Dick Jeynes reflects on present, former teams

As summer has begun its gradual march into fall, Dick Jeynes has started an annual daily practice.

He gets on his trusty motor scooter for the five or six-mile ride from Woodbridge to Milford’s Eisenhower Park to do the grooming needed to prepare his Foran High boys’ cross-country teams course for its upcoming season, which will start in early September.

Once those runners start in earnest, Jeynes will kick off his 49th year as a coach and 10th at Foran High, where he’s had six winning seasons out of nine in a sport he picked up at the age of 62.

Best known as the head baseball coach at Milford High School, where his teams qualified for postseason play in 15 of 16 seasons, and as an assistant at Yale University, where he was one of the school’s best recruiters of talent also for 16 seasons, Jeynes still goes at it full bore.

“As I was nearing my retirement from teaching (which he did in 2006 after 41 years), I was offered the cross country position,” Jeynes said. “I thought about it and said, ‘why not.’ It became a nice challenge for me. I always considered the keys to coaching as being a teacher, a motivator and someone who had to care about what they were doing.

“I know it’s a cliché, but it takes a 110 percent effort to succeed. You have to know your personnel. With cross country, it’s more about preparation than anything else. You get your kids ready, then let them go on race day.”

The Lions finished sixth in last year’s Class M state meet and Jeynes has two very solid returnees in Tyler Porcello and Kevin Mastriano.

Counting four years as a baseball and basketball player at Amity Regional High School and four more as a collegiate player at West Virginia Wesleyan, Jeynes has either been a highly-competitive performer or a coach for the past 57 years.

He has also found time to be a regular church-goer (something he acquired from his mother, Evelyn, who died in 1996) and a town historian of note in Woodbridge.

“I’ve seen lots of changes in baseball over all of these years,” Jeynes said. “Probably the biggest was when high schools began using metal bats in 1973.

“I was never in favor of it. It created what I like to call ‘cheap hits.’ It allowed players to get around on the inside fastball and hit the ball just about off the handle. Balls would drop in just outside of an infielders’ reach. You couldn’t do that with a wooden bat.”

Jeynes grew up in the middle of the wooden-bat era, as a first baseman for some of Amity’s better teams between 1957-60, when the Spartans played in the District League and had rivals like Hamden, West Haven, Notre Dame of West Haven and New Haven’s two city schools at the time — Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross — along with Eli Whitney Tech of Hamden.

Jeynes batted .413 in both his junior and senior seasons and was a Bill Savitt Award winner as one of the area’s better athletes. He played on both of Hal Smullen’s baseball and basketball teams while at Amity.

“Hal was an old-school coach and as tough as they come,” Jeynes said. “With Mr. Smullen it was all about discipline. You did it his way. That was the only way. My father (Mark who died in 1972) would come to the games and he’d literally stand back in the woods behind first base. His advice to me was listen to what Mr. Smullen tells you and do it. It was that simple.”

Jeynes incorporated many of Smullen’s qualities into his coaching style. He says the best coaches he either played for or competed against were Smullen, Whitey Piurek (West Haven), Jim Penders Sr. (Stratford) and Ray Legenza (Naugatuck).

It was Smullen who gave Jeynes a high recommendation when he applied for a history teacher job at Milford in 1965.

Ironically, Jeynes had looked at teaching positions at both Milford and Amity. Smullen had been an Arnold College teammate of Roy “Pug” Lund, one of the decision-makers in Milford.

Once he finished high school, Jeynes had thought about attending the University of Connecticut, but he chose West Virginia Wesleyan and made the 550-mile journey, being away from home for the first time.

He captained the team his senior year under coach Franklin (Hank) Ellis, a legendary figure in West Virginia who also coached basketball. Ellis is 90 years old and Jeynes will see him later in the fall during his classes’ 50th-year re-union.

“There are really only a few people in your life who have a great influence on what you do and become and Coach Ellis was one of those individuals in my life,” Jeynes said.

Once he got to Milford High, he served as an assistant baseball and basketball coach, before taking over the baseball program in 1968.

In the 16 seasons he was there, his teams won 215 games while losing only 95 (a winning percentage of .693). Twelve times he coached teams which reached the state tournament quarterfinals and once his team went to the semifinals.

“I was always considered a coach who counted on defense and good pitching,” Jeynes said. “As the years went by, the coaches you competed against kept getting better. You’d have to depend on winning games by one or sometimes at most, two runs. Execution became a prime factor in winning.

Some of his best players at Milford included Ken Walker, Paul Swanson, Jim Hourigan, Bob Mars, Dave Lanese and Gary Austin.

He was selected as the Southern Connecticut Diamond Club’s High School Coach of the Year in 1983.

“I always thought the biggest difference in the improvement in coaching came with the clinics. Guys like Joe Benanto (at Shelton High and then Yale), Porky Vieira (University of New Haven) and Bill Holowaty (Eastern Connecticut) were holding clinics. I tried to get to as many of them as possible.”

The closing of Milford High School after the 1983 school year created a big change in Jeynes’ life. He went over to Foran, accepted the head baseball coaching position, only to resign before ever stepping on the field.

“It was a personal issue,” Jeynes said. “I received quite a few calls from media people, but, at the time, I didn’t want to talk about it.”

While he was the coach at Milford, Jeynes first got involved in scouting, working in 1974 and 1975 in the Philadelphia Phillies’ chain with New Englander Carleton Willey, a former Major Leaguer (Phillies and New York Mets) and the organization’s regional head, Dick Teed.

He also worked as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Bridgeport, before coming over to Yale in 1986.

Hired by Benanto, the school’s highly-successful freshman football coach and the head man with its baseball program, Jeynes began another 16-year journey.

“Joe had already had many good years at Yale (where he started out in 1979),” Jeynes said. “To my way of thinking, there isn’t a better X’s and O’s person from this area when it comes to figuring out the game.”

Jeynes quickly figured out that his role at Yale would be that of a recruiter, because Benanto didn’t want to travel that much.

“Having already done some work as a scout and having a network in place helped me greatly,” Jeynes said.

“You can’t win on the college level without talent,” Jeynes said. “So the bottom line is recruiting. And, at Yale, that isn’t easy because the academic standards are that high.

“Carm Cozza (the former, long-time football coach) said he thought that Yale was one of the toughest schools in the country to recruits athletes to. He always said going out and finding them around the country was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Jeynes did just that. In 16 seasons, he saw 19 players sign professional contracts through his efforts.

Yale’s entire 1994 infield of Blair Hodson (first base), Manny Patel (second base), Tom Hutchison (shortstop) and Gary Butterworth (third baseman) wound up playing professionally.

“We saw a big change at Yale,” Jeynes said. “At one time, Joe was getting football players who had baseball skills. He had Rich Diana and Joe Dufek.

“Later on, we got the one-sport athletes. Manny Patel was the perfect example. He was an inner-city kid (Tampa, Fla.), who had a need factor. You either get rich kids or poor kids into Yale. Those in the middle tend to be squeezed out.”

The days of long trips have ended for Dick Jeynes. Now he prefers the short ones on his motor scooter.