SWANTON — When Larry Trombley moved to Swanton, he had no idea he’d lead the MVU Thunderbirds baseball team through a truly golden era.
Trombley, a native of Northfield, Vt., had a success story predating the MVU championship years. He was on the 1968 baseball team that won the first-ever title in Northfield High School’s history.
“I was the pitcher who beat Harwood,” said Trombley, smiling, “and that same year, we had also gone to the state finals in basketball. We lost to Sacred Heart in that game.”
After graduation, Trombley enrolled at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, where he played soccer and baseball. He was selected as a captain of the soccer team his senior year.
Trombley’s college baseball career ended after his sophomore year, due to events beyond his control, but his final season was an eventful one.
On May 4, 1970, the Kent State shootings took place, leaving 13 unarmed Kent State student-protesters dead at the Ohio National Guard’s hands.
“All the schools were closed, and everyone was told to go home and take their mid-semester grade. It’s the only other time, except for this year, that something like that has happened,” explained Trombley.
While the rest of the student body went home, the baseball team at Assumption remained on campus to finish the season.
The following year, Trombley began student teaching and had to step away from the game.
Trombley, who had made the acquaintance of Jack Eldridge years earlier, ran into him at a softball tournament in Northfield after college.
“Jack was there with Joe Fiarkoski, who was the athletic director at MVU at the time,” said Trombley. “I mentioned to them that I was looking for a change and that I’d be interested in moving to northern Vermont.”
That evening, Trombley had a call from Eldridge asking him if he ‘wanted to work.’
Trombley interviewed for the position on a Monday morning, was hired for the job that afternoon, and began work at MVU on Wednesday.
“I was teaching four-year-olds in Massachusetts on Friday, and Wednesday, I had 32 high school seniors in a hallway!”
Trombley’s students included Richard Berthiaume, Shari (Gingras) Bashaw, Jeff Domey, and Pat Roach.
“The coincidences I’ve had in my life have been just phenomenal,” said Trombley, chuckling.
Eldridge, who helped Trombley secure the MVU teaching position, had been Trombley’s teacher in the seventh grade.
“Jack was fresh out of Johnson State College when I had him as a teacher. He had worked on the missile silo in Alburg, and he taught us about the silos and how they were constructed. That was the first lesson he taught, and I still remember it today!”
Eldridge and Fiarkoski immediately encouraged Trombley to coach. He took on a combined seventh and eighth grade, co-ed soccer team as his first challenge.
He also coached the girls’ middle school basketball team, a team packed with talented young ladies, many who’d go on to compete in state tournaments in high school.
Keri Corey, Kim Isham, Chandra Paradee, Kelly Coleman, Jackie Boudreau and Emily Prouty were the team’s core. They went 48-2 on the season over three years.
Trombley coached alongside Jim Bashaw with the middle school boys basketball team, coaching young Matt Luneau, who would later coach at the collegiate level and lead the Enosburg boys’ basketball varsity team to the program’s first title in 2017.
“Jim was one of the best coaches I’ve ever been associated with. He had it all covered. He’d say he was teaching his athletes more about life than about basketball,” said Trombley.
Trombley recalled Bashaw’s Campbell’s Pork and Beans award.
“After every game, he’d assign the Campbell’s Pork and Beans award to the Player of the Game, and those kids loved that. They’d do anything for that can,” said Trombley, chuckling.
In 1980, Trombley took over the JV boys baseball team after Bashaw stepped down.
“We had a running joke about that. His last year, 1979, the JV team went 0-15, and Jack won the state title with the varsity team that year,” said Trombley.
As he crafted his coaching style, Trombley gained a greater understanding of the impact a coach can have on his players.
“I attended a celebration for my high school baseball coach; at one point, he talked with me, and I realized there were two voices that impacted me that way: my father’s and my coach’s,” said Trombley.
“That’s powerful; the power of the coach is considerable. I tried to carry that with me.”
By the time he was in his thirties, Trombley was offered the varsity coaching position at MVU; the rest is history.
“Things like this don’t happen unless a lot of things come together at the same time,” said Trombley, pointing to the newspaper clippings from the MVU baseball title years.
