NLHS's 1994 title team celebrated a memory ... and much more

New London

Memories are time you borrow, as the song lyric goes, to spend when you get to tomorrow. Funny thing about tomorrows. They arrive faithfully. And we are powerless to passing seasons, changing circumstances and life happening.

And yet there was a room in New London last weekend that caught tomorrow in a rundown. This was about yesterday. All the great yesterdays. All the stories, inside jokes, celebrations, commiserations. A chance to renew and revisit, momentarily halting time's passage.

It meant enough to the 1994 baseball team at New London High School to meet again, 20 years later. It was 20 years later Saturday night at Tony D's, when the Class M state champs sat at a long table and laughed the night away.

They celebrated one Saturday in June at Palmer Field, a day from their childhoods and from their dreams, when Luis Martinez, the third baseman, caught a New Fairfield baserunner in a rundown for the final out. Casey O'Neill, the assistant coach, dropped to one knee and blessed himself. Shawn Roach, the second baseman, was caught in a front page photo in The Day with arms raised in triumph, moments after Martinez applied the tag.

Really, though, they celebrated each other. How much they mean to each other. How much they always will, in spite of the miles between them and families occupying them. Nothing lasts forever? Please. Memories do. They run like currents sometimes.

"I still say 'yes' and not 'yeah,'" Roach was saying Saturday night, alluding to a requirement of coach Gil Varjas, who sat in the middle of the table like the proud father, laughing at and contributing to, all the tales that might have grown a little taller in 20 years, but surely got funnier.

More Roach: "I said 'yeah' to coach once. He looked at me and said 'What did you say?' I said 'yes, coach.'"

They loved seeing Varjas, one of the best ever in Connecticut and anywhere else. He's still coaching, now at UConn-Avery Point with Roger Bidwell and Ed Harvey. That's somewhere around 1,500 wins teaching the game.

They left a seat empty for fallen teammate Sean Duzant, who died in 2004 at age 27 after a motorcycle accident. His teammates didn't merely toast his memory, but draped both his home and away uniforms over his seat. No. 8 was there all night in white, green and gold.

"With us always," teammate Derek Rock said.

Duzant saved the championship game with a tumbling catch in centerfield. If you stop any of his teammates on the street on some nothing Tuesday afternoon and say the words "The Catch," they will think of Sean Duzant.

They spoke of left-hander Cavan DePeter's 12-0 record that year. Rock's work in relief, especially the championship game, when he blew New Fairfield away. They recalled catcher Jason O'Reilly's calmness, shortstop Joe Bustamonte's talent and still can't quite figure out how they beat Berlin in the quarters.

They laughed at Martinez's occasional penchant to throw the ball into the third row from third base. Marcos Medina, the right fielder, watched Martinez run down the fateful New Fairfield runner and said Saturday, "all I could think was 'don't throw it.'"

Medina, too, was part of a punchline. He ran into the fence at Stonington. Varjas ran out to right field and upon seeing Medina bloodied, said, "don't get blood on my uniform."

Many of them are husbands and fathers now. Many of them coach their own kids, admitting they use the same drills Varjas taught them.

How sad, though, that just one dullard who refuses to see the positive influences of sports wasn't there observing. You know where the 1994 Whalers learned the most about life? With each other. From each other. By each other.

And this, really, is the point of team sports. Note to parents: It's not about your kid's batting average. Or some dopey showcase tournament. It's about him or her being part of something bigger than their own self-interest. Something bigger. Much bigger.

Big enough to bring them back 20 years later.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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