Avenue, just a few blocks from the New Haven Register building on Long Wharf, sat the city’s major league ballpark.

Nowadays, acquiring a major league franchise, if one can get through the political red tape, requires roughly a billion dollars. Yet in 1875, if a team had a suitable field and could muster $3,000 for expenses, you were in.

New Haven’s brief foray into the world of major league sports was rather inglorious.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Vin Baker, a roller-coaster ride of a life

Vin Baker’s was once a true feel-good story, a kid from a small Division I school who became an NBA lottery pick and four-time all-star.

It devolved into a cautionary tale, where alcoholism sabotaged his career and cost him millions of dollars.

But it’s also a story that’s not done yet. Baker, who knows a thing or two about life’s twists and turns, is now helping kids as an assistant boys’ basketball coach at St. Bernard School in Uncasville. And he runs a charitable organization called the Stand Tall Foundation, which helps kids with their education and personal development.

Few could have predicted the success coming Baker’s way when he was playing at Old Saybrook High back in the late 1980s. Passed over by the bigger D-I programs, he committed to the University of Hartford and shot up four inches to 6 feet 11 in between his senior year of high school and freshman year of college.

Read Dave Borges' complete story.

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Shelton snaps Naugatuck's 64-game winning streak in 1972 state semifinals

The Naugatuck High baseball team took the field against Shelton in the CIAC Class A semifinals on June 6, 1972, with a chance to make history. Or so it thought at the time.

Naugatuck, having won 64 straight games, was under the impression that a victory would tie Waxahachie, Texas, for the longest winning streak in national scholastic history.

Shelton would snap the streak with a stunning 4-2 victory, played before an overflow crowd of 6,000 at Yale Field, a loss that proved to be especially bitter for the Greyhounds.

As it turns out, Naugatuck still would have had a bit more work to do to obtain the record. Unbeknownst at the time (at least in Connecticut), a team from Capitol Hill (Okla.) had won 66 straight games from 1952-54. And the actual record holder was Archbishop Molloy of Briarwood, N.Y., winners of 68 in a row from 1963-66.

Of course, it’s unlikely that information would have eased the sting for Naugatuck, which last experienced a loss three years earlier to Lyman Hall in the 1969 state tournament.

While Naugatuck and Shelton played in different leagues, the teams were quite familiar with each other. They played five times in the preseason. Shelton won two of those scrimmages, and felt it was every bit the equal of its Valley rival. Perhaps better.

“You want me to make a prediction?” Shelton catcher Rich Norko had told Register schools sports editor Mark Lewis early in the season. “I predict us defeating Naugatuck in the tournament. I guess that means we’ll go all the way.”

Naugatuck, 20-0 entering the showdown, had a few close calls during its 64-game run.

Read Chip Malafronte's compete story

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North Haven's Ed Etzel struck gold first in 1984

Edwin Moses, Carl Lewis and Mary-Lou Retton were the American stars of the 1984 Summer Olympics. But the first U.S. medal winner of the Los Angeles Games was Ed Etzel, a psychology professor from North Haven.

Etzel scored a 599 out of 600 to set an Olympic record in the men’s 50 metre small-bore rifle shooting.

The spotlight inevitably found its way to Etzel, who took his brief fame in stride before waiting for it to find the nation’s next gold-medal winner. The United States would win 83 that summer, more than quadruple the next-best total, mainly due to a Soviet boycott of the Olympics.

“When (Good Morning America) interviewed him, they asked him, ‘So Ed, how does it feel to win the first gold medal for the United States?’” Etzel’s brother, Steve, told the Register in a 2004 story. “And he said, ‘Well, you know, it’s just something I woke up and did that morning.’ He will always give the impression that he is bored with the fact that he won (the gold medal). He’s ridiculously modest.”

Etzel, speaking on the 20-year anniversary of his achievement, said his focus in 1984 was on the task at hand, “staying in the moment.”

"My goal was really not to win an Olympic medal, but to shoot every shot one at a time,” Etzel told the Register. “One of the most important things I learned was to be in the moment and stay there.”

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Robert Kiphuth, Yale's swimming coaching legend

Legendary Yale swimming coach Robert Kiphuth was 76 years-old and eight years retired when he attended the Bulldogs’ meet against Army on the afternoon of Jan. 7, 1967.

Two of Kiphuth’s greatest prodigies were being honored for their recent induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame: Alan Ford, the first man to crack 50 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, and Steve Clark, world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle.

