RECOUNTING A THUNDERBIRD DYNASTY

Todd Raleigh (left) talks to his son Cal (right) on the bench during a game. Photo courtesy of Todd Raleigh

By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier

This summer the Raleigh family, both in Vermont and in North Carolina, had much to celebrate as Todd Raleigh’s son Cal earned a third-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

Todd’s roots run deep in Franklin County, where he, his brothers, and his cousins, along with a whole gang of kids, grew up playing baseball on the fields of Franklin County.

“I don’t think anything like we all grew up with will happen again. The core of the teams that went on to win three state championships, well, 95 percent of us grew up within a mile radius of each other,” said Todd, “We played thousands of games together.”

The love of baseball in the Raleigh family and in the town of Swanton went farther back than the group of boys that Todd grew up with.

“My Dad was in a state championship at St. Anne’s in the fifties as a freshman. And a bunch of the others we grew up with had dads who had played. It was a unique situation we had.”

Todd recalls the baseball culture that was alive in Swanton at the time.

“We were a tight group long before we went to high school. We were lucky to have some good players, but we also played so much,” said Todd, “and nobody told us we weren’t supposed to win. It was embedded in us.”

Todd’s older brother John was also part of a strong group of baseball-loving guys.

“John played in three state titles in a row and they won two of three,” said Todd, “My brother Matt and I went to the MVU title game as 10 year-olds; we were bat boys on those teams. There were great players on those teams: Jamie Boudreau, the Corbieres, my brother. We idolized those guys growing up!”

A few years later Todd and Matt made history with their teammates.

“We had a lot of great players: Robby Eldridge, Pat Bose, Brian Nutting, Chris Coleman and Donny Broillette. How many Vermont high schools have four or five future Division I college players on their roster at a time?”

Aside from the sheer talent of the players on the teams during his high school years, there was something much deeper that knitted the experience together.

“Our love for the game and the amount we played set us apart. We didn’t know what we were doing as far as the specialness of it. We just showed up and played,” said Todd, “It was born on the sandlot.”

When school got out the boys met at the field and divvied up players. Yankee fans went to one side and Red Sox fans went to the other.

“Fortunately for the Red Sox, all the Raleighs were Red Sox fans,” said Todd with a chuckle,” that kind of tipped it in our favor.”

The field most often used for games was at the Swanton Central School. The boys would ride their bikes to the school and play some kind of baseball.

“We played there until we started breaking windows,” said Todd with a laugh, “Mary Babcock didn’t like that. We had to come up with money to replace the windows. Once we consistently started reaching the school we had to change to a tennis ball.”

The boys weren’t deterred by the need to change style, and all those years on the ball field paid some bit dividends.

“That’s what separated us; we had good athletes and we played a lot. It gave us a lot of experience,” said Todd, “The kids I later went to college with played 30 or 40 regular season games. I played only 12 to14. I was supposed to be so far behind, but I wasn’t. Coach Leggett, who was at Western Carolina, thought I was a very instinctive player, and I was. We all were.”

The years of ‘sandlot’ baseball prepared Todd and the gang for a very memorable high school career, and folks in Franklin County who spent time on the sideline during in the 80’s still talk about those times.

“In the close state championships games, we had what we needed from the organic ball that we played,” said Todd.

Before high school, Todd and his brother Matt played for Swanton Little League, Babe Ruth, and MVU. There were no travel teams, no baseball camps, and no special clinics to attend.

“Sandlot: that’s as close to my childhood as I can find; that was our experience in the Swanton Village. Bellrose, Paxman, Brouillette, Eldridge, Coleman, Spaulding, everybody on the team was in the village except for Kevin Boudreau. In the state tournament games in high school, every good pitcher was from the Village. As we got better we drew more kids in from Franklin and Highgate,” explained Raleigh. 

The team that won in 1986 had a mere ten players, and that group earned a win against Burlington. MVU competed and won state championships in ‘86, ‘87 (against BFA), ‘88 (Mount Anthony).  Success brought more guys out, and the wins kept rolling.

“It was what we had and what we did,” said Todd, “We had the right mix.”

