Fairfield American a Little League program of sustained excellence
Published 12:00 am, Friday, August 18, 2017
Chris Fournier remembers winning a Little League district title in 1997 and being too excited to care about whom his team was supposed to play next.
“I just remember we were super excited because it hadn’t happened in forever,” Fournier said recently.
What Fournier didn’t know at the time was that Fairfield American, which had advanced past districts for the first time in 28 years, would move on to the sectional tournament. The District 2 champions went on to beat New Haven Annex, but were eliminated after back-to-back losses to Prospect and Stamford National-Lione.
Three summers later, Fairfield American returned to sectionals with an entirely new group of players. Even though that team met the same fate as the 1997 all-stars, the fact that they conquered the district again was significant.
“Winning districts was everything,” recalled Fournier, who co-owns the Batting Cage in Bridgeport. “We didn’t even know what happened next.”
Remarkably, the program for which Fournier once starred has become so dominant that district titles are now the norm. Fairfield American has 10 of them over the last 13 years. And the accomplishments don’t stop there.
Fairfield American Little League
New England Regional titles: 2017, 2012 (2-2 record at LLWS), 2010 (1-2 record at LLWS)
State titles: 2017, 2016, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010
District 2 titles: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2000, 1997, 1969.
Fairfield American is headed back to the Little League World Series for the third time since 2010 after beating South Portland, Maine, 10-0 on Saturday in the New England Regional final in Bristol.
“In Connecticut, what Fairfield has done has never been done before,” Rob Bleggi, the District 2 umpire-in-chief, said prior to Saturday’s final.
It’s hard for Bleggi to even put in perspective what Fairfield American has accomplished since capturing its first state title in 2010. Trumbull National won the World Series in 1989 — joining Stamford in 1951, Norwalk in 1952 and Windsor Locks in 1965 as only the fourth champion from Connecticut — and Westport reached the U.S. final and finished fourth in the world in 2013, but neither program was as competitive for as long as Fairfield American.
“There’s nothing to look back on and say, ‘They’re kind of a dynasty like this team was.’ In the 90s, Trumbull National was a dynasty in our district and would win our district all the time, but they only won one state title,” said Bleggi, whose father, Lou, has been the administrator for District 2 since 1991. “From ‘89 to the late 90s, if it wasn’t them it was Trumbull American. ... Fairfield American kind of took it to another level.”
Fairfield American has won six state titles over the last eight years — including an unprecedented three straight from 2010-2012 — and is the only team from Connecticut with multiple appearances in the World Series. The New England champion will open play against Holbrook Little League from Jackson, N.J., the Mid-Atlantic champion, on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Pa.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that success breeds success,” league president Matt McGuire said. “The younger kids that watch — the 11s, the 10s and the 9s — these 12-year-olds, they want it just as bad as the 12s do once they are a part of it.”
There are just over 600 players throughout the program, from T-ball to the Majors Division. Two of the core players on the World Series-bound team, Matthew Vivona and Michael Iannazzo, were on the 12-year-old team that fell one game short of making it to Williamsport last summer. The other 12 players lost in the district final at the 11-year-old level. They’ve lived up to the lofty expectations set by teams before them by reeling off 18 straight wins in tournament play.
“They’re living every kids’ dream,” said former MLB manager Bobby Valentine, who is currently the athletic director at Sacred Heart University. “A lot of times you hear it’s every kids’ dream to play in the major leagues, but the first dream is to do what they’re doing right now.”
Randazzo laughs when others ask him how the program he has been with since 2006 has been able to compete at such high levels year in and year out. The pressure to win, Randazzo said, is “immense.”
“Quite frankly, I laugh because I’ve got no idea why,” he said. “But I will say this, the families that we have coming through this league are fortunately committed. They’re really, really committed. Many of them have the wherewithal to [have their children] play travel ball or have them take private lessons.
“At the same time, the coaches are the same way, the players are the same way, and it’s now really just become a culture [of excellence].”
Several of the all-stars on the 12-year-old team play for the Connecticut Wolfpack, a premier travel-based program, which Fournier directs. During the travel season, those players get to hit in virtual batting cages and pitch off of clay mounds almost as often as they want.
“It becomes like a hangout for these guys,” Fournier, a 16th-round draft pick of the Mets in 2007, said. “Kind of like what Wakeman [Boys and Girls Club] is for basketball, that’s what the Batting Cage is for baseball.
“It obviously helps, too, when you have the resources to make yourself better, where other towns might not have those same resources.”
Fairfield American also runs a summer house league, which affords the players who aren’t selected to the all-star team the chance to hone their skills. The league was formed in 2009, and has since expanded to allow players from neighboring towns such as Westport and Easton to compete.
“These kids breathe, talk and eat baseball,” Valentine said.
Baseball is on the menu seven days a week, including holidays. That sincere passion for the game is only part of what makes Fairfield American Little League so special.
“It’s really hard to explain to a family that’s not part of it, honestly. But I’ll give you an example,” McGuire said. “There’s the constant discussion during the spring of, do we have games on Mother’s Day or don’t we? Some people would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? It’s Mother’s Day. It’s the day that you should take off and be with your moms.’
“But we play baseball.”