Baseball: Dick Jeynes inducted into Hall of Fame

One by one, eighteen players in all, approached Dick Jeynes on Oct. 26, as the 16-year former Milford High School baseball coach, who went on to become a top recruiter an assistant at Yale University for another 12 years, stood near a table reserved for him and his guests at Meriden's Monticello Banquet facility.

Jeynes was awaiting his induction into the Southern Connecticut Diamond Club's Hall of Fame.

The group, first formed in 1981 as the Greater New Haven Diamond Club annually bestows honors to those who foster and promote the game of baseball.

One look at it's list of past inductees gives you an instant clue as to how prestigious an honor this is. Included in the grouping are Jumpin Joe Dugan, Smoky Joe Wood, John Whitey Piurek, Emmons Bowen, former Yale University president and then Major League Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, Frank Vieira and so many more who are part of baseball's lore in this area.

As each player approached Jeynes, they exchanged either handshakes, a hug and, of course, a quick story.

The Batman brothers, Dave and Bob, who came up from Florida for the dinner were there; so was Steve Klebart along with 1983 Milford graduate Frank Mucciacciaro, who played on Jeynes final team at Milford, one that went 17-5. Jeynes was selected that year as the club's High School Coach of the Year.

"It was becoming a blur to me, seeing so many people and having a chance to share a thought or two," Jeynes said. "Receiving this award was an honor and very humbling for me. I guess when you've been around as long as I have, they have to honor you sooner or later."

Jeynes was both a standout baseball and basketball player at Amity Regional High School, where he graduated from in 1960. He was a Bill Savitt Award winner in his senior year. The local jeweler gave out his awards back then, one each, to selected high school athletes.

Jeynes ended up going to West Virginia Wesleyan College, a small school in a very rural area of the state. Although the school was an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) member, their sports teams including the baseball squad played a high-level schedule. Jeynes got to travel throughout the South playing baseball.

When he returned to the New Haven area in 1965 and got his masters degree in education, Jeynes became a history teacher at Milford High School and was there through the school's closing in 1983.

His baseball teams won 216 games and lost only 95. They made state tournament play in all but one season and reached the quarterfinal round 12 times and the semifinals once.

Jeynes moved over to teach at Foran High in 1984 and eventually ended up coaching at Yale as an assistant to Joe Benanto and was the primary recruiter.

His success at finding players, "Who were good baseball players and smart kids," is indicative of the fact that 19 of them later signed professional contracts.

One of them, infielder Tom Hutchinson was on hand Wednesday night.

Jeynes' induction speech was spiced with stories. Always about his players and their antics.

"I had this kid," he said. "He was also in my history class. We were talking about the Constitution and specifically about the laws of search and seizure. I asked him to give me an example. He said, "If my mother ever searched my room, she would've had a seizure."

Jeynes cited five coaches who he tried to model himself after. In that group are Benanto, West Haven's Piurek, Naugatuck's Ray Legenza, Ansonia's Mike Vacca and Stratford’s Jim Penders. Legenza along with Piurek and Vacca are all Hall of Fame members. Vacca attended Wednesday's dinner.

"They were all winning coaches whose players always set a high standard for themselves,"Jeynes said. "I think I first got that thought when I did some scouting back in the early 1970s. You'd look at a lot of kids, but when you were ready to file your report, there would always be one guy at the top of the list."

Jeynes was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Sheehan of Wallingford coach Matt Altieri, present Yale University coach John Stuper, who came to the New Haven campus in 1991, and former Housatonic Community College coach and athletic director Ed Sylvia, a native of Milford.

"When I got to Yale, I had to make a decision," said Stuper, a winner of 32 Major League games while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Stuper became well known as the winner of game six in the 1982 World Series when the Cards played and wound up beating the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I had both Dick and Dan (Scarpa) on my staff. I could've replaced both of them if I wanted to with my own people. I chose not to. Both were invaluable members of the program. I learned so much about Yale and the program from both of them.”

So did many of his former players.

"I remember my senior year,"Bob Batman said. "I pitched and we were in this key tournament game. I developed a bad blood blister on my pitching hand. I knew I had to hang in there. That's what coach Jeynes expected."

Klebart has a much funnier tale to tell.

"It must've been early in April, "he began. "We had gotten this snowstorm the night before and school was called off. It's six in the morning and my mother peers into my room and says, "Coach Jeynes is on the phone. I answer it and he says, ‘Where are you?’

"Coach, it's six in the morning and there's no school. His reply was get a shovel and get down to the field. We could practice back then even if there wasn't school. We cleared off the entire infield and by that afternoon we were able to at least hold infield practice."

When you total up the years — 41 as a teacher; another 37 in coaching; two in scouting and eight as either a high school or college athlete — it's easy to understand Jeynes' dedication, commitment and passion for athletics.