Todd and Matt competed in Divsion I, and their older brother John’s teams competed in DII. John’s teams made title runs in ‘79, ‘80, and ‘81.

“I have full confidence that when MVU had the great teams with John they could have won at any level,” said Todd, “They were loaded.”

Todd recalled his MVU coaches Larry Trombley for baseball and Joe Malley for basketball, as well as Dan Marlow who was serving as athletic director during those years.

“Dan was a tremendous mentor to me and many others. He and the coaches helped to mold us into men, just as they did with many others,” said Todd.

Looking back over his youth, Todd highlighted some of the qualities that made his home state special to him.

“Vermont is unique in a lot of ways. You wouldn’t trade it for anything, the size of communities and schools, and the tightness in the community is there.”

Todd chuckled as he recalled his childhood years in Swanton when no one had cell phones, but every four-digit telephone number of a friend was burned in his memory.

“Those are the things that I remember, and they are some of the best memories,” said Todd, “I can remember those numbers from 40 years ago. It was how we got the game going.”

During Todd’s years’ success against rival BFA St. Albans was at its peak. 

“We never lost to BFA once in baseball. We had two Legion or Senior Babe Ruth teams in Swanton at one time, and there were two in St. Albans as well,” said Todd. 

Today Franklin County Fields one American Legion baseball team and one, maybe two Senior Babe Ruth teams depending on the year.

“I bet a lot of people wouldn’t believe there were two Senior Babe Ruth teams in Swanton unless they lived it. Bill Sheets and Richard Raleigh coached the two teams,” said Todd, “and we played a lot more in summer than in high school.”

Little League battles were a given in the Raleigh house when Matt and Todd were young.

At that time, Little League had a rule that stated that teams ‘Can’t pit brother against brother,’ but Swanton Little League wouldn’t let Todd and Matt play on the same team.

The two brothers went head to head time and time again, and Todd recalled one game in particular.

“Matt was 11 and I was 12; our brother John was the umpire. We both struck out 17 batters and we both hit a home run,” said Todd, “That game was probably pretty gut-wrenching for our parents. The game ended in a one to one tie. We settled that game that night in the backyard. We both claim to have won; we were very competitive.”

Looking back, Todd credits his mom as being the ‘glue’ that held it all together.

“Without her none of this would have ever happened.”

Speaking of his relationship with Matt, Todd chucked as he recounted their younger days.

“We were fierce. We’d drop the gloves and throw punches. Raleigh’s don’t like to lose.”

Todd also marveled at the guys he’s had the opportunity to play with, and some of the very best were his brothers.

“Matt and John were both once in a generation players. Matt was possibly one of the greatest players in Vermont history with his success in pro ball, high school, and college. He was an All American. He pitched three wins in three state championships and hit three to four home runs in those games too. He hit a home run over the press box in Centennial when he was 15,” Todd marveled, “Having a player like that, people will remember.”

“John struck out 18 and had a no-hitter in a state championship. I was a bat boy on that team that was coached by Jack Eldridge and I watched John pitch that game.

“John only lost one game in his high school career. He was 35 and 1 with one loss in a state championship game. I know they’re my brothers, but they were such special players. They could do it with a bat or on the mound,” said Todd.

Although they didn’t see the same success as the others, Todd’s brother David played for Lyndon State College and his younger brother Joe was also a good player. Their sisters were also talented with Rbin playing softball for Johnson State College and Jen pitching for MVU and in college.

Along with his brothers, Todd also had the company of his cousins Brian and Jeff Raleigh, both excellent ball players.

Between all the Raleigh children MVU enjoyed double digit state championships, including the famous ‘Three Peat’ for baseball during Todd and Matt’s years.

This year Cal Raleigh made his mark on the Raleigh family, earning a spot with the Everett Aquasox, a Major League Baseball affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Cal is currently hitting over 300 with 8 home runs in his young pro ball career.

Todd has appreciated Cal’s love of the game and the way he plays it.

“Cal is right with us; he’s a throwback type player and I see a lot of my brothers in him. He could have been one of those guys playing with us when we were kids. He’s very humble and low key. He has a true love for the game, a passion. That’s been passed down,” said Todd with a chuckle, “I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing. He truly loves to play and that connects him to the rest of us.”

