Though the snow continues to pile up on every baseball field from Montpelier to Miami and the four most famous words in the baseball vocabulary—pitchers and catchers report—have yet to be uttered, New England fans got their first taste of baseball last week at "The Road to Success," a Connecticut Dugout Club event.
On Monday, Jan. 11 at the Groton (Conn.) Motor Inn, three Major League players with their roots in the Nutmeg State entertained, chatted, and signed autographs before a crowd of nearly 200.
John McDonald (Toronto Blue Jays), Rajai Davis (Oakland A's), and Pete Walker (formerly of the Mets, Padres, Rockies, and Blue Jays) shared their stories of hard work and overcoming obstacles to the delight of their fellow Connecticut natives.
McDonald and Walker grew up in East Lyme, Conn., while Davis hails from Norwich.
"John McDonald, Rajai Davis, and Pete Walker are the personifications of leadership, commitment, and excellence," explained Roger LaFrancois, former Red Sox catcher and organizer of the event. "Both John and Rajai were not drafted out of High School and not recruited. Both went to UConn-Avery Point. Each of the three players had a great story to share with young people about their road to the major leagues."
"John McDonald had a great message for kids about never giving up," explained LaFrancois, who batted .400 in spot duty with the Red Sox in 1982. "He shared his story of not starting on his high school team. Even as a backup to the Blue Jays, he has never been a starter in the ML (Major Leagues), although he has played 11 years in the majors. Talk about perseverance."
"You could see and hear the emotion in his voice when he talked and how fortunate he is to play in he Majors. It made me wish some of the ML players felt the same way, in my opinion."
LaFrancois, who owns the CT Dugout Club and LaFrancois Marketing Consultants, brings players to the Central Connecticut area several times a year to share their stories during a roundtable discussion and followed up by an autograph session and refreshments for those in attendance.
Ron Coderre of Putnam, Conn., a sports columnist for the Norwich Bulletin was the Master of Ceremonies of the event and "did an outstanding job," according to LaFrancois.
When not running CT Dugout Club and LaFrancois Marketing, LaFrancois is coach of the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am Baseball League. LaFrancois shares a special place in history with Rich Gedman, former Red Sox catcher and manager of the Tornadoes.
Together the two exhibited their own sense of perseverance when they split catching duties during the Pawtucket Red Sox 33-inning game versus the Rochester Red Wings on April 18, 1981.
LaFrancois took over for Gedman in the ninth inning and caught the final 26 innings of the game, which is the longest in professional baseball history. The game, which was halted and completed in June, was eventually won by the Red Sox, 3-2.
The CT Dugout Club will hold their next event on Monday evening, Feb. 22, featuring former Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee and a Yankee TBA. Tickets for the event are $15 for students and $25 for adults.
"It should be fun," joked LaFrancois.
Photo Credit: Khoi Ton/ NorwichBulletin.com
Video Credit: Peter Huoppi/The Day
Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report, Seamheads, and Sports, Then and Now. His work can also be found on his blog, The 'xoxo' of Sports. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children's story that teaches Paying it Forward through baseball.