Amateur Softball: Never An Albatross Around Their Necks

Matthew DonatoCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2008

There is a core to each friendship - something that forms the cornerstone to that good relationship that the people involved can build upon. For some it is a similar sense of humor, while for others, a music or pop culture bond can be their link. Good ones share a history, and while they cherish that history, can see the future filled with even more glorious events and adventures. The best friendships can incorporate all of these elements, and are strengthened as the number in this group of friends grows.

Canton Springs Storage team, known to many as Albatross, is a great example of such a group friendship. While their base is a softball team, the branches of that team extend into the lives of the members far off the field.

"We love to play the game. We play hard, and we play to win, but what keeps us coming back year after year is that we are a family. I have always felt that I have 20 brothers. We celebrate the good times (weddings, the birth of our kids....) and we support each other in times of need. I know that if I needed anything, they would be there in a heartbeat. No questions asked.", is how team captain and co-founder Jason Beaudin sums up the group mind.

Regardless of the outcome of the game or the season, team members can always be found in high spirits, whether it be gathering for drinks after the game, one of countless house parties over the years, a golf outing, a wedding, or an event at Renbrook Summer Adventure, (a summer camp in West Hartford, CT where many members of the team have worked over the years).

This year, and at least until the final out of the 2009 Farmington Softball League season, members of Canton Springs Storage, (as well as former teammates and family members), can finally celebrate an on field success to rival their off field accomplishments. For the first time since it was founded in the summer of 1991, Albatross/Canton Springs Storage ended the season as champions of the league.

Tom Jacquot, a veteran team outfielder, compared the feeling of the championship victory to seeing the Red Sox win it all in 2004, while teammate Michael Donahue felt that the victory was best expressed in the face of third base coach Frank Arigoni. "It was priceless. He looked like a kid in a candy store." Frank has been with the team for 14 seasons, and his son Mark "Fatty" Arigoni is the only son of a team member, a.k.a "Albatot" to have played regularly for the club. (Although other "Albatots" have contributed in minor roles over the years.)

I myself have been an "Albatot" for 14 years now. Staying with my father on summer afternoons, my sister, brother, and I would often find ourselves either chasing home run balls, acting as bat boy, or even helping operate the scoreboard. (There was a period during this time when I was very into swing jazz music, and thus wore a fedora hat everywhere. Outfielder Chris Repp nicknamed me Cool Daddy Crab Cakes, and the name actually stuck for a little while.) Since we have grown up, other members of the Albatross family have taken our place. Recently, Mike Donahue's 10 year old son Sam and Jason's son Jacob have taken up much of the bat boy duty. With that, Jacob becomes a third generation member of the team, as Jason's father used to pitch for the club.

The team is never too far out of reach in a difficult situation either. During the summer of 2003, when I was on Parris Island for Marine Corps boot camp, one of the most uplifting letters I received was signed by every member of Albatross. Each person offered words of encouragement, and the effect of the letter on my psyche could not have been better if the team in the letter had been the New York Yankees.

Imagine a guerrilla college fraternity. There is no base for their gathering, but there is a good chance that they can be found together in various places where their lives, hobbies, and interests cross paths. There is a sure sighting whenever Renbrook Summer Adventure has its semi-annual Hamburger Cookout Extraveganza, whenever "The Score", (which features three team members: Jeremy "Howard" Banks on lead vocals, my father Tom "Biscuit" Donato on saxophone, and former member and team co-founder Dave Blodgett on lead guitar) plays a gig in Hartford, this year's fantasy football league, or one of the many weddings, (This year is Howard's), as more and more Albatross clip their wings.

(Random Sidenote: Those members of the Score actually had a gig scheduled for the night of the championship game, and were informed of the victory on stage while playing their set. Tom Donato summed up the moment like this, "I was on stage playing when Jeremy's fiance, Marcia came over and told us we lost the first game. About an hour later, she came back to tell us the team won the second and deciding game. After so many near misses to win the league championship, my first feeling was of happiness beyond words, with a pinch of relief that it finally happened! (Think Ray Bourque finally winning the Stanley Cup, or Wade Boggs finally winning the World Series.) We finished playing whatever song it was and I had to ask her again if it was really true. It was tough not to be there when it actually happened. I would have loved to have been in the pile of friends celebrating at the very moment we had won. But all the guys came out to hear the band soon after, so I got to hug & high-five everyone with a saxophone around my neck."

The season may end for the team, but the club continues to play year round, just as frat houses will still throw the occasional secret party outside the school year. There is also the expected fraternal hi jinx. Kenny Boucher used to wear the same gaudy red shorts to every game, and when the team couldn't stand them any more, action was taken by ripping them off of his body and burning them in the parking lot after the game. (Do not think that this is the only article of clothing belonging to a teammate that has been intentionally destroyed with flames over the years. See: Adam Beaudin's jersey at the 2006 Festivus Party.)

So why does Canton Springs Storage continue to play year after year when there have already been so many miles put on the team's collective odometer? My father has already given up pitching for the team after taking one too many hard liners off of his body. Jason Beaudin has had knee problems that have given him trouble since he helped found the team. Other injuries have been too many to name. This last championship could have been their swan song; a season to justify the team's on-field existence. (Although anyone on the team would tell you that they wouldn't need a championship to justify their on-field existence, but that it had already been done with 17 years of inside jokes, "Simpsons" quotes, and clever ways to make fun of or heckle the opposing team, as well as members of their own.)

That may be the answer in itself. The game is just something to do when they hang out. Something to focus their jokes around. An excuse to get together, to plan their next event. I am certain that if the team had never won it all, there would not have been even the slightest hint of regret. Further proof that the game comes second is that members of the team will happily attend a game knowing full well that all they will do is man the scorebook or work the scoreboard.

"I don't think there are many teams who see as much of each other off the field as we do.", my father says. This is their true strength, as well at the thing that matters most to them, and what makes them more than a team. They are a family, a fraternity, a brotherhood, and while they may not compete for much longer, they will never stop playing as a team.