Baseball is a geometry teacher’s delight. The game is steeped in sacred measurements. Everyone knows the bases are 90 feet apart and Red Sox fans know the height of the Green Monster is 37 feet. Every ardent fan knows the distance down the lines and into the power alleys of their favorite team’s stadium.
But the game within the game is the 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitching rubber and the plate. That battle between the pitcher and catcher is the essence of the game. The legendary Connie Mack is supposed to have said that pitching is 75 percent of baseball.
The high school baseball season is bearing down on us and the Vermont college teams are well into the season. Let’s celebrate some of the pitchers who have made the game memorable in our little state, one for each foot in that precious piece of land on our baseball diamonds.
60 — Ernie Johnson. He was approached in a study hall at Brattleboro High School about a tryout and the rest is history. He had a great career pitching for the Braves and an even better one in their broadcast booth. In nine major league seasons, he only had one losing campaign.
59 — Jeff Vigneau. Let’s stay in Brattleboro. Vigneau became a marvel for the Brattleboro Post 5 American Legion baseball team in the 1970s and was dubbed the Iron Man because he always pitched the full seven innings of the first game of a doubleheader and the first five of the second one. He wouldn’t have liked all this emphasis on pitch counts.
58 — Dave McGinn. OK, one more before we pull out of town onto I-91. He earned a spot in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd for pitching the Brattleboro Colonels to the 1978 state title by allowing one earned run in 26 playoff innings. Oh yeah, he just coached his St. Johnsbury Academy basketball team to a state title.
57 — Billy Ryan. The Fair Haven star began his career in professional baseball in a big way, going 13-5 with Class C Boise in 1961. He climbed to Double A Austin in the Texas League two years later and became very successful in the TV industry.
56 — Gary Parmenter. The Mount Anthony star pitcher made it a convenient drive for hometown fans by giving them a short journey to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he pitched in the Cubs organization. I felt some sadness one day after his career was over and we were watching a Legion game in Bennington. The talk turned to Chicago Cubs player Jerome Walton and Parmenter said to us that it should have been Jerome Walton and himself up there with the Cubs.
55 — Doug LaCoss. He was from Lebanon, New Hampshire, but he pitched for the White River American Legion baseball team. Man, was he fast. I think I had one foot in the dugout when I batted against him. The next day I read he was signed by the Orioles and would be pitching for the club in Bluefield.
54 — Hank and Terry Champine. I’ll put them together because they were brothers. Growing up in my neighborhood, they put in countless hours wearing out their father’s catcher’s mitt. I caught for Terry a little bit on Green Square in Proctor. I always had a sore hand afterwards. They were both very good pitchers for Proctor High School.
53 — Bob Valliant. The Oxbow Union High School star started his professional career with Calgary in the Pioneer rookie league and ascended to Class A West Palm Beach before he was done. Saw his name the other day on the roster of the Woodsville River Rats in the Vermont Senior Baseball League for the 2019 season at age 56.
52 — Scott Morse. Dubbed “The Heater” for his smoke when he pitched for Bellows Falls Union High School. He had a minor league career that began with Daytona Beach in 1986.
51 — Kevin “Goofy” Keefe. A Bellows Falls pitcher of earlier vintage. He had a great minor league career from 1974-81. He was 17-3 over two straight seasons for Triple A Albuquerque and always felt the Dodgers never gave him a fair shake because of calling up pitchers who did not perform as well as he did because they had more money invested in them.
50 — Joe Brown. The recent Poultney High graduate has pitched five innings for Endicott College this season without allowing a run.
49 — Ian Rebhan. Pitcher for Black River and Ithaca College. Rebhan loved baseball, catching the love of the game in large part from his coach at Black River, Jim O’Neil. After graduating from Ithaca, he found a way to stay in the game as a coordinator of amateur scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
48 — Mike Ballou. Pitched for his father Jim Ballou at South Royalton High School and the South Royalton Post 51 team before pitching in the Division I College World Serious in Omaha for legendary Maine coach John Winkin.
