Bransfield call is foul

Middletown - Something was amiss from the time I exited the car Tuesday afternoon, an hour before the Stonington-Montville high school baseball semifinal at Palmer Field, the home office for amateur baseball in Connecticut.

The pregame musical interlude blasted over the public address system?

Phil Collins.

Not ABBA.

ABBA is a favorite of Jim Bransfield, the voice of Connecticut high school sports, the public address announcer at Palmer Field for 40 years. It's just not Palmer anymore if "Waterloo" doesn't follow "Dancing Queen."

Imagine my chagrin, which has graduated to rage, when I learned Bransfield had been fired from announcing duties in the state baseball tournament.

Let me just start this way: You don't fire Jim Bransfield. The man is an institution. He is as significant in his role among notable state high school sports figures as any coach or player.

I asked tournament director Fred Balsamo the whereabouts of Bransfield. This was the conversation:

Me: "Where's Bransfield?"

Him: "Are you asking me as a former student (he was a teacher of mine in middle school) or as a reporter?"

Me: "Reporter."

Him: "I have no comment."

As Mr. Balsamo walked away from the conversation, he said, "Nobody owns that press box."

Which is technically true. But then, seeing as how the press box at Palmer Field is dedicated in memory of Bransfield's late son and how Bransfield has been The Voice of high school baseball, high school football, Middletown American Legion baseball, the American Legion State Tournament, American Legion Northeast Regional, American Legion World Series and the Greater Hartford Twilight League for 40 years, I feel fairly comfortable in the belief that Bransfield is the de facto owner of the place.

Why did this happen? Bransfield, reached by phone, has no idea. This much we know: It's not the wish of officials from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state's governing body of high school athletics.

"I announced the Montville vs. Ansonia (championship) football game at in December, and just last week I announced both MM and L track meets (at Middletown High)," Bransfield said. "The CIAC folks were very pleasant to me at the football games at Rentschler and at the basketball games at Mohegan Sun."

Hence, we are left to conclude this was done on Mr. Balsamo's whim.

Why Mr. Balsamo is allowed to have such whims is a good question.

Why he is allowed to perpetrate them is a better question.

I have shared Bransfield's dismissal with several coaches and colleagues. Before they've heard the details, they've all uttered something akin to "there goes the CIAC again."

That's sad. Because the CIAC doesn't deserve that. In recent months, the CIAC has never been better, employing Rentschler Field and Mohegan Sun Arena for its championship events. And they've become events with more legitimacy and cachet.

Bransfield is the same symbol of professionalism. If the CIAC is serious about serving its membership — and, of course, the kids — with the best of Connecticut, its officials need to have a chat with Mr. Balsamo forthwith.

You may view this as "only" a public address announcer. Bransfield is more than that. He adds more than an air of authority to the events. It's almost aristocracy. The booming voice. The perfectly enunciated words. A puckish sense of humor. His diligence in meeting coaches before every game to go over pronunciations.

My favorite to this day was the 1994 state championship baseball game between Griswold and Trinity Catholic. Glenn LaBossiere was assisting Gary Kinel at the time. Bransfield made it sound like we were in the middle of Quebec, pronouncing "Labossiere" as "La-boss-ee-AIR."

I'm not kidding when I say Bransfield is the best public address announcer in the country, now that Bob Sheppard is gone.

I am not alone.

"I've been going to stadiums and arenas for 40 years, dating back to when I was a kid and now with UConn," said UConn play-by-play voice Joe D'Ambrosio of WTIC radio. "I've been all over the country. Nobody does it better than Jim Bransfield. I mean professional, college, high school, Little League. Nobody. For him not to be doing games at Palmer Field of all places is a crying shame."

"Fred Balsamo fired Jim Bransfield? That's like Bob Sheppard getting fired by the 19-year-old general manager at Applebee's," said Jim O'Neill, who coached New London Legion to two appearances in the World Series and scores of games at Palmer Field. "Jim provided an element of class and professionalism unlike anywhere else. I listened to him and thought, 'what we're doing here really is important."

There's a reason Derek Jeter still has a recording to Sheppard introducing him at Yankee Stadium. Sheppard is an icon who transcends the place. Jim Bransfield does the same here.

You may not know him. But you know his voice. He's too important to be dismissed because of a personality conflict. We're supposed to be teaching kids the right things here. Let's start teaching.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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