Editor’s note: The Union Leader is bringing back some of the late Joe Sullivan’s Union Leader sports columns. This one was originally published on Jan. 20, 2009.
IT HIT ME as time rocketed by in a blur of sports anecdotes: The people doing the story-telling could easily teach a college course called something like New Hampshire Sports: Its Lore, People and History.
Thursday mornings at 10 at the Dunkin’ Donuts on South Willow Street in Manchester, a group of people who have played, watched, coached, officiated, but more than anything have celebrated New Hampshire sports, gathers to see where its weekly conversation will take them.
I have spent my life surrounded by people who know far more than I do, so I was right at home with them last Thursday.
Two weeks earlier, I had opened my e-mail and discovered an invitation.
Hi all of you fine folks who have been attending the Thursday morning coffee club chatting conferences at the South Willow Street Dunkin’ Donuts.
We will be starting up the 2009 meetings on Thursday, January 8, at the same time, 10 a.m.
Hope you will be able to join us all and share some wonderful holiday stories and of course the old-time stories that seem to go over real big even when they are embellished a little.
Let’s get back to our conferences and start the new year off right.
— Ray Valliere Sr.
I wanted in for the first week but nasty weather prevented me from making it.
The next week, though, I attended and had the story-listening time of my life. Stories abounded. Valliere led the way but he had an able posse of Butch Joseph, Beaver Jutras and Bob Pelletier. They told me that people dropped in and out weekly and there was a chance that Chuck Wiggin Sr., Tom Monson, Rollie Hardwick, Mike Cullinan, Hubie McDonough or Dave Andrews, among others, might pay a visit.
They didn’t, but they weren’t needed, at least on this Thursday morning.
One name triggered a story that triggered more stories with more names. It was a trigger-happy morning.
Valliere remembered umpiring an American Legion baseball game between Sweeney Post and Concord Post. Mike Flanagan pitched for Sweeney; Joe Lefebvre pitched for Concord. Early in the game, Concord manager Averill Cate walked by Valliere, who always had a generous strike zone, and grumbled, “You don’t have to help Flanagan tonight. He doesn’t need it.” Cate was right.
The game went 12 innings, Flanagan went the distance and struck out 31. Sweeney won, 3-2.
Flanagan talk led to the Baltimore Orioles and one of the best minor-league catchers in that team’s organization — Guy Lavalliere, father of former major-leaguer Mike Lavalliere.
I learned that father Lavalliere, after a great year in Triple-A baseball in Aberdeen, Texas, was informed that he would be called up to the parent club. However, just before he was set to join the O’s, the team traded for another catcher: Gus Triandos.
He joined Baltimore and Lavalliere stayed in the minors, where he finished his 12-year professional career.
Beaver Jutras said that while at Aberdeen, Lavalliere caught pitchers Ted Abernathy, Jerry Walker, Milt Pappas, Chuck Estrada and Bo Belinski. All five of those guys made the majors and then made some noise and they all threw hard. However, Jutras said that when he asked Lavalliere who was the hardest thrower he had ever seen, the answer was Steve Dalkowski.
The topic of fear-inducing fastballs brought Pelletier into the conversation and he talked about facing the late Tommy Adams of Salisbury in a Tri-Mountain Baseball League game. “Fastest pitcher I ever faced,” Pelletier admitted.
The Tri-Mountain reference produced a whole new roster of names and teams. Valliere remembered a pitcher from Pittsfield named Leland French. He pitched for Salisbury and was discovered by Leo Cloutier during his days as a sports writer for this paper. “Leo referred to him as “the phenom from Pittsfield,” Valliere remembered.
Goffstown’s team in the league (nicknamed the Ghosts) attracted players like Lippy Durocher, Paul Tsatsa, Ken Wade, Tuffy Phelps, Bobby Allaire and Hank Demers.
But as talented as Goffstown was, it could never beat Milford with the likes of Hardwick and Monson, Jim Herrick, Peter Merrill, Jim McGettigan and Happy Webster.
Antrim organized a team for a couple of years, headed by Jerry and Pat Beauchamp.
Tri-Mountain baseball led to Tri-Mountain basketball and to one of the few names on the day that I didn’t recognize — George Willey. When I confessed that I had never heard of him, the four historians informed me that he played quarterback for UNH and without a doubt was Derry’s greatest athlete of all time.
“In one Tri-Mountain game,” Valliere confessed, “we double-teamed him every second. He only scored 51 points that night.”
So much for my belief that Windham’s Ryan Mihalko was Derry’s greatest-ever athlete.
Oh. I did slightly doctor the e-mail I received inviting me to the Thursday morning sports seminar. I cut one sentence so I could place it at the end of this column.
And please feel free to invite or bring along anyone else who would like to join in our weekly get-togethers.
See you Thursday?