47 — Dylan McCarthy. Only a freshman at Green Mountain Union High School. Keep an eye on him. Has pitched for some elite travel teams quite successfully.
46 — Doug Bridge. Pitched for Hartford’s Legion baseball team at the Northeast Regional at Gill Stadium in Manchester, New Hampshire.
45 — Dick Boutilier — A dominant pitcher for Windsor High School in the 1960s.
44 — Ryan Bellomo. The Rutlander is a captain for Division I Siena College coming out of the bullpen this season.
43 — Casey Harman. The South Burlington great pitched for Vermonter Jack Leggett at Clemson and was signed by the Cubs. Pitched in the minors in 2011 and 2012.
42 — Matt Messier. Pitched for Lake Region and then Division I St. John’s before transferring to Division II power Southern New Hampshire University, where he is on the staff this season. Has a 1.93 ERA out of the pen.
41 — Dan Hunt. Had an outstanding career for Whitcomb High and then for Springfield College.
40 — Rick Conti. A great pitcher for Spaulding High and for the Barre Post 10 Legion baseball team during some of its glory years. Great to see Post 10 coming back into the fold this summer.
39 — Warren Brooks. A standout pitcher for South Burlington and Amherst College.
38 — Ryan Carter. The 2009 Vermont Gatorade Pitcher of the Year from Proctor High who went on to pitch for Division I Hartford University.
37 — Buddy LaMothe. There was an outcry from the Northeast Kingdom in 2009. Lyndon Institute fans thought the Gatorade award should have gone to LaMothe. He was a can’t-miss pro prospect who was throwing 97 mph when he was paralyzed in a water accident while pitching for San Jacinto Junior College in Texas.
36 — Leif Bigelow. A standout pitcher for Bratteboro Union High and Brattleboro Post 5 who signed with UConn.
35 — Greg Birsky. He was inducted into the Springfield High School Hall of Fame on March 9. One of the greatest games I ever saw was a pitching duel between him and Windsor’s Ricky Rugg.
34 — Ricky Rugg. I can’t even remember who won that duel between Rugg and Birsky. Just that it was 1-0 and I was mesmerized.
33 — Shane Stacey. One of the best to pitch for Rutland High.
32 — Charlie and Tommy Hughes. Another brother combo. Dominant for West Rutland.
31 — John Dimick. One of the greatest ever from the state. Pitched for Hardwick Academy in the 1960s and for Barre Post 10. Things might have been different if Vietnam had not intervened. Beat Proctor 2-1 in 12 innings at Norwich University in a playoff classic.
30 — Ray Pentkowski. He was Dimick’s adversary in that game. Later became a school superintendent in Vermont.
29 — Josh Beayon. Outstanding Otter Valley left-hander on the way to Keene State to play baseball. Should be ready for a great senior season.
28 — Rayne Supple. The CVU standout went on to have a great career at Wake Forest. Signed by Colorado and pitched for the Grand Junction Rockies in the Pioneer League last year.
27 — Tom Blackbird. The outstanding Fair Haven pitcher went on to a Hall of Fame career at Castleton State.
26 — Bob Morse. Scott Morse’s brother was a heck of a pitcher in his own right.
25 — Tyler Pelland. The Mount Abraham Union High pitcher was drafted by the Red Sox. Last minor league season was in 2008 at Triple A Louisville.
24 — Ray Fisher. Born in Middlebury, he pitched in the major leagues 10 seasons beginning in 1910 with the Yankees and Reds.
23 — Lenny Whitehouse. Burlington’s Whitehouse had a major league career from 1981 through 1985 with the Rangers and Twins. He recorded Reggie Jackson’s 2,000th strikeout.
22 — Ken Cook. The 6-foot-3 right-hander from Green Mountain Union High School was the MVP of the Castleton team in both 2009 and 2010.
21 — Dan Violette. A power pitcher for Castleton in the 1960s, he pitched his way into the Castleton Hall of Fame and then had a long and successful career as an athletic director at U-32 in East Montpelier.
20 — Bill Veilleux. His outstanding career at Hartford High made him a 1993 draft choice of the Chicago Cubs.
