Erasing the pandemic blues with baseball 

  • Davis and Towle players Anders Proulx (left) and Rhus Craigue leap out of the dugout to congratulate Landon Tadadowsky as he scores what turned out to be the winning 3rd run against Kiwanis at Grappone Field on Wednesday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Shortstop Rhys Craigue celebrates after scoring the first run against Kiwanis on Wednesday evening.

  • Davis and Towle players celebrate after winning against Kiwanis, 3-2, at Grappone Field on Wednesday evening.

  • Davis and Towle shortstop Rhys Craigue makes a stop in left field against Kiwanis on Wednesday evening. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The Davis and Towle players celebrate after defeating the Kiwanis team, 3-2, on Wednesday evening.

Monitor columnist
Published: 6/17/2021 3:59:30 PM

Grappone Park was the place to be early Wednesday night.

Still sunny at the time, with no humidity. Safe, with no masks. Spirited, with the best two teams in Concord Little League, Davis and Towle, and Kiwanis, meeting for the championship. Same as last year in what has evolved into a nice local rivalry.

Davis and Towle, bearing the name of a local insurance agency, won the title this time, 3-2. No one was surprised that the outcome wasn’t decided until second baseman Ian Mamos flipped the ball to shortstop Rhys Craigue, erasing the tying run and ending the game.

The win was sweet for Davis and Towle. It had lost to Kiwanis in last season’s championship – when COVID and masks and tension were everywhere. That one ended at 7-6, Kiwanis. In extra innings, of course. Some of the players who were 11 last year played again this year as 12-year-old, others aged out making room for newcomers on the roster. 

During the height of a rivalry, any rivalry in any sport, the games always seem to be tight and nerve-racking, and those feelings often hang in the air until the final pitch.

“It’s been fun playing against them because it’s always a good game,” said Austin Proulx, who pitched the final two innings for Davis and Towle. “We lost to Kiwanis last year and that was hard, so it felt good to beat them this year.”

Craigue made sure I knew that his team had lost last year’s game in extra innings. That, it seemed, made this win sweeter.

“Yes, it felt good,” Craigue said. “It’s like when you win a game, you get to brag to your friends.”

Some of those friends were on Kiwanis. Asked what he might say to one of them, maybe to rub it in a bit, Craigue said, “I’ll have to think about that.”

Sweet revenge for Davis and Towle was one storyline. Also, the game had an old-school feel to it.

These were not AAU Travel Teams. These were not players handpicked from all over the state and gathering to play ball with strangers, against strangers, in front of strangers.

This was neighborhood ball, kids who brought their sandlot games from their streets and parks into a formal setting.

There’s little doubt that the founding fathers of Little League meant it to be that way. Local kids facing local kids who grew up together. Bragging rights for a day turn into friendships for a lifetime.

There’s a lot of history here. Made by players whose names you're familiar with. Former big leaguers Bob Tewksbury and Joe Lefevbre built their foundations in their local Little Leagues. They had their rivalries.

But with the specialization of sports these days, with so many choices – lacrosse, soccer, video games – lots of kids have looked at the youth sports landscape and chosen a different path.

And not a base path, either. 

We felt it in Concord a few years back. The city had to shrink its Little League program. Once, four leagues ruled the Greater Concord Area –Concord's National Little League, American, Northeast and Penacook-Boscaswen.

These days, Concord Little League and Concord Northeast Little League are all that remain. Baseball's loss of both fans and players has been part of the overall sports discussion for years.

The criticism centers on the pace of the game, not so much the length of games. Simply put, pitchers and hitters spend too much time wandering around between pitches. That empty space, sometimes lasting 40 seconds or more, creates boredom.

There is hope for the game, however. Major League Baseball might introduce a pitch clock to speed things up. It's already happening in college and the minor leagues.

Meanwhile, the state of Little League baseball is strong these days, said Kiwanis assistant coach George Golden.

“The number of players was up this year in the minor leagues,” Golden said. “And young kids are playing T-ball.”

If they stick with it, they might play for a Little League championship one day. Just like Kiwanis and Davis and Towle did this week.

And last season too. That’s when the rivalry grew its roots. With COVID in full bloom. The teams split six games overall before the winner-take-all finale last summer.

And wouldn’t you know it? With COVID in the air, the championship game created a tension of a different kind. Luke Bedard delivered a two-run double in the final inning to tie the game. He eventually came home with the deciding run to give Kiwanis its 7-6 win.

The loss lingered.

“We lost in the championship game last year, and I don’t think anyone liked that,” said Davis and Towle right fielder Anders Proulx.

Proulx and his brother, Austin, played key roles. Anders made a running catch in the sixth inning, dashing to his right, with the tying run on base.

“It was a little bit tough," Anders said. “I had to move a little bit."

Austin pitched the fifth and sixth and final inning. He stayed cool after Sam Beal singled, preserving the 3-2 win. He wore eyeblack to counter the glare from the clear sky. It could have passed for war paint.

“Once they got that base hit, I kind of stepped off the mound and cooled down a little bit,” said Austin, referring to the final, nail-biting inning. “I had to pitch strikes and not let them on base.”

Others contributed as well. For both teams.

Carter Bellerose made a nice grab in left field for Kiwanis. Catcher Kolton Gaudreault held onto the ball after a collision at home plate, preserving Kiwanis’ 2-0 lead at the time. Starting pitcher Lucas Golden was sharp on the mound. Beal had two hits, including a triple.

Davis and Towle had its heroes. Ian Mamos made a few terrific plays at second base. Brody Rossetti was the starting pitcher and had a booming double, a two-hopper off the left-field wall.

Afterward, Kiwanis gathered in short right field, along the foul line, one last meeting. Davis and Towle moved to the left side, also near the line.

Later, Proulx, surrounded by his teammates, held the championship trophy over his head. The sun remained strong, masks were nowhere to be found and the temperature was perfect, around 70.

And Davis and Towle won a championship, beating its rival.

“I felt confident,” Rossetti said. “I didn't have my best stuff, but I’m happy. I just wanted to win after what happened last year.”

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