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Buscetto's unlikely journey brings him home to the scenic 06371

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 09. 2012 4:00AM

It was either's fate's redemptive twist, or somebody with a sinister sense of humor, that encouraged the schedule makers to beget this one. Imagine the odds, not long ago, of Billy Buscetto landing on this certain piece of real estate in Old Lyme, CT, 06371.

It was at shortstop on the high school baseball field last week. Not that it's such a strange place for Buscetto, a shortstop most of his life. But the colors he wore? Royal blue and white. Couldn't be. Did someone mix whites and colors in the wash? Had to be. He's a Buscetto. And that means you bleed the red and gray of St. Bernard.

And yet this was the season opener, 2012, and there was Buscetto, son of St. Bernard's ousted athletic director and baseball coach from only a few months earlier, starting opposite his old buddies, now for Old Lyme. This was either a sequel to the old TV show "This Is Your Life," or perhaps life's best immitation of art. Either way, it was a day of reflection for the Buscettos, followed by some satisfaction.

It sure helped that Old Lyme won the game, 4-2, a result that won't change recent events, but perhaps made them a duller ache.

"I was ecstatic when I first saw the game on the schedule," Billy Buscetto, a sophomore, said. "I had a rough start at Old Lyme. I missed everybody at St. Bernard. I still do. But I've made a lot of new friends at Old Lyme. You move on."

Buscetto admitted he couldn't sleep much in the days leading to the game. It was such a big game for him and his family that he even got a phone call from John McDonald, the former East Lyme great, who plays for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnny Mac and Buscetto's dad are close friends.

"He told me the play my hardest, but not to try to do too much," Buscetto said. "He texted me on the day of the game. It was unbelievable. It's the best thing you could get."

Buscetto was at the front end of a 6-4-3 double play in the seventh that helped preserve the victory. Buscetto said he asked his new friend Slater Gregory, the starting pitcher, to throw a shutout. A complete game did just fine, however.

Buscetto told his story one night last week at Filomena's Restaurant in Waterford, an eatery his dad owns with his brother, Mike. Billy sat at a table for dinner with his dad and former St. Bernard teammate John Rainey, now a three-sport athlete at Ledyard. When asked the biggest difference between Old Lyme and St. Bernard, Buscetto cracked, "the girls."

They're not short on senses of humor, those Buscettos.

But there was still a sense of melancholy, if for no other reason than there's more than a flicker of passion for what might have been.

"I'm happy where Billy is. His coaches have been great," Bill Sr. said. "But to an extent, I still feel like the St. Bernard kids are my kids, my team. I still want them to do well. I don't know if I'm fully over it. I'm really invested in those kids."

And they are still invested in him. Several current players frequent the restaurant. They text and call their old coach often.

Buscetto was dismissed as St. Bernard's athletic director and baseball coach last June, stemming from a personality conflict with outgoing headmaster William McKenna. Buscetto became a cause celebre, drawing support from hundreds of St. Bernard students and their families in the ensuing weeks. Their wishes were ignored. The school offered him a chance to reclaim his coaching position or resume as athletic director, but not both. He declined. A lawsuit is pending.

Opinions have flowed like Bud in the bleachers about this. But what Buscetto's ousters don't get - and never will - is the passion Buscetto had for his school and his players ran like a current through the place. Few, if any, other employees commanded such loyality and exuded such pride in it.

Buscetto's resume says St. Bernard won the Michael's Cup (given by the state for overall athletic department excellence) under his watch.

But it's the intangible, even anecdotal, evidence that illustrates his role as the school's pied piper.

It would strain the tentacles of hyperbole to suggest that Buscetto's baseball program, a potential state champion in 2012, would have unequivocally increased enrollment figures or donations. But successful teams beget invested kids and invested families. The power of the pied piper leading the Saints to a state title, or at least a team to embrace, might have grown legs and provided St. Bernard a payload of unintended (and profitable) consequences.

Now we'll never know.

The couldas, shouldas and wouldas linger, maybe now a little less every day. Billy Buscetto is right about moving on.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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