ST. ALBANS — While Larry Trombley and the Thunderbirds were working to earn a DI repeat title, Chris Smith and the BFA Bobwhites were chasing a title of their own.
The teams met at Centennial for an in-county matchup of epic proportions; MVU walked away with the win, but both teams had stories to tell.
Smith, who would graduate in ‘87 was part of the powerhouse BFA team that roared through the ‘87 playoffs.
“The ‘87 varsity baseball team was a special team. We had a great coach in Perry Bove and a great mix of seniors and underclassmen. Everyone worked hard, and the team just got better and better as the season progressed.” Smith said.
Members of the baseball team had also been part of the basketball team that secured the ‘87 DI state title just months earlier.
“It was the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, but experiencing those things four months apart was very helpful and powerful in building who I am as a person,” said Smith.
“There have been instances where I’ve drawn on those experiences throughout my life. We worked really hard for three years for that title, and the loss didn’t take that work away.
“You’re always working toward the opportunity, but it doesn’t always mean you get the desired outcome.”
To make things even more interesting, Smith and some of his Bobwhite teammates played Senior Babe Ruth with members of the MVU baseball team.
In the summer of 1986, the Franklin County Senior Babe Ruth team won the Babe Ruth State Tournament and went to the New England Regional Tournament, where they lost in the semifinal game.
“In thinking about it 33 years later, there’s still that ‘what if.’ To lose, not just to another team, but people you know very well--you know them as people, and you can feel good for them for the accomplishment,” said Smith.
“At the same time, you see even closer that it could have been you! If Martin Rickert doesn’t make that catch in the outfield...it’s one run, and maybe just maybe you get back in the game.”
For Smith, the race to the title game was one he’ll never forget. The fifth seed Bobwhites started their title run against Rice High School (13).
“If I look at it from the BFA side--we went on a run,” said Smith.
Matt Gazo, Rice’s ace, struck out the first two Bobwhites, but Smith came to the plate and hit a home run to dead center at the Collins Perley Complex. Fred Langevin hit a grand slam in the 3rd inning and the rout was on. The Bobwhites went on to win 13-1.
Next, the Bobwhites headed to Hartford (4), where their sophomore pitcher, Mike Parent name, had ‘the game of his life.’ The Bobwhites scored 12 runs and secured the win.
The No. 1 seed, Brattleboro, was next on the list. The Bobwhites faced the Hurricanes’ ace, Jimmy Desrocher..
“We really hit as a team against Brattleboro. We had a mix of sophomores and seniors and everyone had big hits that day.” said Smith, smiling.
“We were all over him and won 17-7. We had scored 45 runs in three games. We were on this roll, and it was to the point where we felt we could beat anyone you put in front of us.”
The DI semi final was played on Tuesday; the final, at Centennial, was scheduled to be played on Friday night.
Matt Raliegh had thrown for the Thunderbirds in the semifinal and was ineligible for the Friday start, but bad weather forced a reschedule, and Raleigh took the mound.
Smith recalled the excitement as the two hard-hitting Franklin County teams prepared to face each other.
“MVU had beaten people up too, and everyone thought it would be a real shootout,” said Smith, chuckling.
“They beat us 2-1 on a couple of infield singles, and we scored a run. I remember hitting a sinking line drive in the top of the seventh that would have scored a run, but Rickert, MVU’s center fielder, made a great play. Baseball is a game of inches, that’s the way it is.”
In the early 90s, Smith began a ten-year coaching career at BFA St. Albans. He assisted Ken Fairchild with the varsity basketball team. He also assisted Larry Trombley, who had left MVU and come to coach baseball at BFA.
“One thing I didn’t realize playing against Larry and his teams was his intensity. That’s something that didn’t come across on the field to me as an opposing player,” said Smith.
“The best officials in a game are the ones you don’t know are there. I would use that analogy with the way that I saw Larry with those MVU teams.
“When I coached with Larry, I saw the standards, expectations, and the presence he had with the teams. It made sense to me because I saw the way those teams played.”
Smith still values the time he spent with coaches like Trombley, Fairchild, Dan Marlow, and Bashaw.
“One of the things I realized early in my career was that it wasn’t about who you want to emulate; it’s about who you are and what you can learn from others to help your build your own identity.
“That’s a process that never ends--if you continue to coach and be a good leader of young men and women, you keep learning and innovating.”
As the interview came to a close, Smith reflected on the two young men on the mound at Centennial 33 years ago.
“We had Matt Johnson going for us and they had Matt Raleigh. Matt Johnson is arguably the best high school basketball player to play in Vermont and Matt Raleigh is possibly the best baseball player to come out of Vermont,” said Smith.
“Both of them went on to have stellar college careers in their respected sports. Most importantly they were two of the most intense competitors you’d ever play against.”
“That was my thought on looking back on those guys facing each other. Nobody wanted to lose on that field, but MVU was one run better.
“I look back on it, and I have so many fond memories of that spring and that time.”