In 1962, the Southington American Legion Post 72 had yet to form a senior baseball program. Therefore, one of Southington High’s best varsity baseball players decided to join the heralded Bristol Legion team that was bolstered by standout Tom Shopay, who later played with the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles. The Southington star had just graduated after helping lead his school to its first state baseball title in 1961.
Dick Tully, regarded as a tremendous clutch hitter, went on to help Bristol reach the Regional Finals in Keene, New Hampshire, where he slammed a grand slam, stole home and batted over .300 but Bristol fell short, losing by a single run. Tully was awarded a ceremonial key to the city of Bristol for his MVP status.
Southington would eventually field a legion team and in 1993, garnered its first state legion championship. Twenty five years later, Southington would fight and scratch its way to another state title under Coach Marc Verderame. The local legion team, comprised of former SHS players, surprised pundits by winning the tough 19-year and under division.
The 29-year-old former Southington High and legion baseball player has projected himself as a devoted coach who relishes his strong relationship with his players. It was fitting that Verderame was awarded the “Coach of the Year” honor at the recent Connecticut American Legion Baseball banquet. Also honored was Zac Susi from town as “College Player of the Year.” Susi was a standout Blue Knight baseball player and went on to play prolific ball for UConn.
In its quest for the coveted state title, Southington defeated three perennial winning legion teams from Hamden, Trumbull and Cheshire. Verderame was assisted by coaches Bob Borkowski, another former SHS baseball standout, and Vito Boccuzzio, a veteran athlete and relative of the coach. The modest Verderame was quick to heap praise on his players who overcame deficits and noted how his team battled back with intensity.
“The determination of these young men was real and visible. My coaches and I were so impressed to know the players never felt they were out of a game and to win a state title was a great reward for each of them,” said the coach. It was pointed out numerous times by banquet speakers how legion baseball players sacrifice nearly an entire summer playing the sport, traveling and being at practice.
Verderame is a baseball fanatic. He played for the Blue Knights but had hopes of extending his talents far beyond the local high school and continued playing at American International College, but like many promising athletes, injuries closed the book on his baseball dreams. However, later being appointed head coach of a legion squad was more than satisfying.
After 11 seasons with a standout record of 210 victories and 90 defeats, it’s obvious legion officials made the right choice with Verderame. Quietly, the coach stated to friends that a baseball title for Southington kept and retained the prominence of the sports legacy in town.
That’s why friends and supporters of American Legion baseball appreciate Verderame.
“He loves Southington and is so proud of its sports tradition that he feels a strong obligation to keep it going,” boasted assistant Boccuzzio. Borkowski also reflects that Southington spirit, noted Boccuzzio.
American Legion Baseball began in 1925 and has grown from sponsoring teams in 15 states to nearly 4,500 teams in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. Some of the prominent players from legion baseball include Ted Williams, Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and other non-major leaguers like Jim Calhoun, Tom Brokaw and Dick Cheney.