Trumbull baseball reaches back to honor team

There was a perfect storm brewing in the spring of 1998 when coach Jerry McDougall’s Trumbull High baseball team took the field for the first day of practice.

McDougall, who retired with 510 victories, led the Eagles to the Class LL state championship that season. This past Saturday, Trumbull High honored players and coaches from that squad.

Players Mike Buswell, Donny Annicelle, Jamie D’Antona, Ryan Komm, Sean Dolyak, Ryan Komm, Tim Tvardzik, Abe and Ann Breslow (representing son Craig), Peggy Metzger (representing son, Greg), and assistant coaches Buddy Bray and Mike Sciortino attended the ceremony.

D’Antona was on hand to see his jersey No. 16 retired, joining those of McDougall (44), Breslow (16) and Brian Tvardzik (25) adorning the outfield fence. A top hitter and third baseman on the 1998 team, D’Antona was drafted by and played for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Prior to that he became one of the record-holding hitters at Wake Forest.

“It was great to come back,” said D’Antona, who drove up with his family from South Carolina. “I moved south to get away from these winters, but it is always great to come home. That season was historical and special for all of us That team, that group of guys, I’ll always them hold close to my heart. Coach McDougall helped me start my playing career, so I can’t say enough about that. I came back now and again to talk with him. We’d hang out in office, shoot the breeze, and reminisce. He was the best.”

Trumbull put together a 16-4 regular-season campaign in 1998, and then behind Breslow’s three complete-game victories made a run to glory. First to fall was FCIAC rival Brien McMahon, 6-5. Trumbull next defeated Naugatuck to get to the semifinals. Glastonbury stood in the way of Trumbull having a chance to claim its first crown since 1986, but the Eagles beat the Tomahawks 7-6. History was theirs with a 6-3 win over Masuk High.

Buswell and Annicelle had talked often about that team, and thought it was high-time that D’Antona’s jersey was retired. Trumbull baseball coach Phil Pacelli agreed.

“It was a great to be a part of honoring those players and that team,” said Pacelli, a 1994 Trumbull graduate. “It was a lot of fun to hear the stories and see them enjoy themselves. My players got to see what it possible, to know that being teammates now will last forever.”

McDougall’s influence was a common thread for each of the athletes and coaches on hand.

“It was the ultimate dream team, a combination of talent, but also a great bunch of team players that all had one goal and that was to win together as one group,” said Buswell, who had a home run and drove in four runs in the final. “Everyone was unselfish and played for a common cause. That was always instilled in us by Coach McDougall. Nobody was better than the team. You play for the name on the front, not on the back. We all laid it on the line for each other and everything fell into place for us.

“We talked about tradition and what it means to play for Trumbull. It was for the people before us, the people we were playing with and the people that would come after us. The tradition here is something we didn’t take for granted.

“It was great to be here to honor Jamie. He was the best all around player I’ve ever played with. It is special to share that championship moment with him, and today to celebrate what a great teammate he was to all of us.”

Annicelle gave a gripping, and at times humorous talk, before he helped unveil D’Antona’s framed jersey.

“It was a pleasure cooking this us with Mike, and to honor Jamie was especially fitting,” said Annicelle, whose job was to get on base, disrupt the pitcher, and score runs. “Jamie has a wonderful family, and growing up they were wonderful to me. Coach McDougall came to my wedding and we shared the same birthday (April 11). He was a great friend and demanded the best out of me. I took all he taught us with me coaching in Avon. He was a true mentor.”

Komm, Tim Tvardzik and Nate Ramirez joined Breslow to give Trumbull a top-notch pitching staff.

“We had a great team,” Komm said. “Led by Craig, Tim and Nate we went out every game and competed. Coach McDougall was fair, a great coach who taught us how to play the game right.”

Tvardzik said, “This is a great day. To come back to honor team our team brings back a lot of memories. Twenty years went by fast. They don’t make them like Coach McDougall. He influenced us not only in baseball, but in our everyday lives.”

Dolyak shared catching duties with Metzger.

“It was nice to get the guys together, it was like we didn’t miss a beat,” Dolyak said. “Coach McDougall had us prepared to play hard, to be ready every day. He instilled a love for the game that lasts.”

Sciortino holds a distinct place in Trumbull baseball — he played on the 1986 team and coached on the 19988 squad.

“Yes, I was fortunate to play on the 86 team and coach in 98. It was obviously different but then again so much the same,” he said. “Everything Coach McDougall taught me and our team we taught the players in 98. Nothing really changed. Concentrate on fundamentals and being a good teammate and the baseball will follow. His kids played baseball the right way. They wanted to play baseball, wanted to learn.”

Bray, an assistant like Tvardzik on the current team, was also on that coaching staff.

“That was a special team, I was there as freshman coach and we went undefeated led by Donnie Annicelle, Craig Breslow and Tim Tvardzik. Jamie D’Antona was on varsity, but you could tell they were a tight group. They loved to practice and compete at a high level. The more they were challenged the better they played.

“Craig would walk the bases loaded and then strike out the side. Donnie was the ultimate competitor. He played point guard for me and had the biggest heart on the floor every night. We had a kid named Doug Clark, who played  left field on that state championship team. He showed up for freshman tryouts wearing skateboard pants and sneakers. His house had burned down.

“I asked him what position, he said outfield. I could not drive the ball over his head, he caught everything I hit. And he could swing the bat. We laugh today about it. With him, Matt Manzione  and Mike Buzwell we had a great outfield.

In the finals, Mike comes up in the fifth I believe after a four-pitch walk. Next pitch fastball. Home run over the pine trees in right. One one of my favorite moments in THS baseball history.

“Mike Sciortino was the winning pitcher for the 86  LL championship team and was on staff with Coach Mac and Bob Maffei. Everyone knew there was something special going on.

“Jamie D’Antona was the star. Because he was the hardest worker and best player, he led and the other players followed.

“I will always remember that team because of what they achieved and how they have become successful individuals.”