photo courtesy of Rookiepix
The year is 1974. A 26 year old with three years of umpiring experience in East Hartford joins the WHYBL as a volunteer umpire in the Minors. His name is Ed Czapla and he has held numerous roles in the WHYBL over 42 years and now prepares for a comeback as a Major League scorekeeper for Exchange. Over those 42 years, Ed has touched the lives of many players, coaches, parents, and volunteers. Always quick with a smile and the kindest man you could meet, Ed is a living legend within the WHYBL and in West Hartford.
Our 2015 Program Book is dedicated to Ed Czapla who has been part of the West Hartford Youth Baseball League since 1974. We recently sat down with Ed to reminisce and share his favorite memories from his 42 years:
When did you get started in the WHYBL? What was your first position? How old were you?
1974 as a volunteer umpire in the Minor League. Previously, I had umpired in the East Hartford Little League from 1972-1974.
How and why did you get started volunteering – even though you had no kids?
I loved the game and was interested in helping kids with learning the basic skills and rules of the game along with helping them learn the meaning of winning, losing, and sportsmanship.
Take us through the teams you have managed over the years?
After umpiring, I was Co-Manager with Hank Carlson of the Bridlepath Buccaneers (Minor League) for two years (1978-1979). We then became Co-Managers of Talcott Transmissions from 1980-1986. After Hank decided to retire, I continued to Co-Manage Talcott with Jack O’Keefe from 1987-1992.
Take us through your continued involvement with the League after you finished managing?
After retiring from managing, I became Vice President under Chuck Gagne in 1991-1992. I then assisted with setting up a little concession stand on the top of the hill at Wolcott Park which eventually led to the formal Concession Stand. I also assisted at the annual Major League Tryout, Draft Night, and Jamboree Day. I was instrumental in the creation of our All-Star Travel team in 1991. After Farmington and New Britain did not invite us back to their tournaments because we were not affiliated with Little League, we found tournaments in Windham and New Hartford. In 1991, we lost three straight games in Windham, but ended up winning seven straight games after losing our first game in New Hartford. In 1992, we won both tournaments. The resurrection of the Travel Team ultimately led to the West Hartford All-Stars participating in a week long tournament in Cooperstown, New York. In 2013, I became the Scorekeeper for Goldberg’s Bagels in the Minors working with Brian Samela and I will be moving up to the Majors with him on Exchange.
Describe the experience of coaching your sons (Chad & Jamey) in the Majors?
Both of my sons participated in both the Major and Minor Leagues and went on to play baseball at Conard High School. Chad played for Talcott from 1982-1984. We were runners-up in the President’s Cup in 1982 and won the Town Championship in 1983. Besides these, Chad’s favorite memories were his home runs at Norfeldt and Fern. His leadership on and off the field along with his 1B play saved many games for us. He enjoyed competing against Fire, Lions Club, Pryor Jewelers, and KofC. Jamey played for Talcott from 1989-1991 as a pitcher and shortstop. Always a threat at the plate, this was overshadowed by his strong defense along with his late inning relief pitching. One of his finest moments was in Game 2 of the 1991 Town Championship against rival KofC. Talcott led 5-3 in the bottom of the 6th with the bases loaded and two outs. Jamey took a relay throw from right fielder Tim Guerra, turned around and threw a perfect strike
to catcher Mike Cosgrove who tagged out the sliding runner to preserve the 5-4 win and the Town Championship.
What are some of your favorite memories of coaching? Any specific games?
Participation in 2 President Cup Championships and 4 Town Championships (Talcott was known as the “Team of the 80’s”) Chad’s first home run at Norfeldt Field. Jamey’s throw to win the 1991 Town Championship. Watching deaf parents hugging and kissing their son at the end of a game in which he hit a home run and came on in relief for the save. Participating in the Town All-Star games and Travel teams. Watching an Exchange Club player hit his third home run, rather than intentionally walking him. This enabled Bob Paolitto to win the Town Championship.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the League over the years?
Addition of the Training and Instructional Divisions to help players start and learn the game earlier. The influx of new managers and coaches (including many former WHYBL players) to replace League veterans. Change from 46/60 to 50/70 at the Major League level.
Anyone in particular you would like to thank?
Hank Carlson, Ray Spadola, Rocky Arena, Rich Cosgrove, Jack O’Keefe, Jim Hungerford, Ken Hungerford, Gary Hunt, Chuck Gagne, Jim Dyber, Pete Piacente, Greg Starr, Pete Veilleux. Stan Johnson, and the following deceased managers (Bob Paolitto, Bob Walsh, Jim Barone). Also, special thanks to Brian Samela for nominating me for this honor. I must also thank my daughter
Alison Czapla who had great experiences with West Hartford Girls Softball and Conard
High School. I would especially like to thank my wife Nancy for all the sacrifices which she has needed to make over the years just so I could enjoy doing what I enjoyed best over those years.
Ed has touched the lives of so many players and coaches. We caught up with some of them who shared their memories of playing for and coaching with and against Ed:
“When I first joined WHYBL, I was impressed that Ed maintained his involvement in our League coordinating Jamboree Day events even though his sons had since graduated to higher level baseball. His commitment to our League, even after his kids had left, made me believe that
I had joined a truly special organization." — Jim Yanosy (Former Talcott Transmissions manager and current Executive Board member)
“Ed and I Co-Managed Talcott for several years during the 80’s. Besides being a wonderful guy, he was the most dedicated coach I had the privilege of working with; truly dedicated to the players and their families, always upbeat and positive in every respect, and he understood the importance of letting the kids play through their mistakes. And, that was a big part of the successes we experienced in those wonderful years. One funny thing that occurred during our first post Championship game party in the Elmwood Community Center, when Ed got so excited and tongue tied during his speech, that he bit his tongue and wouldn’t stop bleeding until one of the players dads,a doctor intervened.” — Hank Carlson (Former Talcott Transmissions Co-Manager)
“Ed worked tirelessly and without fanfare for many years. His only concern was that the kids in the League had a great experience every year. His calm demeanor and leadership by example pulled many together to accomplish so much.” — Gary Hunt (Former KofC Manager, Travel Manager, and founder of Cooperstown Trip)
“We used to call Ed the ‘Jamboree Man.’ On Friday he would load his SUV with all the supplies needed for the concession stand at Sterling Field. He had a connection with Stop & Shop for discounted rates. On Saturday, Ed would get to the field early to help line the fields, raise the flag, place trash barrels at the four fields, and get the grill going. Ed would go to Town Hall to get the food permit and contact all the ‘old timers’ need to support activities for the whole day on Saturday. He did this task for years. What a great guy.” — Pete Piacente (Former Major League Manager of Rotary and long time WHYBL volunteer)
“I had the privilege of playing for Ed, and playing with his son Chad, for three seasons on Talcott Transmission. Chad is now my brother-in-law so I still see Ed regularly at all our family gatherings. My first year playing for Talcott was thirty-two years ago as a ten-year old. I think it was the first year Ed and Hank Carlson were coaching. Hank’s son Jeff was on the team as well. Chad, Jeff and myself were the only ten-year olds on the team as I recall, and we played
together for the next three years. Being coached by Ed and Hank, and playing with their sons, was probably one of the best experiences I had playing the sport, and I had many as I ended up playing baseball in college. I remember Ed hitting a fly ball that seemed to rocket a mile into the sky. I think he was only hitting at about 50%. That’s probably what I remember most about Ed 32 years ago - those towering fly balls. To a ten-year old, no one could hit fly balls harder and higher than Ed.” — Jim Killelea