BRISTOL - Chris Barsa always considered himself a player who just so happened to make the lineup. But after almost two decades playing baseball, he is hanging up his cleats for good with a legacy intact.
“As you get older, the guys are getting younger,” Barsa said, “then they start calling you ‘coach’ and everything. It’s like, ‘really, I was 36 [or] 37 and you’re calling me coach? Just call me Barsa or Chris.’”
Barsa, now a Newington resident after growing up in East Hartford, holds just about every title you could in the Connecticut Twilight League.
He first took over the Brickhouse Indians, which is sponsored by Brickhouse Bar & Grill in Newington and plays most home games at Sage Park in Berlin, in 2001 when Mike Krawcyk retired. Barsa was soon a player, manager and the league’s president.
After the league’s all-star game Monday night against the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League’s all-stars at Muzzy Field, Barsa was officially on to the next phase, but not before players and others approached Barsa and shook his hand.
“They thanked me, congratulated me. It was a great night,” Barsa said.
The hardest part about leaving the league for Barsa was giving up the on-field friendships and teammates he met along the way.
“I’ve known these guys for so long and I’ve caught friends that I’ve made, so many friends,” Barsa said.
One specific friendship formed was with Brian Pinnie, one that has lasted 17 years. With Pinnie, Barsa said, the friendship was more than just baseball.
“He was the top player in the league for many years,” Barsa said. “He’s still a great player and we still have fun playing. We talk about all the old times. He’s been divorced, I’ve been divorced. We also talked about the jobs we had, the relationships, and then, of course, baseball, so it’s a little of everything.”
Pinnie was an inspiration to Barsa, especially what he did for him on the diamond.
“When he first came on the team I was more lackadaisical with the game. I didn’t hustle as much and I kind of took the game for granted,” Barsa said. “He was a lot better player than I was and I saw him busting his butt on every pitch, on every swing, hustling to first base, hustling on and off the field. And I was like ‘that’s how I have to play the game.’”
Barsa started playing baseball around the age of 8. He played in a farm league in East Hartford, and as he got older, moved into Little League. Barsa then stepped away from baseball for a few years.
“I was more into tennis, golf, basketball and football,” he said. “Then in college, I started getting the itch to play baseball again.”
Barsa was a walk-on for the Southern Connecticut State University baseball team.
“I didn’t play much, but at least I made the team,” Barsa said. “After college, some friends told me about baseball leagues, so I decided to see what the league was all about and the next thing you know, 17-18 years later, here I am.”
And he had plenty of success along the way.
“It’s been a good ride,” Barsa said. “We won a championship in 2006, which was the highlight. I’ve also played in a lot of all-star games, led the league in RBI maybe once or twice, had some really good years batting average-wise, batted over .400, so it kept me coming back. And the guys were really great.”
Ken Cook, currently the league’s VP and manager of the Elmer’s Silver Bullets, will be taking over Barsa’s duties next year.
“[Barsa] is pretty fearless,” Cook said. “He’s done a great job with this league, expanding it, helping get our name out there, and just little things year by year. He’s going to be sorely missed. Barsa stayed a competitive player in this league, and could still play at [his current age]. I can’t do what he did. I won’t be as active at all the games, but behind the scenes, I’ll try to do my best.”
But Barsa knew it was time to hang up his playing gear.
“It was great to make a lot of friends that I never would have made if I didn’t play baseball,” Barsa said. “The teammates I had, the exciting games, the big wins, the tough losses, it was all fun. That’s what it’s all about, having fun, having a good time, and once it stops being fun, you have to get out. I can’t play at the level I want to play at, so I have to hang it up.”
While Barsa may have called it a career, his impact on the Connecticut Twilight League will carry on for years to come.