R.I.P. to 'Waterford's Baseball Encyclopedia'
It is a quieter sports department here at The Day now, the phone not ringing not nearly as often. Our most loyal caller and familiar voice, the man longtime friend Bob Bono calls "The Waterford Baseball Encyclopedia," died last week at 76.
Harold "Hat" Fengar called us every day, several times. He preferred we didn't answer, instead leaving his daily musings on voice mail. Our voice mail allows for three-minute messages. Hat took all three minutes. Every time. Rants, monologues, streams of consciousness and soliloquies, complete with R-rated language and only spasms of political correctness.
Fengar saw the first baseball game ever played at Waterford High, a program that has elevated itself to a state-most 11 championships. He coached two Babe Ruth Teams to the World Series — one in Waterford (1980) and one in Sanford, Maine (1988; he moved to Maine briefly after living in Quaker Hill virtually all of his life).
The 1980 Waterford team went to Williston, North Dakota and finished fourth in the country. Team member: Local radio king Lee Elci, among others.
"I got to know Hat when my kids were in Little League," said Peter Gianakos, an owner of the institution known as Mr. G's. "Hat was involved and we grew to be friends. We'd talk after the games for hours. I know it's only Little League, but when your kids are involved, it hits closer to home."
Fengar would tally scorebooks from a booth at Mr. G's long after the games were over for springs and summers on end.
His baseball resume, also highlighted by founding Waterford American Legion with Bill Jerome in the early 90s, also included public address announcing, scorekeeping and volunteerism for many teams and organizations. Fengar was the voice of the Waterford Babe Ruth Field and at Washington Park, too, for UConn-Avery Point in the days of Roger Bidwell.
But there was a whole other man, a man harder to see under an exterior that was often brusque. He was our most frequent, if unknown, caregiver.
Fengar took care of Gianakos' mother in her later years. He was a de facto nurse to Casper George, the father of former Coast Guard football coach Bill George. He was a caregiver to Bono's father-in-law, Doreen Bono's dad, in his later years. This was a side to Fengar many of us didn't see or never knew.
"He never had to do any of that," Gianakos said.
"A giving person," Bob Bono said.
The funny part: Fengar would often call The Day from George's home. Here we'd pick up the phone thinking it was George — one of our favorites here — and Hat's raspy voice would instead begin bellowing about something in sports he didn't like. Which was pretty much everything.
"Hat was from the old school," Gianakos said. "If his team was ahead 10 runs, he'd never steal a base. His teams played the right way. He had a hard time adjusting. His feeling was that old-timers played for the name on the front of the uniform and more modern people played for the name on the back, so to speak."
Waterford's proud sports tradition rests on many, many adults who have cared about programs and kids long after their own children were done playing. It's almost comical to watch the end of a game at the Babe Ruth field, where suddenly a dozen guys come from nowhere and start raking, cutting, lining, dragging, cleaning and manicuring. All for nothing except perhaps a lemonade that might be lurking in a nearby cooler.
It's not hard to draw a straight line between their wish to pay it forward for other people's kids and watching Fengar do it for many years. For no other reason than that's what you do in a community.
I always chuckle when I see LeBron James make a nice play in the middle of a game. I knew it drove Fengar batty. LeBron wasn't one of his favorites for many reasons, not the least of which is that he didn't perceive LeBron as old school.
Regardless of whether we agreed with his word choices, his actions always spoke louder. He was always there for the kids, leaving a legacy of volunteerism in Waterford that is unmatched here in our corner of the world.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro