McCabe-Waters Little League

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In the fall of 1949 a group of baseball minded Bristolites began investigating the possibility of bringing Little League baseball to the city. Begun in Williamsport, Pa some ten years earlier, Little League was just beginning to catch on in Connecticut in the late 40’s and when McCabe-Waters players took the field in the spring of 1950, they were part of about 30 leagues across the state including operations in Southington, Farmington and New Britain.

Bristol’s new league was named after Arthur “Swat” McCabe and Clyde Waters, two of the stars of Bristol’s well known New Departure teams of the 20’s. Bob Casey was elected president of the new organization and some of the city’s finest baseball stars including George Scott, “Lefty” McHugh, Steg Zetarski, Dick Ryan, Otto Palau and others were signed on as coaches.

A new field was carved out of a sandy former dump area in the western end of Rockwell Park and named after Willis P. Frazier, a former Park Superintendent. Under the direction of Park Superintendent E. Gordon Stocks, the new field was created to Little League specifications with a clay “skin” infield, 60 foot base paths and wooden fences 186 feet from home plate.

In the spring of 1950 the call went out for players and nearly 800 from schools throughout the city signed up to try out for slots on four teams. The Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox and Yankees were formed with 12-man rosters. There were no minor league teams.

The first game was played on June 6, 1950 after Park Supt. Stocks threw out the first ball to Mayor James P. Casey. The Yankees nipped the Dodgers 3-2 in the opener. Steve White’s solo homer was the difference. Yankee pitcher Dick Busse fanned 13 and his Dodger opponent, Butch Achille, struck out 11.

The next night, Harold “Lefty” DeMars threw a one-hitter to lead the Giants over the Red Sox. The Giants went on to win the first league championship.

The following year the league expanded to six teams, adding the Tigers and Cardinals, but dropped back to four when the Dodgers and Giants were dropped in 1952.

In 1953, McCabe-Waters was declared ineligible for post season play by Little League baseball because Bristol’s population of 36,000 was beyond the 16,000 limit set by the national organization. So, in 1954, the city was split into two leagues and the Forestville Little League began its operation.

Two years later, in 1956, the Tigers of McCabe-Waters defeated the Dodgers of Forestville in the first ever City Series competition.

McCabe-Waters added a fifth team, the White Sox in 1957. That same year they became known throughout the state as the All Star team won the District four title and reached the finals of the state tournament before losing to Bridgeport. It was the first of more than a dozen District championships for McCabe-Waters teams.

Moved to the newly created District Five in 1958, McCabe-Waters again won the district title and lost to Darien in the semi finals of the state event.

Edgewood Little League made Bristol a three league city in 1959 and McCabe Waters began a period of change as many of the original founders began to drop out after a decade of building a successful program. John Leone took over as president in 1960.

McCabe-Waters challenged for the District title again in 1961, a tournament that featured the league’s first tournament no-hitter, hurled by Hank Czajkowski.

In 1964, a new cinder block field house and concession stand was erected and named after Bob Casey, the league’s president for its first ten years. That same year the league’s skin infield was replaced by grass and a new electronic scoreboard was added thanks to the generous donation and work of Superior Electric Co. The league also expanded that year adding the Mets as a sixth major league team.

Two years later, in 1966, the old wooden fence was torn down and replaced by chain link fence 200 feet from home plate.

The city series championship, held for one year and then abandoned in the mid 50’s was resurrected as a three way competition in 1967. Forestville’s Braves won the inaugural event but McCabe-Waters took the title with the Cardinals in 1968.

1968 also saw Frazier Field serve as a site for state tournament competition for the first time. District Five champion Yalesville took on North Haven in a state semi final game. 1968 also began an era of one team domination for the league. The Cardinals, under manager Ken Zetarski, won the league championship seven times between 1968 and 1978 running up a 19-1 record in 1969 that stood as the league’s winningest regular season mark until the 1996 Red Sox came in at 20-1.

McCabe-Waters won the District Five crown in 1971 and repeated the feat in 1973, losing both times in the quarter finals of the state.

By 1973 changing populations had made McCabe-Waters lag behind the city’s other leagues and so a boundary adjustment was made giving McCabe-Waters new territory west of Burlington Ave. that had previously been in the Edgewood territory.

With a full farm system now active and new life brought on by the new territory, the league added a second field and expanded to eight teams with the Pirates and Reds coming on board.

A field house and electronic scoreboard was erected on Field 2 in 1975. In 1976, the league made history by accepting its first female players, Callie Granger of the Cards and Shirley Winslow of the Mets, several years before the Williamsport organization recognized the rights of female players.

The league’s fifth District championship came in 1978, led by Mike Rothkugel’s perfect game in the championship contest.

Expansion continued in 1979 when an instructional T-Ball division was added to the rapidly growing minor league system and seven year olds were admitted for the first time.

The league expanded to ten major league teams with the addition of the Expos and A’s in 1982 but declining population forced a cutback to eight teams in 1983 and to seven with the elimination of the Reds in 1984.

The league began sponsoring a softball team in the Edgewood system in 1983 and in 1985 began operating its own four-team softball league at Frazier Field. The Expos, A’s, White Sox and Cardinals were the league’s first softball teams.  1984 was a landmark year for the league. The All Star team swept through District Five, state and regional competition to give the league its first representative at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Although they lost their first two games there, their eighth-in-the-world finish under manager Phil Bissonnette and coach Bill Gawitt brought the league new recognition.

The World Series led to new community support and financial stability. In 1985, through a generous donation from Craig Yarde and Yarde Metals, a batting cage was erected in the center field area. That year also marked the first time that the league charged a registration fee as it began to move into an era of financial strength.

The new community spirit and support led the league to a complete upgrade of its facilities over the next five years as improvements were made to the clubhouse, both fields were reconstructed, new dugouts and scoreboards were erected, the concession area was expanded, sprinkler systems were installed and new fencing and landscape work was completed to make Fraser Field one of the finest facilities in the state.

In 1988, the girls softball program, in only its fourth year of competition, gave McCabe-Waters its second state championship. Although they lost in the first round of the regional’s, their success helped generate a new enthusiasm for softball. On the baseball diamond, the Mets were league and city series champs.

By 1989, as it entered its 40th season, McCabe-Waters supported 28 teams at five levels including major and minor league baseball, instructional league, softball and senior softball. The registration mark climbed over the 400 mark for the first time since the city was split into three leagues.

In 1990, the minor league system was split into a AAA and AA division as the league grew to 30 teams. Enrollment grew to 460 and league officials started a campaign for new fields by working with the Park Department.

The Girls All Stars won their second state championship and went on to finish as the runners up in the Regional tournament. The White Sox won the league championship and the city series title.

In 1991, as enrollment continued to grow, the league expanded back to eight major league teams, adding the Giants. With AAA, AA, softball and T-Ball, there were a total of 33 teams. The Girls Softball All-Stars once again won the District Five championship.

Enrollments continued to rise over the next several years. In 1992 an additional girls softball team, the Angels, was added and league entered a softball minor league team in the Edgewood Little League

Application was made to the Park Department for permission to construct two new fields to meet the increased demand. In 1992 all T-Ball and AA games were played at off site locations. In the fall of 1992, a new field was constructed out of the former parking lot behind Field 2 so that some T-Ball and AA games could be brought back on site in 1993.

Approval and permits for a new full sized field on the former picnic area adjacent to the tennis courts in Rockwell Park were obtained in 1993 and construction began that fall as the league conducted an extensive fund raising campaign.

In the spring of 1993, in response to the school board’s dropping of middle school and freshman sports, McCabe-Waters initiated a senior league program for players aged 13-15 in conjunction with the Forestville and Edgewood Little Leagues. Five boys and two girls teams from McCabe-Waters joined in inter-league play with teams from the other two leagues.

In 1993 the Giants, in only their third year of existence, captured both the league and City Series championship with an outstanding team. In 1994, the Cardinals dominated the league for the first time in many years and went on to win the City Series championship. The White Sox were a powerhouse in softball.

For 1995, the league scaled back the softball program to four major league teams, dropping the White Sox, but had two minor league teams competing at their home site for the first time. Major league rosters were dropped to twelve and a new mandatory three-inning playing rule was adopted. The new Field 3 came on line bringing all games back to the Frazier Field site for the first time in many years.

The softball Red Sox were renamed the Blue Jays and as the Blue Jays made history by winning the first ever City Series championship for Girls after completing a strong sweep through the regular season. The Pirates also won their first ever league championship by beating the Yankees in a spirited playoff.

The 1996 Red Sox made league history with an unprecedented 26-1 record, sweeping to both the league and City series titles. The Dodgers kept the girls trophy at McCabe-Waters for the second straight year with a stirring comeback victory over the Forestville Marlins in their City Championship series.