A Yale victory that avenged a rare loss a year earlier to the Cadets bolstered the special day. Kiphuth, whose Yale teams almost never lost in his 42 years as coach, left a happy man.

That night, he was stricken at his Hamden home and died of heart failure. The sport of swimming had lost one of its true pioneers.

“There will be no phase of his life which will not mourn his death,” Register columnist Bill Ahern wrote. “In swimming, he was the widest known; in physical education, he was the authority of his generation; in politics, he was the toast of kingdoms and republics; in the arts, he was a self-taught expert.

“He came to New Haven to teach and instruct physical education at Yale. He retired a professor, world reknowned in the sport of swimming, which he almost alone revolutionized.”

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Cheshire's Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. soccer

Sunil Gulati may not be a recognizable name to most. But in soccer circles, on every level imaginable, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential people over the last 35 years in the development of soccer in the United States.

Gulati, a 1977 Cheshire graduate and former soccer player for the Rams, is the president of the United States Soccer Federation, the nation’s governing body of soccer. He was elected in 2006 after six years as executive vice president.

“I really got the bug to be involved with soccer when I was studying abroad and internationally,” Gulati said Monday from London, where he attended the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer victory over Canada. “The international aspect of the game was intriguing. I wanted to be active in developing that and have U.S. soccer be a part of that international scene.”

Alan Rothenberg, founder of Major League Soccer and a former USSF president, once called Gulati the single most important person to soccer’s development in this country.

Read Dan Nowak's complete story.

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Quinnipiac's TD Bank Sports Center

At a cost of $52 million the TD Bank Sports Center on the campus of Quinnipiac University is one of the premier sports venues in the region. The pristine and unique arena was built by the Hamden school in its attempt to upgrade its marketability in its move Division I sports.

It has clearly been an overwhelming success.

The two-pronged arena houses both the basketball (capacity 3,570) and hockey (capacity 3,386) facilities in totally separate stadiums under the same roof. Countless times during the season the Bobcats play host to basketball and hockey games that are played simultaneously.

Prior to its opening Quinnipiac played basketball at the Burt Kahn Court, an on-campus venue seating just 2,000 built in the 1960s. That site was clearly unacceptable to lure the likes of coach Tom Moore, who left the staff of Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at UConn, to take over the men’s basketball team.

Read Bill Cloutier's complete story.

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Scott Burrell, no matter the sport, always a star

His career as a standout pitcher is often cited as one of the keys to Scott Burrell’s famous full-court, inbounds pass to Tate George in the 1990 Sweet 16, but don’t discount his days as a football standout at Hamden High, either.

Burrell, after all, had to hit George on an out pattern.

“I had to get Tate on his outside,” Burrell recalled. “I knew what I had to do. We didn’t really work on that play. With one second left, you usually don’t have many plays. I couldn’t let (Clemson’s) Elden Campbell tip the ball, because the game’s over. Tate had Sean Tyson on his back, so I had to throw it to the corner where Tate could catch it.”

The rest, of course, is history: George caught Burrell’s heave, spun around and swished a 15-footer at the buzzer, sending UConn to the East Regional finals and the program on a course of success that hasn’t stopped yet.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Hall of Famer Joe Cronin had appetite for New Haven

When his Hall of Fame playing career ended in 1945, Joe Cronin often found time to visit New Haven. After all it was in this city where, as a teenager, he proved himself as major league-ready.

Of course, it helped that while here he also developed a voracious appetite for New Haven’s unrivaled Italian eateries.

Cronin was a precocious 19-year old, with just one minor league season under his belt, when he arrived at spring training with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1926.

There was no doubt Cronin had talent. And his work ethic was the stuff of legend. But just two years removed from high school — he was a three-sport star in his hometown of San Francisco — the Pirates brass felt he needed a little more seasoning.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Benjamin Spock: "Baby Doc" was member of 1924 Yale Olympic crew

Dr. Benjamin Spock would gain worldwide fame as the authoritative voice on infant care for over a half century. But before he became “the baby doc”, the New Haven native was a world class rower who won Olympic gold at the Paris games in 1924.

Spock, the son of a Yale graduate and lawyer for the New Haven railroad, lived at 165 Cold Spring St. in New Haven. He attended Worthington Hooker School in the East Rock neighborhood and later Hamden Hall.

