By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Speculation always seems to run rampant towards the end of a sports season and with the year coming to an end for the Bristol American Legion baseball team at the American Legion Northeast Regional Tournament from Muzzy Field, would this be the final season for head coach Jerry LaPenta?
It could have been a perfect stepping off point for the long time mentor if he did indeed decide to step down.
His son was one year removed from the squad and, with the automatic Northeast Regional qualification gone as Bristol won’t be hosting the tournament next summer, it could have been easy for LaPenta to move on.
Maybe he needed a little time to think about that answer, to make a decision with his family after his squad was bounced from the Regional via a 14-4 lost to a strong squad from Rochester, New Hampshire.
But even off that tough defeat, LaPenta was willing to answer that question right away after the completion of the season.
And as Arnold Schwarzenegger said during all his movies during the 1980’s and beyond, LaPenta’s answer was plain, simple and to the point.
“I’ll be back,” said LaPenta.
Frankly, that response wasn’t much of a surprise as the longtime coach is building up the program in town and doing more than a credible job at leading the group year after year.
“I’ll be back,” repeated LaPenta. “I enjoy coaching.”
Sometimes, former minor league players such as LaPenta turn to coaching once playing days are over and sometimes, those moves have varied results.
Playing at a high level is one thing but moving into coaching isn’t exactly a bowl of fruit and nuts.
However, LaPenta has taken the coaching jobs for Post 2 to heart and the results have been positive from the start.
He’s coached at both the senior and junior Legion levels in town.
LaPenta helped lead the junior Legion team to the New England Tournament in New Bedford, Massachusetts back in 2011 and, along those lines, won the Connecticut State Junior Legion Championship along the way.
But returning for the 2017 senior Legion squad was always in the cards as the coach has been a very positive influence on the program.
And he always remembered a little advice a long time MLB manager once told him many years ago.
“When I was in pro ball at one point, my second year in pro ball, Don Zimmer was the head manager with the Cubs. He came down to minor league camp to give a speech and he said, ‘There’s four things you can be when you’re in baseball.’ He said ‘you’re either a player, a coach, scout/administrator or a fan.’ He goes, ‘You want to be the first three for as long as you can.’ So I’ve been a player, I’ve been a coach, I was a scout and I’m not ready to be a fan yet. I’m going to stay coaching. I enjoy it.
“[When] you get to play at a park like this, why wouldn’t you want to come and play? I don’t see myself going anywhere for the foreseeable future.”
And the ultimate decision to return makes sense as all but three of his players are eligible to return for the 2017 campaign and with a boatload of young talent in the junior Legion ranks, the days ahead are still very bright for LaPenta and Post 2.
This past season, LaPenta was aided by assistants Rick Lemke and former Bristol Central standout Jake Martel.
And in his first season, Mark Tonon was the Bristol Junior Legion head coach.
Support staff for Post 2 included long time Bristol Legion General Manager Paul LaFleur, assistant GM Dave Greenleaf, administrative assistant Jay Beaucar, intern Kyle Caron, scorer Ashley LaPenta and Field Operations Manager, former Bristol Mayor Art Ward – all volunteers for the outstanding program.