In 1996 enrollment climbed again over the 600 mark forcing a restructuring of the league boundaries with Edgewood. A block of McCabe-Waters territory was turned over to Edgewood for the start of the 1997 season. For the 1997 season, the softball Cardinals were renamed the Reds and the T-Ball program was split into a six-year old and seven-year old division. The Mets won the league crown and the Dodgers swept to the softball title while the Softball All Stars again won the District Five championship.

The Pirates regained the city series championship for McCabe-Waters in 1998 after a strong season and playoff battle with the Giants. The Reds dominated the softball league but lost in the city series finals to a very strong team of Phillies from Forestville.

The league celebrated its 50th anniversary year in 1999 with a schedule of special events and activities including the formal anniversary celebration on May 16th. The league began the season with the dedication of Field II to Dave Greenleaf in recognition of more than 30 years of service to the league.

The softball Blue Jays completed an outstanding season by returning the city championship series trophy to the league for the 50th anniversary season. The Tigers captured the baseball crown led by the record breaking homerun pace of Nick Michaud.

In 2000 the league continued to face declining enrollments, dropping the minor league softball program from four teams to two and initiating interleague play with Edgewood and Forestville for minor softball.

The Giants claimed the baseball championship and went on the capture the city series title after upsetting the Yankees who were the regular season champions in the playoffs.

In 2001 the league completed several major renovations including a stairway to Field 3 and a replacement of the backstop which now rises to a height of over 50 feet to keep balls out of the concession area. Enrollment continued to drop, especially in softball as the league dropped to three teams and began interleague play on the major league level. T-Ball, AA and AAA team numbers were also reduced.

The Dodgers completed a dream season by capturing the city series softball crown. The Mets upset the Giants in the playoffs to claim the baseball title. Bristol’s junior league softball team, which included several McCabe-Waters players, won the state championship and put on a strong showing in the regional event.

Also in 2001, the T-Ball program was expanded to include 5-year olds for the first time and seven-year olds were allowed to compete at the AA level.

In 2002, the softball program dropped an additional major league team and interleague play was expanded to include Farmington and Plainville. The AAA level also lost a team, but increased enrollment of younger players prompted addition of a minor softball team and a T-Ball team.

The Yankees won the baseball championship and went down to the wire in one of the most thrilling city series finals ever, losing to the Edgewood Cardinals on an extra inning walk off homerun by Buggsy Miller.

Thanks to a grant from the Main Street Foundation, additional facility improvements were made including fencing to protect spectators in Field IV. New bullpens were constructed during the off season on all three fields and improvements were made to the sound system.

The league also continued to make progress with plans to construct a new concession stand.

In 2006 McCabe-Waters claimed another state title when the 9-10 baseball team rolled through the district and sectional tournaments and won two straight in the best of three state championships series. McCabe-Waters also claimed city series championships in both baseball and softball. The Cardinals won the regular season and playoff titles and pulled out a thrilling extra innings win over the Edgewood Phillies to claim the city crown. The Reds ended the Dodgers streak in softball and went on to claim the city series crown with a playoff round sweep.

In 2007 the same group of players who claimed a 10-year old title the year before added an 11-year old state championship giving McCabe-Waters its first ever back-to-back state crowns. The team sailed through district regional and state play to win the crown. McCabe-Waters also claimed another city series championships in baseball when the Yankees rolled to the championship after claiming the league crown in a tight playoff series.

In 2008 McCabe-Waters claimed its first District Five baseball championship since 1984 with the same group of players who had won the state championships as ten year olds and 11 year olds in the previous two years. Although eliminated on a tie breaker in the sectional play downs, the team enjoyed a very successful season. The Cardinals claimed the league championship.

2008 was also the year in which the girls softball program was split off from the McCabe-Waters family to join a new city wide Bristol Girls Little League softball program. While the girls continued to play many of their games at the McCabe-Waters facility, they became a separate organization and developed a strong program drawing players from all over the city of Bristol.

The League continued to reorganize through the 2009 season as the Giants won the championship and claimed the City Series title. It was also an expansion year as the league gained approval to admit players residing in Wolcott. While the initial enrollment was small, the league looked forward to the potential of an expanded population base as registrations continued to shrink to the lowest level in more than 30 years.

In 2010 a new era dawned at McCabe-Waters when night baseball came to the league for the first time on the newly renovated Field 3 diamond. The league also entered into an interleague playing agreement with Forestville Little League for a series of games. The White Sox claimed the league championship.