On the homefront, fans cheer Fairfielders' LL victory
At the far end of Colony Grill's bar, Kyle and Richard Cavadi are slumped over two pints of soda. Their eyes are glued to the flat-screen television hanging above them, broadcasting ESPN's live coverage of the Fairfield American baseball team's opening game in the Little League World Series game on Friday afternoon.
Kyle, 13, played on that team a year ago, but he's since moved up an age division. His father, Richard, coached in the local American League for five years. Today, they've got the team's cap pulled down over their curly hair.
"We moved on, but we still support them," Richard said.
On most Fridays, Richard commutes to New York City for his job at IBM. Asked if he took a vacation day today, he drops a slice of pepperoni pizza and starts thumbing his I-Phone.
"I'm working now!" he said. "Can't you tell?"
Then he glanced up as the baseball zipped past a Fairfield batter, right into the catcher's mitt.
"Strike three!" the umpire brayed.
"Questionable call," Kyle reacted.
While some Fairfielders made the 240-mile trip to Williamsport, Pa., to see the series game in person, most had to watch the action on television. But restaurants, bars and other public places with TVs around town became electronic bleachers where local fans cheered on the hometown favorites.
One popular destination was Colony Grill, which opened on the Post Road in late May and is owned by four members of the Trumbull Little League team that won the World Series in 1989. Another hot spot was the Pequot Library in Southport, which projected the action onto a 12-foot-wide screen and offered viewers free drinks and snacks.
Seated at a Colony Grill table behind the Cavadis, Anthony and Gene Palazzolo just finished their pizza when a wild pitch gave a Fairfield base-runner the chance to sprint home for the game's first run.
"That'll do!" shouted Gene, a retired Fairfield police officer.
His son, Anthony, 13, went to all the qualifying games last week in Bristol and said his best friend, Chris Howell, plays center field for the team. On Sunday, the day after the Fairfield clinched its spot in the World Series, Anthony got one last chance to hang out with Howell.
"He wasn't nervous," Anthony said. "Then again, he's never nervous for games."
Anthony admitted that watching his friends on ESPN seem a little strange. "It's funny," he said, "because I hang out with them every day."
Gene said he might bring Anthony to Williamsport for Sunday's game, which the Fairfield team advanced after triumphing 3-1 over Washington. There are no tickets needed, he points out, as seats go to whomever shows up at the stadium first.
"Google has it at four hours, 24 minutes," he said of the trip.
About four minutes away, nearly 100 people gathered in the Pequot Library to watch the game. The crowd was a mix of pre-teen baseball players, parents and a smattering of senior citizens who dropped in to watch.
With the score knotted at one in the fifth inning, tension filled the auditorium air.
"I don't know when I've been so excited about baseball," said Dan Snydacker, the library's executive director. He looked on nervously as a Fairfield outfielder rifled a spot-on throw to home plate. The catcher snagged the ball from the air and tagged out a Washington player, which otherwise would have taken the lead.
"Out!" the umpire yelled.
The Pequot crowd erupted in cheers.
"These kids are playing good, sound, fundamental baseball," Snydacker said.
Pequot will continue to host viewings of the games, as well as provide free snacks, every time that Fairfield American plays in the series.
"We're here for all the games, win or lose," Snydacker said.
So, too, will the Duffy boys be at Pequot for the games. Slouched in front-row seats, M.J. and Danny Duffy waited as Billy McGrath got ready for his at-bat. McGrath, they noted, is a fellow student at Fairfield Country Day School.
M.J., 11, wore a Fairfield American jersey and cap. Danny, 8, sported a Fairfield baseball shirt emblazoned with the words "Never Give Up" stamped on the back. Both said they came to the game apprehensively.
"Here comes Billy," said Danny.
This observation was followed with a commercial break in the TV coverage. When the feed finally returned, Danny made note of the upcoming games in the international bracket.
"I didn't know Germany was in this," he said, adding that the Little League tournament should be a better World Series than in the Major Leagues. "They don't have other countries playing in that."
A few minutes later, Fairfield registered the final out, sealing its victory and, in the eyes of local fans, perhaps a World Series title run.
While the Palazzolos are now weighing whether to drive out to Williamsport on Sunday, the Gniadek family has its mind made up.
Stephen Gniadek, 10, a member of the 9-year-old American district team, said he too was in Bristol for last week's games. The in-person experience was "livelier, louder and more insane" than watching it on television.
Asked if he'd be road-tripping to Pennsylvania for Sunday's game, Stephen looked to his parents hopefully.
"If he's in it," his mother said.
"We'll be there in three years," his father said.