It's baseball's opening week and it's too tempting a time not to take a swing at some vintage Pittsfield history connected to the sport. My A to Z lists are always a personal challenge, with the bottom line being hopefully something that is equal parts historic and entertaining.
Either way, there are a lot of folks mentioned here. You may know or recall some of them. Let's see how you do. Maybe some baseball chatter will stop our teeth from chattering and help usher in some warm weather so that we can finally yell, "Play ball!"
Al Downing: He was already an established member of the New York Yankees pitching rotation when in the summer of 1968 he was sent to Binghamton, N.Y., to the Bombers' Double A affiliate to make a pair of rehab starts. One of those appearances came at Wahconah Park against the Pittsfield Red Sox. The local fans packed the place, and this was before any of us knew that six years hence he would give up home run No. 715 to Henry Aaron. We were used to seeing players on the way up, so having Downing here was big news and the fans responded accordingly.
Joe Buzas: After a decade or so lapse, he brought minor league ball back to the city when he moved his team here from Reading, Pa., in 1965. The new Pittsfield Red Sox won the Eastern League crown in its first year.
Billy Conigliaro: Tony's little brother played for Pittsfield in 1968 and may have faced Downing in that game. Tony played for the 1967 Impossible Dream Boston Red Sox, but was struck in the face by a pitch during a game in August and didn't play the remainder of the year. The Sox acquired Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson from the Kansas City Athletics to replace Tony C., and an icon was born.
Paul Dowd: Pitched for the 1968 P-Sox and remained in Pittsfield, where he became one of its most respected citizens. He continues to put up a good fight against ALS in a North Carolina hospital. Best wishes from all of us to you, Paul.
Eddie "Itch" McMahon and his son, Eddie Jr.: Both could really pick it at shortstop, "Itch" at PHS and young Eddie at Taconic.
Bill Farry: In the early 1970s, St. Joe used to roll out two formidable southpaws in Farry and Mark Murphy. Farry is the proud father of PHS cross country standout Lauren Farry. Billy and "Murph" could each chuck with authority. Jimmy, Billy's older brother, is a well-known and respected baseball and softball umpire.
Going, going gone: Long ago, on a warm spring afternoon, I watched with a few other fans as PHS lefty Jim Bagdonis poled one out over the right-field fence at Wahconah Park. For reasons unknown, it was a moment in time that remains frozen. The ball hugged the line the entire way and went over the fence just a foot inside the foul pole.
Toby Harrah: Yeah, the guy who spells his last name the same way in both directions. He played here in the 1970s for the Pittsfield Rangers. The future major-leaguer was a shortstop with power. You could say he was a little bit ahead of his time.
"Itch" should have gone here, but instead I'm going to give a shout-out to Mike Perkins and Dave Bona, the PHS catching tandem of 1970.
Jim Sinceere and his brother, Andy. Two stalwarts for the Western Mass. Supply East Little League teams of the mid-1960s. Jimmy was a lefty who pitched while Andy caught. Those teams were coached by Ray Levante. Other players in the league from that era? Do you remember Dino Ditomaso, Larry Archey, Tim Mooney, Denny Hubbard, Wayne Pratt, Brian Harrington, Martin Carmody, Pete Clark, Wade Tate, Steve Schmoyer, David Eulian, Bob O'Laughlin, Mark Sacchetti, Jimmy Kindl, Paul and Danny Hermanski, Frank Schultz, Rick Russo and Denny Ryan?
Remember Kevin Connolly and his fast-ball pitching for St. Joe in the late 1960s with talented Tony Simonelli as his backstopper?
Lefty Charley Bashara of Taconic and Jason Virgilio for PHS. Two top slingin' southpaws of recent vintage. Ask Jason about his effort against a good Drury team at Wahconah Park.
Bill MacLeod of the 1965 Pittsfield Red Sox and his 18-0 season for the pennant winners. He still lives on the North Shore.
No one had a sweeter swing than Rafael Palmeiro of the 1986 Pittsfield Cubs. And no one on that team was more popular than big catcher Hector Villanueva.
Owen Johnson. Speaking of catchers, he was the receiver for the 1965 P-Sox.
And Pete Magrini joined MacLeod as the one-two mound punch.
High praise for Russ Quetti, the former Red Sox farmhand and Taconic coach who has given a lot of time over the years for the benefit of youth in our city.
Ran into Rick Flynn recently. Yet another lefty and a very stylish PHS outfielder. Rick is the son of Rit Flynn, a top catcher with local teams during the 1950s
Sandlot games. For those who loved them and for every kid who was not so excited to play but was recruited just to even the sides, we salute you.
Tommy Grieve, Paul Pierce and the 1966 state champion PHS baseball team will be celebrating their 50th in a few years. With coach Buddy Pellerin holding court it should be quite an evening. I hope I'm there.
UMass product and former PHS standout Matt Torra pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Let's see if he can crack the Washington Nationals' staff this year. Here's hoping.
Vince and Dom Dimaggio didn't have any local ties as far as I know. But Joe would come up from New York on off days and play the horses at the former Berkshire Downs race track in nearby Hancock just off Route 20. He'd eat locally, I've been told, and then head back to New York City.
Fireballing Fred Wenz closed for the ‘65 P-Sox.
They say "Shoeless Joe" Jackson was an illiterate and would sign his name to contracts with a simple "X." I tried that in high school on a couple of math and science tests. No go, they figured it out.
Carl Yastrzemski: He has appeared at Wahconah Park but never played a game in Pittsfield. But, he did fish here with his good friend and city native U.S. Rep Silvio Conte.
Joe Zavattaro: The former head baseball coach at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts where the sports complex bears his name will maintain a residence here, but look for Joe and his wife, Sharon, to be spending more time in Florida. They sold their longtime Cheshire home and plan to spend more time in the southern sun.
OK, that's about 50 names to chew over. Enjoy the season and see you at the park. And you outfielders? Use two hands.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at