Newton, Sprague smacked memorable Small Fry homers

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BRATTLEBORO — Back when the cool kids had a collection of Matchbox cars, the Cardinals were riding Ronald Stinson's hot bat to victory.

In this town's first Small Fry contest ever, Stinson went 5-for-5 to lead "the Redbirds" to a 21-5 victory over the Dodgers at the Crowell Lot on June 24, 1957.

Brattleboro's youth baseball league for ages 8-11 has also held games at Academy School, Living Memorial Park, and Larry Robinson Field. The players did the hurling until 1980, but coaches have been the pitchers ever since — with each batter getting a maximum of five offerings.

Kevin Sprague instantly became a Small Fry legend with one swing of the bat during the 1984 All-Star game. The slugger hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to give the American League a thrilling 24-22 decision over the National League.

His incredible power may have come from using a joystick, with Pac-Man and Frogger being a couple of the top Atari games at that time.

One year later, Joe Belair would ride off into the sunset after his R.S. Roberts team defeated Loney's 16-6 to capture the crown. The longtime coach then took his players to Wendy's in order to celebrate.

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And Jesse Hall's three-run blast, which kids at the park may have missed while glued to their Game Boy, was the highlight when The Experiment earned the trophy in 1989.

He likely perfected that sweet swing at the A-O Field. It was where kids were dropped off to play catch, run the bases, take part in sliding drills, get in some batting practice, and work on their "He's no hitter" or "She's no hitter" chants.

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Nobody bothered singing that song to Cameron Ward, who went 3-for-3 to power American Legion to an 11-5 win over Steve's Auto in 2003. It was the team's third consecutive Small Fry championship.

A.L. also had another powerhouse a few years later, winning it all in 2010 and 2011. Adam Newton belted a three-run bomb versus Fleming Oil in the 2011 title tilt, helping coach Chris Millerick's team cap off a perfect 16-0 season.

"This is a great group of kids. They played with respect and cheered on their teammates all season long," said Millerick, whose 2011 lineup card had names such as his son Tyler, Chris Frost, Newton, Rachael Rooney, and Hailey Derosia on it.

You have to wonder what that dynasty would have done against the 1968 Cardinals or 1972 Bears using the old-school rules. John Hill spun a one-hitter when the former bested the Giants 14-2 for all the marbles, and Tim Barrett struck out 15 when the latter routed the Pirates 13-0 to earn the trophy.

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Judge Ernest W. Gibson threw out the ceremonial first pitch to town manager George Miller to begin the inaugural Small Fry season in 1957. Among the players in the league that year was Dana Zelenakas, who would later join the US Ski Team.

Brattleboro's youth baseball league would eventually start holding tryouts and have coaches choose players during a draft at the Central Fire Station. The Yanks got a steal in 1963, when they picked up a five-tool player named Ken Whitworth.

The Easy-Bake Oven was the most popular toy back then, but it's unknown whether or not "Red" ever swapped his batting gloves in for pot holders.

Players have sold candy bars and American flags door-to-door to keep Small Fry going over the years. There was even a benefit roast beef supper at Odd Fellows Hall in 1962, with former pro baseball player Stan Benjamin serving as the guest speaker.

Benjamin, who played for both the Phillies and Indians, retired from the majors 12 years before Stinson pounded out five hits during Brattleboro's inaugural Small Fry game at the Crowell Lot.


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