After enjoying a successful run in baseball himself, Todd now has the opportunity to watch his son take his next steps in the game.

“It’s very rewarding as a dad on different levels; Cal grew up on a baseball field and coming to practices at the college where I coached. Seeing the time he’s put in and his hard work, that’s rewarding. I feel blessed in a lot of ways. A lot of stuff that’s happened to Cal, I thought would happen. I thought he’d always do fine wherever he went,” said Todd,” I’ve been thankful that he’s been healthy and we have a good relationship. I’m happy for him and glad to see that all his hard work has paid off.”

Cal enjoyed tremendous success in college playing for the most decorated college coach of all time, Florida Seminole coach Mike Martin.

“Coach Martin has said Cal is one of his all-time favorite players, and that means as much to us as his success,” said Todd, “those are the things that make you feel good because you know that Cal is doing the right thing on and off the field.”

Todd has worked with many ballplayers over the years and the perspective that he has on the game is priceless.

“I’ve coached over 100 players in pro ball and more than 20 in the big leagues. I know you can’t take anything for granted. I’ve enjoyed watching Cal probably more than he does. I just loved going to the games.”

Todd had wise words for Cal as his high school and college years came to an end in 2018. As a pro-ball player himself, Todd knows what’s ahead.

“Your high school and college days are fun, but the pros are a business, and this is Cal’s first taste of that business. It’s still baseball and that’s fun, but I’ve already told him it’s not going to be the same.”

As Todd helps Cal navigate the business of baseball, he’s also remembering a very important piece.

“He’s still just a kid, even though he’s 6’3” and 21 years old. To me he’s Cal. If he makes it to the big leagues that will be the pinnacle. He’s got to perform and work his way up.”

Going pro is something kids all over the world dream of attaining but few have the chance to. Todd is thankful for Cal’s skill as a switch hitter, his size, and the ‘lucky’ breaks that have come his way. Health has also been a major factor.

“He’s been in the right programs and he’s stayed injury free. He’s started in more than 200 games in college and has the most consecutive innings as a college player,” said Todd, “and he’s Raleigh tough!”

Talk of Cal’s success brought memories of Todd’s days on the college ball field.  When asked what was the greatest memory of his baseball career Todd didn’t hesitate.

“College baseball was a blast; those were the best four years of my life. Matt and I played three years together in college. That was the greatest thing I ever did in all of baseball.”

Matt and Todd batted three and four in the batting order, and their relationship on the same team was special, to say the least.

“We had a lot of plays we could put on. I was a catcher and he was third base and we didn’t need any signs. To me that was as special as anything I’ve ever done,” said Todd.

Having the opportunity to play together in college continued the success that they had enjoyed in high school.

“We often didn’t have to speak; we just knew what the other was thinking.  It must have been pretty cool for my parents to see us on the field together,” said Todd, thoughtfully.

Those high school years in Vermont still stand out to Todd as a part of his life that had some hometown magic that he hasn’t found in other places.

“Those were good times! We were on a wave that first state championship year! The parties after the state tournament, there were hundreds of people there. Even the police were present at the party. Our parents and everyone else’s parents had grown up together and everyone knew each other,” Todd recounted, “That’s the good thing about small towns in places like Franklin County.  The small town feel you get in Vermont, you can’t get that any place else and you can’t put a price on it. There aren’t a lot of places like that–where everybody knows everybody. It remains special, and  I haven’t forgotten my roots–my parents, grandparents, and my grandfather’s farm.”

Todd chuckled as he talked of his grandparents.

“When I took my first job coaching, my grandfather who lived to be almost a hundred and had a tremendous work ethic and was ‘a tough bird’, asked my mom how I was going to feed my family. He was an old farmer to the core,” Todd said with a chuckle, “I hope that me and my family have carried that with us. People in Franklin County are tough. I have tried to instill that in my kids as well.”

