Review: Upcoming Dalkowski documentary puts New Britain at heart of local hero's story

Published on Wednesday, 7 October 2020 11:43
Written by RYAN CHICHESTER

@ryanchichester1

Tom Chiappetta’s long-awaited documentary on the complicated life of New Britain baseball legend Steve Dalkowski will premiere Saturday night on Connecticut Public Television after being in the works since the early 1990s, and the in-depth story of one of baseball’s most fascinating characters is worth the wait.

Yes, Dalkowski’s mythical velocity and terrifying lack of control, both on the field and off, has been told many times by news outlets across the country, but this work puts Dalkowski’s home city at its center, and local fans and loved ones will be able to watch it on their own local network this weekend.

“When you live with something for such a long time...it never became an obession, but it was always with me,” Chiappetta said. “Seeing it come to fruition...I was watching something on CPTV and saw the promo come up, it starts to become even more real. The 30-year clock has been ticking, and hopefully at 7:30 Saturday when it stops ticking, it will be memorable.”

It is a memorable work indeed. Put together by Chiappetta with editing work by Spencer Sabo and narration by former WTNH sports director Noah Finz, “Far From Home: The Steve Dalkowski Story” is loaded with never-before-seen interviews, including with Dalkowski himself, which tells a deeper story of Dalkowski’s complicated life, and puts the city of New Britain in the forefront of how it shaped Dalkowski and contributed to his redemption arc after returning from California to seek treatment for his dementia brought on by his bout with alcoholism.

Dalkowski’s life and blazing fastball has been thoroughly chronicled since his pitching days, his story almost always told through the lens of “baseball’s last legend” or “what could have been,” but Chiappetta’s documentary centers around the idea that, contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s famous novel, you can indeed go home again. For Dalkowski, home was New Britain, and it plays a major part in this story, particularly the role the city and the people within it played in helping welcome Dalkowski back home and provide a peaceful stage for the back nine of his life. Dalkowski attended his high school reunion when he returned to New Britain, reconnected with old high school friends and replenished his relationship with his sister Patti Cain, all of which are thoroughly chronicled in the documentary.

The Hardware City is prominent through the first chapter of the film as well, as Chiappetta paints a detailed picture of the city during Dalkowski’s youth, and how it shaped him and his success. Of course, the source of his legend are all there as well, from his dizzying strikeout/walk rates during his minor league career to the mesmerizing sound of his otherworldly fastball. Even Hall of Famer Lou Brock, who passed away last week, is among those interviewed, as he remembers what it was like watching Dalkowski pitch.

“Grab your helmets and run behind buildings,” Brock said. “Because this guy throws unguided missiles, and he doesn’t know where it’s going.”

The documentary chronicles Dalkowski’s journey toward the pros, which came to a halt when he suffered an arm injury after finally starting to show some control. Dalkowski’s former teammate Boog Powell, who was standing just a few short feet away from Dalkowski when he injured his arm on a pitch to Yankee legend Roger Maris, recalls the moment in an interview, and who better to talk to than the man who was within earshot of the pop in Dalkowski’s arm that began the end of a once promising pitching career?

But the main attraction of the documentary is Dalkowski himself. Chiappetta has been told that the interview footage with Dalkowski in the documentary is “spellbinding,” and the description certainly fits. As Dalkowski’s descent is told, we get Dalkowski on camera, trying to articulate how it all went wrong, which carries an emotional heat equivalent to one of Dalkowski’s legendary fastballs.

“I’m ashamed of just going down the drain,” Dalkowski said in the interview, clearly pondering how his life brought him from the pitcher’s mound to Oildale, California. “You know who I really hurt the most…my family. I cry a lot at night. It’s too bad. I had everything on a platter, and I just dumped it in the toilet and I guess I flushed it.”

But of course, as the documentary insists, you can go home again, and that’s what Dalkowski did, turning his life around and living two-plus decades back in New Britain after it seemed his life was running out fast. Dalkowski seemed lost for years, but found his way back before passing away in April at 80 years old. Now, after sitting idly for decades as well, the documentary will finally be shown to the world on Saturday, and it is well worth the wait.

“There seems to be alot of interest in Steve’s story,” Chiappetta said. “I think we knew that was the case, and this kind of reaffirms it. We'll see how it all goes on Saturday.”



Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports on Wednesday, 7 October 2020 11:43. Updated: Wednesday, 7 October 2020 11:46.