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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Waterford's program gets a tip of the cap from one of its biggest rivals

    Waterford — Among the most frequently asked questions of yours truly: "Why do you write about Waterford so much?"

    The answer is tethered to the celebrated Churchill quote, "history is written by the victors." Or in this case: about the victors. Put it this way: If your town/schools start winning as much as the Waterfords, I'll be on your payroll, too.

    Turns out that while the 06385's athletic proficiencies generate their share of resentment here in this corner of the world, there is commensurate appreciation from other outposts. Like the guy coaching third base last weekend against Waterford at the Waterford Babe Ruth Field.

    Meet Mike Buswell, the coach of Trumbull Travel Baseball, the man some locals may remember as the coach of the Trumbull team that eliminated New London from the 15-year-old regionals last summer a win shy of the World Series. It's a thing in Trumbull: Three World Series appearances and five regional finals in the last 11 years. Buswell, who played on three World Series teams and has been to six overall as a player and a coach, knows a winner when he sees one.

    "I would say the best compliment I could give Waterford," Buswell said, "is that I have an 8-year-old son. And if I didn't live in Trumbull, I would want him to play in Waterford because of the way their kids are taught and the way they're coached up."

    Nobody knew one night after a Waterford/Trumbull Babe Ruth game about a decade ago that an impromptu gathering over a few lemonades would mimic the last line of Casablanca — and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    Buswell is friendly with several Waterford coaches, not just in baseball. He's also the assistant boys' basketball coach at Staples High and decided to forgo the bus ride home after a state tournament loss to the Lancers in March for a night out at the Birdseye with all the Waterford guys. He spent Friday night on Waterford Babe Ruth president Lucas Beaney's couch.

    "I would say it all started with (former Waterford Babe Ruth president) Bob Bono and (current American Legion coach) Joe Mariani," Buswell said. "Then it turned into (former president) Rick Beaney and now Lucas.

    "We're getting ready to come up here for the states one year and we get an e-mail with the bracket. But the Waterford guys even told us all the good places to eat. The one vivid thing that stuck out off the bat to me was their genuineness of wanting to do things right. Putting on a good tournament. Not being like a homer. Everyone was just so cordial from the beginning."

    Some of you, who have perhaps heard some barbs from Lancer Nation, might have spit out your coffee at the whole idea of "Waterford" and "cordial." But Buswell sees a different side.

    "There's a mutual respect between our programs. I don't think it could be any stronger," Buswell said. "We're trying to fight the good fight down there. They're trying to fight the good fight up here. What I admire about Waterford the most is the community culture. It's what we have in Trumbull, but Waterford does it on a smaller scale. This town is half our size.

    "You're dealing with a lot of fathers who played Waterford baseball. It's what you do. Like I remember growing up in Trumbull. You wanted to play football and baseball for Jerry McDougall (who retired in 1998 with the most football wins in state history at the time and two Class  LL baseball titles). You graduate college, come back and you're gonna have a boy who's going to play for Waterford."

    Buswell listed among his program's greatest accomplishments the state title win over Waterford in the 2014 tournament's 14-year-old division.

    "We're playing the game in New Milford. It's 98 degrees and we have to face Mike Burrows. First pitch at noon," Buswell said. "I'm thinking 'great. To win the championship, we just have to beat a guy who's throwing 100.' But Jack (Buswell's assistant, Jack McFarland, the varsity coach at Staples) came up with a plan that worked. Looking back, it's an even greater win given where Burrows his today."

    Mike Burrows was recently promoted to Indianapolis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    "Their program is very similar to ours," Lucas Beaney said. "They do things the right way. They're in it for the right reasons. Mike's a Trumbull guy and he wants Trumbull kids to play together. We want the Waterford kids to stay together so when they get to high school, they're coached up and ready to play with the same kids and for their town."

    Buswell: "We're battling the same battles. I tell Lucas we're going through the same things. Travel ball hit us much, much earlier, like 10-15 years earlier. So I had to adapt earlier than a lot of the towns up here because of the number of travel teams down on our way."

    At the time Buswell said that, he saw Bono out of the corner of his eye. There was another game to be played. And there was Bono raking the pitcher's mound. Bono had no reason to be there on a sunny Saturday other than he cares.

    "Bob always cared about our league beyond when his kids were done playing," Beaney said. "There are a lot of people in town like that. It's huge having all these guys come back who know a lot more and have coached a lot longer than I have."

    Buswell looked at Bono raking and smirked.

    "See that?" he said. "That's why they win a lot here."

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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