Hornet Pitching Silences Minutemen

Enosburg Catcher Noah Swainbank lines up for a play at the plate, getting a Mill River player out during their 9-1 win on Wednesday afternoon. The Hornets  advance to the quarterfinal round, hosting Fair Haven on Saturday at 4:30pm.   Gregory J. Lamoureux photo

By Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier

The Minutemen found hits hard to come by on Wednesday as Brayden Howrigan and Nik Sabrowski combined to allow only one run on the evening against visiting Mill River.

Sabrowski started the game for the hometown Hornets going four innings, striking out six, allowing four hits, and walking one.

Howrigan took the mound in the fifth, getting six of his nine outs on strikeouts and walking two.

“My pitch count was higher than I’d like to see but other than that it was a good game. We came out and battled and kept competing,” said Sabrowski.

Defensively, the Hornets played a flawless game, which was excellent for Sabrowski and Howrigan.

“Defense is key to a pitcher. If you don’t have that, you have the feeling that you have to go after guys and take them yourself. If something happens, it just drains your confidence. Defense is essential to a pitcher. It allows you to go out and find your groove. You can pitch to contact, and when you pitch to contact, you end up striking out more people because you have more confidence and throw more strikes,” said Sabrowski

The Enosburg offense combined to score eight runs over seven innings, thanks to numerous hits from various Hornet batters.

Parker Snow, Sabrowski, Johnathan Paquette, David Antillon, Howrigan, Karson Fortin, and Colby Geddes all had hits on the evening.

“They came out and played like they have all season long. Defensively, we played a great game. We didn’t have any errors, and we had a couple of balls that we probably shouldn’t have gotten to, but we got to them,” said Enosburg head coach Rodney Burns, “Offensively we didn’t hit as well as we have all season, but we didn’t strike out any more than three times. We were putting the ball in play and trying to make things happen.”

Second baseman, Karson Fortin, who is playing his first full year on varsity, shared his thoughts on the upcoming game with fifth seed Northhaven.

“It was a good team win for us; we really needed that. We need to go out swinging more in our next game–be more aggressive at the plate,” said Karson Fortin.

Burns and the team had the pleasure of welcoming back Alec Burns, Rodney’s son, who recently completed his freshman year of college. Alec attended Colby Sawyer College and played on the college baseball team.

“After coming back from a college season, I’ve come back with a lot of tips about hitting and fielding mechanics, and base running,” said Alec.

Alec coached first base for the playdown game on Wednesday afternoon, and his former teammates were glad to have him back.

“I like Alec as my base coach; he’s doing really well with us,” said Fortin.

Alec rejoined his father as an assistant coach, a new chapter in their ongoing baseball relationship.

“I love coming back and coaching with my Dad. I’ve been playing for him all the way up through, so this is a different experience. It’s cool getting to play with him and getting to watch these guys. We won the championship together last year, and it’s great to see how they have stepped up. It’s going to be fun watching them all the way through,” said Alec.

Last year’s Enosburg baseball team won the Division III State Tournament at Centennial Field, and Alec is glad to see this year’s team doing so well.

“This team is very solid defensively, they hit the ball one through nine, and the pitching has been fantastic for us so far,” said Alec.

Burns appreciates the opportunity to have his son on the field.

“It’s great to have Alec back! He’s doing a great job for us at first base. He’s smart and reads the pitchers well. It’s great having him around, and he’s an asset to the team,” said Burns.

Having coached in Enosburg for years, Coach Burns has had the opportunity to see many players graduate from his program.

“I love having my players come back. They’re always willing to help out in any way they can. To see them as often as I do, on the field in a practice or a game, is a great feeling,” said Burns, “There’s nothing I want more than to have my players come back, to be around, and to visit and be part of the group. I love that.”

VARSITY SPORTS PAIRINGS

BFA ST. ALBANS

Baseball: The Tenth-seeded Bobwhites travel to seventh-seeded Essex on Tuesday. The winner of that game will likely travel to second-seeded Brattleboro on Friday, assuming Brattleboro defeats fifteenth-seeded Lyndon on Tuesday.

Softball: The Comets picked up a seventh-seed with a 12-4 regular season record. On Tuesday they will host tenth-seeded Rutland at 4:30. The winner will likely travel to second-seeded Mt. Anthony on Friday for the quarterfinals.

