Brattleboro Little League entering 69th season
BRATTLEBORO — Odds are that Art Freeman had the green light to steal whenever he got on base.
The young shortstop, who would go on to run a 4:11 mile at Boston University and have the Brattleboro Union High School track named in his honor, went 2-for-3 to help the Bears to a 5-1 victory over the Lions in this town's first ever Little League game on June 14, 1952.
"A Main Street parade introduced the Little League to the town," is how the Reformer phrased it, referring to the color guard, St. Michael's band, BUHS band, league sponsors, and players marching from The Common to the railroad station in order to kick off the inaugural season.
Brattleboro area kids have been selling stickers door-to-door and stuffing gum into their mouth ever since.
Bears' ace Warren Neumeister can only wonder what might have been, having missed the deciding game of the 1959 World Series after being injured in a bicycle accident. Kirk Nims hit .472 for the Yankees in 1968 to walk away with the batting title. Joe Shield, who would later be drafted by the Green Bay Packers, fanned a dozen and threw a no-hitter for the Dodgers on May 25, 1974.
Only ages 8-12 boys were eligible at that time, but girls would soon be allowed to play. Kathy Georgina, Courtney Christmas, Val Annis, Alisha Valentine, Devin Millerick, Hailey Derosia and Rachael Rooney were among the best.
"Hailey was a tremendous baseball player," said Brattleboro Little League Commissioner David Cyr, who started running the show along with Darrell Sawyer around 2000. "Devin was very good, but she is a lefty and that makes it hard to play certain positions in the field."
Rooney hit a walk-off RBI single versus the Red Sox in 2013, helping the Pirates cap off a 15-0 season. Other recent teams to go undefeated were the 2009 Marlins, 2010 A's, 2014 Pirates, 2016 A's and 2018 A's.
The first perfect regular season may have come in 1956, when Alan Orvis singled twice and also belted two homers as the Braves trounced the Bears to finish with an 18-0 record. But that year is best remembered for a tragedy that took place in Texas — Richard Oden, 12, was hit in the head by a pitch and eventually died from it.
Players would begin wearing youth football helmets over their caps when hitting. Aluminum bats were first used 15 years later.
Steve Houle was swinging one in 1971, going 2-for-5 and driving in a couple of runs to power Brattleboro to victory in a district All-Star game. It wasn't long before "the Dancing Bear" would be crushing softballs over the fence at Memorial Park.
"Al Libardoni's Cubs teams were very good," responded Cyr, when asked about powerhouses he has seen on the South Main Street field since he began filling out lineup cards in 1985.
Current BUHS football coach Chad Pacheco played for the 1997 Cubbies that went 16-0. John Martell, John Brown and Libardoni made up that unbeaten team's coaching staff.
Four years later, Danny Almonte had everyone's attention — we found out that the Bronx, N.Y. pitcher who hurled a perfect game in Williamsport was actually 14-years-old.
Those who played for arguably the best Brattleboro Little League team ever assembled are now approaching 25. Paul McAuliffe coached those 2009 All-Stars past Bennington (districts) and Essex Town (states), before losing to Rhode Island 4-3 in the New England Regional semifinals. Kassidi Ramirez earned a pair of pool play victories in Connecticut, and also had a team-high batting average of .500.
Brattleboro Little League's greatest manager ever could be Barry Merkle, who bought a hot dog for his Giants players whenever they went deep. And first baseman Shane Wetherby (1986-1987) usually earned himself a free dinner.
With announcer Scott Smyth watching from his booth, Zinabu McNeice hit 10 big flies for the A's during the 2016 season and then Sam Hall homered 16 times for the Giants the following year.
You can decide if either of those players belong on the All-Time Team, which likely has a speed demon from the 1952 Bears leading off and former league batting champ Kirk Nims not far behind him in the order.
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