The 1986 team was comprised of twelve young men, many of whom Trombley had coached in soccer and basketball.
“I knew these kids well, and they knew me. We had built deep relationships of trust,” said Trombley.
Trombley took many of his coaching tips from a single clinic with Jack Legget, who was coaching baseball at UVM at the time.
“Jack demonstrated everything himself and covered every aspect of the game. We incorporated everything he taught in every pre-game and every practice,” said Trombley.
“I tried to give my guys as many repetitions as I could. Baseball is a game of very fine-tuned skill, and that’s why it’s so difficult to play.”
Dan Bose, Trombley’s assistant coach, gave hours of batting practice and one-on-one instruction to the players, and before every game, he covered the dugout in inspirational quotes.
“Dan was phenomenal, the nicest man you’d ever meet,” said Trombley. “His style and my style just dovetailed beautifully.”
Dan’s brother Pat was a three-sport athlete at MVU who played alongside Todd and Matt Raleigh, cornerstones of the MVU state championship baseball teams.
Pat went on to play baseball at UVM for four years, serving as the starting shortstop in his junior and senior years. Donald Bruyette was a four-year pitcher for UVM during that same time period.
Trombley made sure the players got a hundred swings a day and plenty of glove work. He purchased a ‘half’ a batting cage for tennis ball toss, and the boys went to work.
In ‘85, the MVU baseball team won five games as they transitioned from Division II to Division I and from the Lake to the Metro.
When the Senior Babe Ruth program was established, Trombley noticed a change.
“My players, including the Raleigh brothers, started competing with the Burlington and Essex kids regularly,” said Trombley.
In 1986, the MVU kids who’d played against the Chittenden County teams came up to the varsity level.
The Thunderbirds went 19-1 in ‘86, falling only to undefeated Burlington 3-2 during the regular season. In the finals, the Burlington Free Press headline said it all.
“Missisquoi Dashes Burlington’s Undefeated Season’, and we did,” said Trombley, smiling.
The following year, MVU earned a second title, defeating BFA St. Albans in a one-run game against prestigious head coach Perry Bove.
In 1988, the Thunderbirds secured their third DI title, thanks to the incredible baseball prowess of Matt Raliegh.
“I’ve thought about having a reunion, and some of the players have too. My dream for years was to have everyone in front of the TeePee on my lawn. My neighbor had a beautiful ‘57 Thunderbird convertible we could stand around,” said Trombley.
Ultimately, Trombley credits John Raleigh with a lot of the success the teams enjoyed in the late ‘80s.
“John inspired his younger brothers. With his death, his younger brothers had that much extra motivation--and that’s what it takes to be as great as they became.”
Todd and Matt Raleigh both went on to play for Western Carolina University.
“In those days, no high school player from Vermont could make it into a big-time, southern, Division I school for baseball,” said Trombley.
“Matt was Rookie of the Year in the league, Conference Player of the Year in his senior year, and still holds the conference record with sixty-eight home runs.”
Matt went to the Minor Leagues, and for two years led the Minor Leagues in home runs.
“He had 37 home runs in an abbreviated season, but he never made it to the majors. In today’s baseball, he would have made it; his power would have been good enough to get him there,” said Trombley. “The home run is king, now.”
Todd was signed by the Red Sox as a free agent and did very well in Florida.
“Jim Rice was a big supporter of Todd’s, but they had two ‘bonus babies’ signed in front of him. He’d play a game, get a double and a single, and do really well behind the plate, but then wouldn’t play for three games. He had someone who was paid a lot more money ahead of him,” explained Trombley.
Matt suffered a devastating shoulder injury in his prime, and Todd tore his rotator cuff.
After leaving the minors, Todd was eventually named the head coach of the baseball program at Western Carolina. His success at Western led to a head coaching position at Tennessee.
“The Raleighs accomplished so much more in baseball than anyone else in Vermont had. Matt was inducted into the MVU Hall of Fame two years ago. I gave the induction speech, and I said it then, and I’ll say it now: Matt Raleigh is the greatest high school baseball player who’s ever played in the state of Vermont.”