BRISTOL - Every time New Britain catcher Michael Gajda puts on the maroon and gold jersey and straps up his catching gear, he dons the same number he’s always worn, No. 15.
It’s because Gajda’s favorite player was Thurman Munson, the late New York Yankees All-Star catcher who died in the prime of his career after crashing his private aircraft in 1979.
While born years after Munson died, Gajda - playing for the NB Boys this week in the Nutmeg State Games’ 18&U Baseball Tournament, Scholastic Division - watched highlights of Munson and loved the way he hung tough behind the plate at catcher, a position Gajda has played since he was six years old.
“When I get injured, I like to play through it,” Gajda said. “I like to show my team why I’m tough physically and tough mentally. That’s most of the reason why I like him.”
Gajda is hoping his love for the game lets him keep playing as long as possible. The incoming junior has already put together some memories for the New Britain high school program.
His first goal at the school was to make the team as a freshman. Gajda did that and was the varsity catcher in his freshman season.
But he has loftier goals set ahead.
“That was my main goal at first, so that’s off the checklist,” Gajda said. “But I want to go all-conference and go All-State, so those are my goals now. I’m striving to do that in my two years left.”
This past season, Gajda had his biggest moment at the high school level.
Gajda had a walk-off single against Enfield that he launched over the center fielder’s head to advance New Britain into the second round.
“That was my favorite memory. I wanted to do that for my boys,” Gajda said. “We made it to the second round with that. It felt great winning a playoff game for my team and for my city.”
Enfield had intentionally walked Josh Garcia before him.
“I wanted to make them pay for that,” Gajda said. “You can’t be doing that to me and I guess I succeeded in that.”
During the Nutmeg Games for New Britain Gajda is looking to improve his game, and the team knows he’s a key player.
“I’m expecting a lot out of him in this tournament,” NB Boys head coach Guillermo Burgos said. “He’s definitely a New Britain kid and he represents us very well. He’s well behaved. He’s a leader. He’s definitely very polished for his age. He’s been playing varsity ball since a freshman and right off the bat was catching William Homar, [who] is an All-State player.”
His first at-bat in the Nutmeg Games was a single ripped up the middle against the CT Pirates.
His goal in the tournament is to do just what he’s always done: perform for his team and represent his city.
“I just want to win the entire thing as a team,” Gajda said. “Bring it home for New Britain. That’s why we’re here, to win this.”