19 — Seth Balch. He pitched Windsor to a state crown but was also prominent on the football and basketball teams the year the Yellow Jackets won state titles in all three sports.
18 — Before there was Violette on the Castleton mound, there was Don Orvis. He was part of a battery with his brother Lee Orvis and both landed in the school’s Hall of Fame.
17 — Wade Mitchell. He was a phenom at Richmond High, a forerunner to Mount Mansfield Union. He lost one game in four years and had a fling in pro baseball before coaching state championship high school baseball teams in Vermont.
16 — Ryan Grace. His Randolph home felt the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene but there was also plenty of power in his arm. He was one of the top strikeout pitchers in Mount St. Joseph baseball history.
15 — Jordy Allard. He was one of the hardest throwers the Upper Valley has seen while at Hartford High.
14 — Mike LaBeau. A Bellows Falls pitcher who recently made his mark at Castleton and also had a great summer pitching for the Keene Swampbats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, making the NECBL All-Star team.
13 — Devin Hayes. Pitched for the Addison County Legion team and Castleton. Spent a summer as a teammate of LaBeau in the Alaskan Collegiate League.
12 — Jake Stalcup. He was a dominant pitcher at Burr and Burton Academy and had a season where he was stellar in a relief role at Middlebury College.
11 — Jeff Dixon. Another of those dominant pitchers out of Brattleboro.
10 — Lincoln Pritchard. A flame-thrower from Mill River and another of the many “what might have been” stories were it not for arm trouble. Was slated to pitch for College of St. Joseph before being derailed by the injury.
9 — Billy Brooks. A Montpelier High pitcher who was good enough to have a stint with the hometown Vermont Mountaineers of the NECBL.
8 — Matt St. Amour. Known more as a basketball player after his great career at Middlebury College, but he was an outstanding pitcher for Missisquoi Union.
7 — Billy Whaley. A hometown Vermont Mountaineer flinger by way of Northfield.
6 — Ryan Canty. A promising young pitcher at CVU and the SD Ireland Legion team with Rutland roots. He is the son of former Rutland Post 31 player Joe Canty.
5 — Mark Brown. He was born in Bellows Falls but lived across the river in North Walpole, New Hampshire. He pitched in 1984 for the Baltimore Orioles and in 1985 for the Minnesota Twins.
4 — Tim Fontaine. The outstanding Bellows Falls Union High athlete was a quarterback at UMass but one of my earlier assignments at the Eagle Times in the mid-1970s was to go and cover him as a pitcher at Vermont Academy. He died of cancer in 2004 and there is a bench in his honor at Bellows Falls’ Hadley Field, high on the bank; The inscription: “Tim, You Can See Everything From Up Here.”
3 — Tristan Southworth. We hear his name every year when this soldier who died in combat in Afghanistan is honored with a scholarship in his name at the annual Vermont Basketball Coaches Association’s North-South Games in Windsor. He was a standout in each sport at Hazen Union, including baseball. He pitched a complete game, going nine innings, in a 1-0 loss to Northfield in the 2007 state championship game. He did it with a sore arm in one of the gutsiest title game performances you can imagine.
2 — Jamie Merchant. The Rice Memorial High pitcher was selected in the 2003 Amateur Entry Draft by the Houston Astros.
1 — Jeff Brewer: The Rutland High pitcher had a Hall of Fame career at Eastern Connecticut State that led to him being drafted by the Cubs.
The last 6 inches — Davis Mikell. The current Castleton University pitcher/slugger is the closer.
There we are. We’ve covered all 60 feet, 6 inches of the most important piece of real estate on a diamond.
Who was there to catch Mikell’s last pitch? Anyone you want. Gary Parker, the great catcher from Green Mountain Union who went on to play at Mercer College. Or Lee Orvis, the Proctor backstop who played in the Yankee organization. Or how about Jim Farrell, one of the best ever to squat behind the plate when he was at Windsor.
Or Harmie Bove, the great catcher from Burlington, a pro prospect who died too young, a casualty of Vietnam.
But not another word. It’s time to play ball. At last. Thank goodness.