Trumbull, Connecticut is a town of about 36,000 where you can feel baseball. It’s in the dirt and emerald-green grass of the diamonds. Mainly, it’s in the air. People talk baseball incessantly in a community whose identity is tied to the sport.
When people hear the name Trumbull, they think of the Little League World Series champions of 1989.
Ted Shipley grew up in that community and, not surprisingly, gravitated to the game. He is in his 19th season as Castleton University baseball coach. He boasts a record of 456-282, and when the Spartans went 30-12 last season it marked the sixth time in the last nine years that they have won at least 30 games.
But his life took an unusual twist after high school and it involved another sport. He went to Northern Arizona University to ski race.
Shipley had taken up skiing as a high school senior and raced that year. He obviously loved it and set off to the mountains of Flagstaff to race at the college level.
But when he got there, the Lumberjacks dropped skiing.
It was off to Lyndon State, now Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.
“They had a ski team,” Shipley said of his decision to come to northern Vermont.
He played a sport every season for the Hornets. He ran cross-country in the fall, was a ski racer in the winter, and then played baseball in the spring.
He was a shortstop and outfielder who batted well over .300, so it was baseball as much as anything that earned him a place in the Lyndon State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007, 21 years after graduating.
Then began the odyssey that would take him to Castleton. He taught physical education and coached at Waynflete School in Portland, Maine, before arriving at Vermont Tech to coach basketball and baseball in 1995. He came to Castleton to coach basketball and baseball in 2000.
The basketball team struggled and he soon began coaching just one sport, which made recruiting for baseball a lot more manageable.
”I don’t think recruiting ever gets easy but it got less hard,” Shipley said.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college athletics, and it never stops.
“Pretty much, recruiting is daily,” Shipley said.
His baseball teams have been extremely successful. The Spartans have been the scourge of the North Atlantic Conference, winning the last five NAC postseason tournaments to secure the league’s automatic NCAA tournament berth.
He has done it by scheduling an arduous spring trip each February or March, playing the best NCAA Division III competition possible. One year it included a California excursion that had the Spartans meeting defending national champion Cal Lutheran among other powerhouses.
This year the Spartans open the season at Occidental College in California on Feb. 22 against Whitworth from Washington state.
But another brick in the foundation of CU baseball success has been Shipley stressing that his players keep playing the game throughout the summer. They have played in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, leagues in the Carolinas, New York and New Jersey. Two of his pitchers, Mike LaBeau and Devin Hayes, even played in the Alaska Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
Shipley estimates that about 75 percent of his players compete in a college summer baseball league each year.
“There are new leagues popping up all the time,” Shipley said. “There is a lot of opportunity. Some of the leagues are money makers. You have to find places our guys can afford.”
Some leagues have a pretty high caliber of play, others are not nearly as good.
Shipley said the level of play is important and now, with the Spartans leaving the NAC to compete in the higher-quality Little East Conference in 2019, it will be more important to have them playing a high level of baseball in the summer.
He also hits the recruiting trail hard.
College of St. Joseph baseball coach Cam Curler, who played shortstop for Shipley at Castleton for four years, believes there is another reason for the coach’s success.
“Coach Shipley is super organized and prepared. There are so many things that happen in baseball that you can’t control and so much that goes into being a collegiate student athlete, that I always felt his level of preparation played a big role in our success at Castleton,” Curler said.
“Practice or game day, we always knew our roles and exactly what the day was going to look like. It made it easier for us to show up and consistently perform at a high level.”
A deep and talented pitching staff has been a constant during the successful run. The rubber-armed Tyler Erickson was one of the most memorable.
One day, the Spartans were on the bus for a key doubleheader against Colby-Sawyer. A sweep would give the Spartans the crown.
Erickson sat next to Shipley on the bus and began talking him into allowing him to do the unconventional by pitching him in both ends of the doubleheader.
Erickson was as persuasive as he was hard to hit. He fired two complete-game victories that day.
“His pitch count in the first game was miniscule. It was like 76,” Shipley said. “He wanted to go again the next day. He could do stuff the others couldn’t. He stands out for that reason.”
The Little East is one of the highest-regarded Division III baseball conferences in the country. Eastern Connecticut and the University of Southern Maine have represented the LEC by winning national championships.
“The Little East is a challenge, if you like challenges. And I like challenges,” Shipley said.
Trumbull has produced Craig Breslow, who went on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Chris Drury, a member of that 1989 Trumbull Little League World Series winner, has hoisted Stanley Cups.
Shipley would love to join his hometown’s list of luminaries as the coach of a Little East Conference champion.
In a league that had both UMass-Boston and Southern Maine ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams at the end of the 2018 season, that will be a challenge.
Then again, Ted Shipley likes challenges.
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