Still learning, and loving it, after 50 years in Little League

  • Davis & Towle Coach Mike Sartorelli looks out onto the field during the championship game at Grappone Park on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Davis & Towle Coach Mike Sartorelli tips his cap to the Kiwanis team after the championship game at Grappone Park on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • Davis & Towle Coach Mike Sartorelli was coaching his players right to the end on Tuesday during the championship game at Grappone Park in Concord.

Monitor staff
Published: 7/29/2020 5:03:48 PM

During his 50 years of coaching Little League in Concord, Mike Sartorelli has taught generations of kids the lessons of baseball. The coach has also learned plenty himself.

“There’s not a year that goes by where I don’t learn something new about coaching kids and baseball, and I don’t think that will ever change,” Sartorelli said. “That’s one of the things that keeps me coming back, and the kids. This is a great age group (9-12). They still think they can be professional baseball players, they have that dream, and you can still be kind of tough on them and they’re not old enough to tell you off. And most of them haven’t discovered girls yet, which is probably good.”

Sartorelli’s Davis & Towle team reached the Concord Little League championship this year and on Thursday, before the first game of the finals, the league announced it was naming that championship the Sartorelli Cup.

“He’s been volunteering for 50 years, so we had to do something special for him” Concord Little League president Derek Mercier said. “We have the Hilliker Cup (the city championship), but we didn’t have a title for this championship game, so we thought we might as well name it the Sartorelli Cup forever. I mean 50 years, that’s a whole lifetime just volunteering.”

Mercier said Sartorelli was pretty emotional during the announcement, and the veteran coach agreed.

“It caught me completely by surprise,” said Sartorelli, who plans on coming back next spring for a 51st season. “It was very humbling, and it was embarrassing. I really am grateful and it’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also embarrassing because I’m just doing what I like to do. This is my hobby. You’ll find me reading rule books all winter long or looking at new videos to send the kids.”

The Davis & Towle team lost to Kiwanis in that game last Thursday to force a championship-deciding finale on Tuesday. That one went to extra innings, but Kiwanis came out on top, 7-6, to win the title.

“You could not ask for a better person to name this after,” Kiwanis coach Rickey Gaudreault said as the brand new Sartorelli Cup trophy towered next to him after Tuesday’s game at Grappone Park. “I think it’s awesome that the league did that.”

Sartorelli, 68, grew up in Concord, played in the now-defunct Concord National Little League and graduated from Concord High in 1970. He went to work right out of high school and when a co-worker asked if he wanted to help him coach a Concord National LL team in the spring of 1971, an 18-year-old Sartorelli jumped at the chance.

Asked what he remembered about that first year, Sartorelli laughed, “How much I wished I could be making more decisions.” After four years as an assistant, he got his wish when he took over his own team. It went through various sponsors and name changes, and the 2014 merger that combined Concord National and Concord American into the current Concord LL, but Sartorelli said that Davis & Towle is still the same team he took over in 1975.

There was a contentious time in the mid 2000’s when Sartorelli nearly stopped coaching, but instead of leaving the league all together he just returned to being an assistant coach. During this second stint as an assistant, he’s okay with someone else making the final decisions as he focuses on the kids, the game and teaching.

Nate Craigue is Davis & Towle’s head coach, and it was Craigue who made trips to the mound to talk to the pitcher and adjust the defense during Tuesday night’s game against Kiwanis. But he conferred with Sartorelli before every inning and most moves, and Sartorelli was stationed in the third base coach’s box when Davis & Towle was at the plate, a spot usually reserved for the head coach. When one of your assistants has 50 years of experience, he gets that kind of respect, even if it’s delivered with a good-natured ribbing.

“Hey Mike, don’t forget to rake the field when you’re done,” Craigue quipped at Sartorelli after the game as he was sitting in the dugout, “and make some hot dogs while you’re at it.”

Parents took their turns thanking Sartorelli, telling him how much their kids enjoyed the season and handing him cards. It felt like a normal conclusion to a season that had been made abnormal by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was really quite anxious about having a season at all, and it was very bizarre at first with taking everyone’s temperature, writing it down, keeping a log, wearing a mask. I mean, I had both pockets full of hand sanitizer all the time,” Sartorelli said. “But once we started playing games, it was just Little League baseball again, and tonight was a great example of it.”

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