True ‘field of dreams’ dedicated in Strazza’s honor

The legacy of youth baseball legend Salvatore Strazza is deeply felt not only in the Byram community he made his home, but throughout town wherever kids are involved in Little League.

Now his contribution to the sport and to the town has been immortalized, as the field outside Byram School is officially the Salvatore J. Strazza Sr. Memorial Baseball Field. At a special ceremony last Saturday morning the sign marking the field’s name was officially unveiled and the first pitch thrown out by Mr. Strazza’s son, Sal Jr., to George Zacanini, who was credited along with Mr. Strazza in establishing Babe Ruth youth baseball leagues in the town in the 1970s when there was no organized Little League here.

In addition, the Strazza family was presented with a formal citation from the town’s state delegation read by State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149) and Fred Camillo (R-151), a close friend of Mr. Strazza’s who came appropriately dressed from the ballfield where he had been an umpire in a Little League game that morning. First Selectman Peter Tesei, accompanied by colleagues Selectmen David Theis and Drew Marzullo, then read a proclamation declaring June 23 to be Salvatore J. Strazza Memorial Field Day in town.

 

“Given all the things going on, naming this field for Sal was bar none one of the easiest decisions we have made as a board in the last several years,” Mr. Tesei said. “There’s no doubt that the passion he had for the game and the children that he coached came through in the testimonials we received in support of doing this.”

The drive to rename the field in Mr. Strazza’s honor was led by Michael Bocchino, chairman of the Byram Neighborhood Association, and a special committee of community members. Mr. Bocchino thanked everyone who had helped to honor the man he called “Big Sal.”

“Sal was an incredible human being,” Mr. Bocchino said. “He was a very spirited individual who cared more about the kids in this town, especially in the Byram community, than anyone I know, especially when it came to baseball. If it weren’t for Sal and George and their efforts, who knows if we would even have a Junior Babe Ruth or any organized league in town. We know he’s watching us today.”

Mr. Camillo and Mr. Zacanini had the honor of officially unveiling the Strazza Field sign and Mr. Camillo shared some memories of his friend. A veteran umpire for many years in town leagues, Mr. Camillo recalled many a hot summer afternoon where, as a coach, Mr. Strazza would ride him mercilessly for his calls.

“Every time I come to this field I think of Sal and I wait for that booming voice to come out ‘Stand up Freddy! No wonder you’re blowing all those calls!’” Mr. Camillo said. “Sometimes he would do it on really hot days and I would get so mad at him. But then I’d come in and he’d wait a few minutes and he’d throw his arm around me and go, ‘Hey buddy, you mad at me?’ He was brutal like that, but he was a wonderful guy and we all loved him. He was a treasure… Anyone who comes on this field from now on will know it’s named after a great man.”

Ms. Floren said in the citation that naming the field after Mr. Strazza would allow anyone who played there to recognize his love and devotion to the sport and the town’s youth.

“His legacy will be forever linked to this baseball field,” Ms. Floren said, calling it a “true field of dreams.”

Town resident Cynthia Blumenthal, wife of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), represented her husband at the ceremony but also spoke as the mother of three sons who played youth baseball in Greenwich, one on a team coached by Mr. Strazza.

“I spent a lot of hours at this field and others in this town watching our sons play, and all three of our boys loved baseball,” Ms. Blumenthal said. “There’s something really pure about baseball and when you’re a teenager and the real world is looming, a world that we all know is complicated, the purity of the game and the sense of joy is such a gift to give to children. The thing that was so special about Sal was that he made it fun. Boys take this so seriously and it becomes a mini battle and Sal was always there to make jokes and diffuse tension and put things in perspective.”

In addition to Sal Jr., Mr. Strazza’s wife, Robin, and daughter, Stephanie, were also on hand for the ceremony and cut the ribbon for the formal dedication. Stephanie spoke for the family there and said that the honor meant the world to them, especially since it was close to a year since Mr. Strazza had passed away.

“There’s so much love for my dad here today, it’s overwhelming,” Ms. Strazza said. “This is not just an honor for my dad, it’s for all the coaches in the league who dedicate their time year after year, passing down their love for the game of baseball.”

She later added, “It’s not an exaggeration to say his loss is felt every day by a lot of people, but his life is celebrated every day too through the lessons we all learned from him on the ball field, on the golf course or over a sausage and pepper wedge and a Diet Coke. His lessons were good ones, how to putt, how to pitch and field a ball and how to stay focused on the fundamentals. I can still hear his voice in my head clear as day every time I’m on the golf course.

“He always had his coaching hat on no matter what he was doing, and for him coaching was more than just teaching kids the game. He understood the life lessons learned were just as important. By progressing in a sport you love, by being part of a team, by working together towards a common goal and knowing as long as you do your best and leave your heart on the field you have nothing to be ashamed of win or lose. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of him… I wish we had more time because I know there were a lot of lessons still left to be learned.”

Many of Mr. Strazza’s friends and family turned out in the crowd of more than 100 that packed the park for the ceremony. Among them was Ted Horwath Sr., Mr. Strazza’s first cousin, who told the Post how the two had grown up together in town and how he had helped Mr. Strazza coach that first year of Babe Ruth league in town.

“It’s wonderful to see so many people here,” Mr. Horwath said. “I didn’t know what to expect and it just shows there’s a lot of love for this man, what he did for this town and what he meant to the community, especially with this field. He was instrumental in saving this field. He was one of my best friends and he was a great guy. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to him and I’m sure he’s humbled right now looking down at all of this. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s really just wonderful.”

 

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