Boys Lacrosse: With a third-seed in the tournament, the Bobwhites advance to the quarterfinal with a bye, hosting the winner of Tuesday’s sixth-seeded Burlington and eleventh-seeded Brattleboro.

Girls Lacrosse: With a 6-7 record, the Comets earned an eighth-seed and a home playoff game on Wednesday, hosting ninth-seeded MMU at 4:30. The winner advances to take on top-seeded CVU Saturday.

BFA FAIRFAX

Baseball: The Eighth-seeded Bullets picked up a home playoff game with a playdown on Tuesday at 4:30, hosting ninth-seeded Vergennes. The winner will travel to top-seeded Windsor on Friday for the quarterfinal round.

Softball: The Bullets picked up a bye in the first round with a fifth seed, advancing to the quarterfinals on Saturday, traveling to fourth-seeded Leland & Gray. The winner of that game will likely travel to Green Mountain in the semifinals.

ENOSBURG

Baseball: Picking up the fourth seed in Division II, the Hornets will host thirteenth-seeded Mill River Union High School on Wednesday at 4:30 pm. If the Hornets win, they will likely host fifth-seeded Fair Haven, unless they lose to twelfth-seeded Mt. Abe.

Softball: Much like their male counterparts, the Lady Hornets picked up a key fourth seed, the Hornets will host thirteenth seeded Rice on Tuesday at 4:30. The winner will advance to the quarterfinal, likely playing fifth-seeded Springfield on Friday at 4:30.

MISSISQUOI VALLEY UNION HIGH SCHOOL

Baseball: The Thunderbirds earned a home game with a final regular season record of 7-9. On Tuesday they will host Hartford at 4:30. The winner will likely travel to Lamoille on Friday.

Softball: With a 13-3 record, the eighth-seeded Thunderbirds host ninth-seeded South Burlington on Tuesday at 4:30. The winner will advance, likely traveling to Essex on Friday.

RICHFORD

Baseball: The fourteenth-seeded Falcons travel to third-seeded Oxbow on Tuesday in the opening round of the Division III playoffs. The winner will likely take on Randolph on Friday.

Softball: The Rockets picked up the seventh seed and a home playoff on Tuesday against tenth-seeded Williamstown.

ST. AMOUR BRINGS MORE THAN LUCK TO THE IRISH

By: Ruthie Laroche
For the County Courier

Matt St. Amour wowed many crowds in his hometown of Swanton during his high school years. He broke MVU school basketball records, and he even became a member of the elite 2,000 point shooters during his senior year.

After high school, he then went on to Middlebury College and enjoyed another stretch of record-breaking years. Now he’s on the other side of the ocean bringing his excellent skill set to the Irish people.

St. Amour made his way to Ireland at the end of August thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication. After completing his degree at Middlebury, St. Amour received the honor of being chosen as a Victory Scholar through the Sport Changes Life Program.

The program which is called ‘Sport Changes Life’ is sponsored by the Rory Foundation. The Rory Foundation is dedicated to helping elementary and high school-aged kids live better lives through the release of funds that seek to advance opportunity and change for children in a variety of difficult circumstances.

The program looks for skilled athletes who have succeeded both on and off the court to come and give their time to communities in Ireland.

Academics play a major part in the process, but the Victory Scholars’ involvement in the community is a major piece as well.

While they are in Ireland, the Victory Scholars take part in blog and video posts for the Sport Changes Life to keep folks in the know about the positive work that’s being done in the communities.

“It’s been amazing to see the reactions of people back at home and to be able to keep in touch with everyone,” said St. Amour.

Only 24 college graduates enjoyed the privilege of being Victory Scholars after graduation this year, and in the eyes of those who know him, it was the perfect way for St. Amour to close out his college career.

Pick up a copy of this week’s County Courier, available on newsstands now to read the remainder of this article.

FRANKLIN COUNTY LEGION BASEBALL SECURES STATE TITLE, FIRST IN 83 YEARS

Article and photos by Ruthie Laroche

Franklin County Legion Post 01 brought an American Legion Baseball State Tournament trophy back to the county for the first time in 83 years, thanks to an incredible team effort.

