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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Temporary peace treaty finds East Lyme, Waterford joining forces for American Legion baseball

    Waterford — More hardened East Lyme loyalists might conclude that this behavior gives aid and comfort to the enemy. Or at least wonder why AJ Montejano, Alex Dreyfus and John Bureau didn’t at least break out in hives upon donning the uniform with the big blue “W.”

    But then, well, if Red Sox fans survived the sight of Wade Boggs riding the horse at Yankee Stadium, then it’s possible for another sports version of the Geneva Convention: When the kids of East Lyme start playing for Waterford.

    Yes, the region’s best high school rivalry has turned from “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” to “Let There Be Peace On Earth” this summer. Three proud East Lymers are playing (and enjoying) Waterford American Legion baseball, a compilation of kids from several different schools.

    “Being in maroon for so long, it feels weird,” said Montejano, part of East Lyme’s recent state championship boys’ soccer team and state semifinalist baseball team. “But we’ve got a good team here and I like everyone. We're going to do what we do and try to win the state tournament. That's what I'm excited for.”

    Still. There are times you feel Waterford and East Lyme could fill the stadium for a game of chess. Dueling student sections, cutting social media posts and the abject entertainment tethered to rivalry. Nobody does it better than these two schools, these two towns.

    “I’m a Viking forever. So you know. I do not like the Lancer colors,” Montejano said. “But I can do it. Especially because Alex and John are with me here. And we got Ethan (Chavez), Joe (Basso) and Martin Light from St. Bernard. Guys from other schools. It's not just Waterford, but, yes, we are representing their town.”

    It helps that the man running the program, Gentleman Joe Mariani, is the local cleanup hitter on the Likeable-O-Meter. Maybe when you were once a Navy pilot flying on and off aircraft carriers, the concept of town rivalry comes with a sense of proportion.

    Mariani is the consummate coaching prototype for the changing culture of summer baseball, emphasizing fun, friendship and fraternity over traveling each weekend to Birmingham for purportedly better competition.

    “Great guy. Very welcoming,” Montejano said. “We all really like him.”

    Dreyfus said he had dinner with Mariani before the season to ask whether he could play for Waterford during the week (zone competition) and for the AAU Connecticut Hurricanes on weekends.

    “He couldn’t have been nicer. It was no problem at all,” Dreyfus said. “It's kind of fun. I mean, during the high school season it's really competitive with Waterford, but I mean it's all love at the end the day because it's baseball and having fun.”

    Dreyfus may not get universal agreement that “real competitive” has morphed into “all love” for everybody. This was an especially contentious high school season between the schools. And it belonged mostly to East Lyme in the rivalries across all sports.

    “The maddest I was all year was as a spectator,” Montejano said. “They knocked us out of the state tournament in basketball this year. In our gym. That would probably be the most hate I ever felt for Waterford. That and when they beat us sophomore year in baseball. And junior year.”

    Dreyfus remembers “Football, junior year. The Thanksgiving game. We got beat pretty bad. Like we weren't really in the game that much. It’s football and you always want to go hit someone. But that game hurt.”

    But now they’ve crossed enemy lines, learned the lyrics to “Kumbaya” and are playing for the guy once in the fray flying Navy jets but who now somehow manages to stay above the fray better than everybody else.

    And they said it would never happen. Vikings and Lancers. Lancers and Vikings. In the same dugout. Wearing the same uniform. Rooting for each other.

    The hostilities, ever entertaining, will resume soon enough, some time this fall. But it’s nice to see a peace treaty every now and then, no?

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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