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Jim Buonocore, ever the football coach, saw the opportunity. So he eschewed the game he loves momentarily to channel his inner Rick Pitino. And he went fullcourt man-to-man in pursuit of the baseball coach for his school he thought would never become available.
This was two years ago now and Buonocore, the athletic director at Ledyard High when he's not X-and-O-ing on the gridiron, learned former major leaguer and Norwich native Scott Chiasson never did get the baseball job at St. Bernard (And you thought only God worked in mysterious ways). Buonocore, who knows a good coach when he sees one, pounced like a cat from behind the couch.
"We had him at work and at home," Buonocore was saying earlier this week. "He works with Rachel (Buonocore's wife) at EB (Electric Boat). He lives next to Steve (Bilheimer, Ledyard's wrestling coach and assistant athletic director). He had nowhere to hide."
And now Chiasson, once a Chicago Cub, once the batterymate of Joe Girardi, sits on a pail inside the Ledyard dugout, assisting Sam Kilpatrick in what has become one of the Eastern Connecticut Conference's great stories of the spring. Ledyard baseball: five wins, one loss, one former major leaguer, afterthought no longer.
"He's the real deal," Kilpatrick said. "His whole approach to the kids is so positive. The kids know where he's been."
They should. Chiasson, who played at Norwich Free Academy and Eastern Connecticut State, would become a walking beacon for Marriott points during a career that touched Wrigley Field, scores of minor league outposts for seven different organizations, Japan and Mexico.
He's been everywhere, man, as Johnny Cash would say. He might still be a Cub were it not for the balky elbow that imperiled his career. But if there is such a thing as wisdom for the pain, a bunch of kids in Ledyard are getting quite the education.
"He has great perspective on how the game should be taught," Buonocore said.
Chiasson, 36, was granted free agency for the final time in Nov. 2009, after his third stint with the Orioles failed. But he's a baseball guy. Baseball guys, like flowers and leaves, emerge in the spring.
"I wanted to get involved," Chiasson said. "With my job at EB, this became the best situation. It's close to work and Sam is still head coach. I just want to teach the kids the right way."
This is a theme with Chiasson: the right way. He talks about baseball's permutations when he says "the right way." But he could be talking about his life. He knows better than anybody that manure occureth (stuff happens). It's how you react. Chiasson is all about the right way. He got knocked down ...
"I don't regret one thing. I battled all those injuries, but I always came back," he said. "Injuries weren't going to stop me. It was a hell of a run. I wish it was a little longer and my elbow didn't blow out so quick, but I've seen crazier stories I didn't have to deal with.
"I do think 'what if' all the time, sure. I've watched these guys sign these contracts," he said. "Carlos Zambrano came up the same day as me. I outpitched him, but the following year I blew out my arm and now he's getting eight-year deals for $140 million. I don't think I'd be living in Oakdale if I had eight years for 140. Not that I don't enjoy Oakdale ... "
Oakdale, surely, is lovely this time of year. As are the winds at Matt Buriak Field, home of the Colonels, where cows have been known to traverse the outfield in the middle of an inning (Bill Mignault once called it a true "bullpen"). But this is where Chiasson applies the lessons he learned. As a big leaguer and like a big leaguer: stoic, steadfast.
"Joe Girardi was my catcher when I first started with the Cubs," Chiasson said. "He was always the same, winning or losing. Same managing the Yankees. You have no idea if they are winning or losing. Other managers are losing their minds in the dugout. That doesn't help anyone.
"You're going to make mistakes when you play baseball. If I show that I'm (outwardly angry) with the kids, they won't make the next play. If someone misses covering a base or isn't hustling, I'll let em know, believe me. But it won't be on the field. Parents aren't going to see it. It'll be in the dugout. They'll know in here."
They're starting four sophomores at Ledyard this season. All the gang from No. 1 Waterford came away impressed earlier this week, following Ledyard's 2-0 loss. The program is back. Good thing Buonocore knows something about pressure defense. The result was a former major leaguer teaching all the right things.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.