Brady Green pitched nine and one-third innings in the final game of the tournament. Richard Walker closed out the game, getting the final two outs.

The first game of the afternoon ended in a 12-2 loss for Post 01, but the boys didn’t hang their heads, and after a brief break for dinner, the Post 01 squad took the field for the second time.

Brady Green took the mound in the bottom of the first, handling the top of the White River lineup with ease and dexterity. Green struck out his first batter, induced a pop out to Boucher in left for the second out, and a ground out to third baseman Jake Hakey, which brought the inning to an end.

Center fielder, Bennett Coseo, singled in the second, and Tucker Gaudette who hit a home run on Wednesday night, came to the plate. Gaudette sent the ball sailing over the right field fence for a two run home run.

White River answered swiftly in the bottom of the second, with a two run home run of their own.

Going into the top of the third tied one to one, Post 01 batter, Ryan Boucher, singled to center and stole second. Dylan Beyor singled, scoring Boucher and putting Post 01 ahead by one run.

White River would score one run in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game once again, but Franklin County bats came to life in the top of the seventh.

Boucher hit himself on base once again and would score the fourth run for Post 01 when he was driven in by Colby Brouillette’s line drive double to center field.

Laroche hit a sacrifice fly to center allowing Brouillette to score. Franklin County was up 5-4 in the top of the sixth.

Once again, White River answered with a tying run in the bottom of the sixth.

Franklin County’s Kristian Viljanon makes a catch on a pop up for an out.

The bottom of the eighth saw White River threaten, but thanks to solid defense on Post 01’s part, Brady Green and the Franklin County boys kept their opponents at bay.

Coseo tracked a deeply hit fly ball to center for an out. Short stop, Laroche fielded a ground ball, took it to second on his own for the out. He was slid into, resulting in an interference call and a double play which ended the inning.

The game reached the ninth inning with both teams tied at five apiece. Post1 batter Kristian Viljanon was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a ground out. Gaudette walked, and Hakey doubled on a line drive. Viljanon scored and Gaudette advanced to third.

Hakey’s double scored the go ahead run for Post 01, and brought the offense to life.

“I just wanted to take the ball to the opposite field. I had fouled the pitch off before, just foul of the right field line. I knew I had to put something in play being down by one ball and two strikes. I knew that going the other way was the easiest way to move the runners as well as give myself a chance for an extra base hit,” said Hakey of his go ahead line drive.

Tucker Judkins worked a walk and Boucher singled, scoring pinch runner, Ryan Austin. Brouillette singled, driving in Hakey and advancing Judkins to third. Laroche hit his second sacrifice fly of the night, scoring Judkins.

Beyor singled on a line drive, scoring Boucher and advancing Brouillette to third, easily placing him in scoring position. Brouillette scored on a wild pitch, and the inning ended shortly after.

Green took the mound for the last time, striking out one and reaching his pitch count. Richard Walker came in for the final two outs, but White River did manage to score, bringing the final tally to 11-7.

Boucher made the final out of the game for FC Post 01, running down a ball that was hit down the left field line. The crowd erupted with applause and the Franklin County dugout emptied, players and coaches rushing the field to greet the returning fielders.

“It always feels good to come in and close out such an important game,” said Walker.

Franklin County Post 01, the third seed in the north, shocked the American Legion Tournament goers, upsetting both second place teams and both first place teams, and eventually securing the first Franklin County State Tournament victory since 1934.

Friday night’s games tested the strength of the Post 01 team, and head coach Josh Laroche, was quick to credit the grit and tenacity of his team for the victory that they earned in Hartford.

“Everyone, including our bench players, contributed something to this game. We’ve emphasized this all year: everyone on the team matters. Learning how to play as a team takes time and at the end of the year, we were able to play together. I believe this is why we were able to bounce back from tough situations and why we were able to create positive momentum for ourselves throughout the game and the tournament,” said Laroche.

Post 01 will travel to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, on August 2nd to face the State Champions from the state of Maine in a nine inning game at the Holy Cross baseball field. The American Legion Regional Tournament is a double elimination tournament which includes teams from all the New England states.