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Our best rivalry resumes today

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published April 29. 2014 4:00AM

And so the rivalry renews today. Montville. Waterford. The best of high school baseball in this corner of the world for the last 20 years.

This just in: They can't stand each other. You're a Montville guy? You roll your eyes at the haughtiness one town to the south. You're a Waterford guy? You dismiss Montville like you do all other baseball that's not played in the 06385.

It's our own local version of why we love sports. The Rivalry. It's not hateful or violent. It's more of a snowball fight. A little needling. Heckling. Fun.

It's about the towns. The people. How they view themselves. How they view others. And best of all, how they're viewed by each other.

Some people like art. Some like knitting. I like instigating. So I decided to get to the root of the issue: What is the genesis of the distaste between Montville and Waterford?

Full disclosure: I didn't ask anybody involved currently. They'd never tell the truth. Bulletin board material and all that. Alumni, however, were more than forthcoming.

"In baseball specifically, it was Montville. Always Montville," said Zack Sousa, who played on two Waterford championship teams (1998, 2000). "It always seemed we were playing them in the finals or semis in all regional tournaments heading into high school. By the time we got to high school we knew we had to go through each other and inevitably you start to butt heads a little."

Or a lot.

"Let's be honest here," Sousa said. "There was a lot of respect between (former Waterford coach) Jack O'Keefe and (current Montville coach) Phil Orbe, but being how their wired, it's safe to say they would have rather jumped off a bridge then lose to each other and the sentiment was shared with the players.

"In our dugout, at least it was never just 'another game' on our schedule and we didn't pretend otherwise. 'East Lyme week' in football had an extra gear. The same feeling was specific to Montville around any matchup. I'm friends with (former Montville great) Jeremy Terni now. Then, not so much."

Most of the Montville folks agreed with Sousa's observations. The byproduct of playing a lot in big games is animosity. But it was this little nugget from 2013 Montville graduate Jordan Volpe that got closer to the truth.

"Just the way that some of them conduct themselves, and not all of them," Volpe said, "puts a bad taste in your mouth."

Atta boy, Jordan.

Sousa's retort: "We conduct ourselves like Waterford baseball is supposed to: winners. Even as a Red Sox fan, I know a comment that oozes Yankee-esque contempt when I see it. And it makes me smile."

And there you have it. Waterford views Montville as new money. Montville views Waterford as perpetually condescending.

Now we're getting warmer.

The distaste, too, is rooted in the stereotypes of the towns. Montville: rural, blue collar, steadfast. Nachos at the Brown Derby.

Or as one wiseguy said, "If the prominent school color wasn't orange, it would be camo."

Waterford: Pretentious. Bruschetta and a glass of Cabernet at Filomena's.

Fittingly, the baseball reflects it, too. Orbe has emerged as one the great coaches in Connecticut. His program is without pretense, but plenty intense. It has never genuflected at the altar of Waterford. And it has won three state titles since 2006. Waterford has won none since 2005.

"We have a bunch of kids whose family backgrounds are working people. Blue collar. Nothing ever handed to them," Orbe said in 2011, after Montville's last state title. "My father came from a family of roofers. He worked at E.B. for 28 years. Neither of my parents got past the ninth grade. But they always told me 'just work as hard as you can.' That's what the town is known for."

Waterford, meanwhile, may be the best baseball town in Connecticut, what with nine high school titles and an avalanche of Little League and Babe Ruth championships, even World Series appearances. It has drawn the contempt of not just the folks in Montville, but all over the region. Their sentiment: Yo, folks, baseball was invented in Cooperstown, not on Gardiners Wood Rd.

Hope none of this changes. Makes it fun. The rivalry renews today in Waterford at 3:45. New money vs. pretense. Montville vs. Waterford. Doesn't get better than this.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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