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.”