The oldest of six children, he once described himself in a Register story as timid boy who was “unable to stand up to tough boys, scared of spiders, scared of Italians.”

Athletics helped Spock gain self-confidence. He made the varsity crew at Yale, and the Eli boat qualified for men’s eights at the Olympics.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Yale basketball began in 1895 with potato baskets

In the spring of 1895, less than four years after Dr. James Naismith invented basketball by nailing peach baskets to the walls of a gymnasium in Springfield, Mass., Yale organized one of the earliest college teams.

Dr. Henry Anderson, a physical education specialist, had trouble finding interested students. He had crudely marked off the dimensions in Yale’s gym, hanging old potato baskets for goals. Since there was no regulation basketball in all New Haven, Anderson used an old football instead.

By the fall, with more players and plenty of practice, Yale was ready for its first season. S.A. Marshall, an 18-year old junior who was 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, was named team captain.

The game more resembled football. Teams used as many as nine men at a time. A New York Times article profiling the team lauded players who “throw” particularly well.
Center W.E.J. Kirk, a New Canaan native who, at 6-foot and 130 pounds towered over his teammates, was credited for his “way of running on his hands and feet that is a puzzle to the opposing players.”

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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New Haven's first golf course, built in 1895

Golf would have found its way to the area sooner or later. But it was a bit of blind luck that led to the creation of the city’s first course.

Robert Pryde, a Scottish immigrant, was a tradesman building an armoire for retired businessman Justus Hotchkiss on Church Street in the spring of 1895. Hotchkiss noticed Pryde’s brogue and inquired whether he knew anything of golf, still a relatively unknown sport in the U.S.

Pryde had not only played in Scotland, but manufactured and repaired clubs. Hotchkiss promptly fetched his neighbor, Yale law professor Theodore Woolsey, with whom he had discussed building a course in the area.

It wasn’t long before property along Prospect and Winchester Avenue was leased. Pryde was hired to lay out a 9-hole course. That fall, it was ready for play.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Southern Connecticut women's basketball: 2007 Division II national champions

The memories of how the previous season came crashing to an end served as the perfect tonic the veteran members of the 2006-2007 Southern Connecticut State women’s basketball team needed to put together a historic season.

When Kate Lynch, Shamika Jackson, Babette Noah, LaShauna Jones and Michelle Martinik returned to form the nucleus of the 2006-07 squad, they were driven and determined to learn from their past missteps — falling in the 2006 regional finals and losing in the regional semifinals in 2005.

“The kids were really focused on getting back there to win that regional and get to the Elite Eight,” said former Southern Connecticut State coach Joe Frager.

The Owls ripped off 20 straight wins to open the season, but Frager considered the only two losses to be pivotal to the process of winning the program’s first NCAA Division II title.

Read Jim Fuller's complete story.

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East Haven's Frank Dooley swam to gold at Helsinki in 1952

Frank Dooley Jr. grew up near the water in East Haven’s Momauguin section. His father, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, taught him to swim. As a way to push his son with more competition, he gave lessons to other children in the area so they could hold informal races.

As Dooley continued to excel as a swimmer, he got more help from the local citizens. Frank Keefe, an East Haven resident whose son would later coach Yale for 32 years, helped organize the first swim team at East Haven High so Dooley could compete against the best in the state. Dooley was the top-rated high school swimmer in the country in the 220-yard freestyle and a high school All-American as a senior in 1947.

Dooley would go on to be a three-time All-American at Ohio State, swimming in the offseason with the New Haven Swim Club. It was with the New Haven club that he set world records in the 400-meter freestyle and the 4x200-meter relay.

But his greatest achievement would come at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, where Dooley won a gold medal as part of the U.S. 4x200-meter relay team. Yale’s Don Sheff, who swam with Dooley on the New Haven Swim Club, also swam a leg for the winning U.S. team.

Read Chip Malafronte's complete story.

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Trumbull: 1989 Little League World Series champions

When they took the field together for the first time, there were no thoughts of a date with baseball immortality.

The 1989 Trumbull National all-star team consisted of 14 kids determined to make the ride last as long as possible.

As it turned out, the journey culminated with a stunning win over Taiwan on Aug. 26 in Williamsport, Pa., making them the first Little League World Series champions from Connecticut since Windsor Locks 24 years earlier.

In retrospect, Trumbull had all the pieces necessary to win the state, Eastern Regional and World Series titles.

Read Jim Fuller's complete story.

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