By MICHAEL LETENDRE
PLAINVILLE – On May 17, the Bristol Eastern baseball team defeated Plainville, 7-1, from Plainville high school.
On the surface, it might have looked like any ordinary win for the Lancers against a Central Connecticut Conference, Southern Division opponent.
The handshake line at the end of the game was cordial and the Eastern players then walked back towards the dugout for its usual postgame meeting.
But as Eastern head coach Mike Giovinazzo was surrounded by his players, the longtime coach got a huge ovation.
That’s because the win against the Blue Devils was his 600th as the coach of the Bristol Eastern baseball program.
“You never coach for things like that,” said Giovinazzo of the milestone. “You coach because you love the game and you want to teach the kids how to play the game right. That’s what I’ve tried to do over the years.”
That statement is typical Coach Giovinazzo in a nutshell.
Over his 45 glorious years coaching baseball at Eastern, he’s spawned generations of players, coaches, and people that teach the game of baseball far and wide.
“It’s awesome. I’m so proud of him,” said former player, friend and Bristol Central coach Bunty Ray. “I mean, I was his bat boy, played for him, and I’ve coached twenty years against him and it’s special. He’s the best. They’ll be no one better than him.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Coach Giovinazzo is the definition of ‘old school.’
He’s not flashy and is as meat and potatoes as it gets.
Giovinazzo comes to practice every day, ready to work, and every year since 1975, the Lancers have always been a tough out for opponents as the squad’s fundamentals are usually off the charts.
“I’ve been coaching against him as an assistant and now as a head coach since the 1980s,” said Plainville coach Lou Mandeville after the historic 600th win. “It’s an honor to be on the same field as him and [for him] to get his 600th.”
“Of course, we wanted to win tonight but it’s on honor to be out on the same field as him because I have a lot of respect for him.”
“I think that’s pretty fantastic,” said Eastern pitcher Jagger Duquette of the milestone. “That’s incredible that you can have that many wins and even coach that many games.”
How many coaches in Connecticut have achieved 600 victories in baseball?
The list isn’t that long but names like John Fontana (Southington, 669 wins) and Bob DeMayo (North Haven), who has over 900 career wins are on the top of the list who come to mind right away.
DeMayo was around for 60 years to accomplish that milestone and while Giovinazzo has been coaching the Lancers’ program since back when the United States and Iran were nearly best friends, the Bristol Eastern mentor has put together an amazing tally over his 45-year stretch.
In just his first season, Giovinazzo led Eastern to 14 wins and a Colonial Conference championship.
And the young coach was just warming up.
“It’s great. I was there for the first [win],” said Pete Losey who was one of Giovinazzo’s captains on his first Eastern team. “I was there for his first league championship in 1975. It’s been a long haul but I’m glad he got there. He’s a great coach, a great guy.”
The Lancers have been a playoff contender almost every season since he took over for coach Clem Roy during the 1974-75 campaign as a 24-year old rookie coach.
And one of the things people don’t realize is that if CIAC state tournament qualification was eight wins back when Giovinazzo first started coaching (it was .500 at one point), his squads would have never missed the postseason.
That would have meant playoff qualification from 1975 to the present in what could have been an amazing streak – and one of the state’s best ever.
“I can’t say enough good things about what he’s done for this town and what he’s done for people,” said Ray. “He coaches the way you’re supposed to coach. He grinds, he goes out there and does his job and when you stick around for 45 years, you have to be able to withstand a lot of things especially in today’s day and age, too.”
“Through all the criticism, through all the accolades, he stays the same and it’s just been a pleasure to be around him all these years.”
A tenth of his wins have come against Platt (61 wins) while he’s defeated Maloney 56 times over his career.
“Coach G” and his squad have squared off against Bulkeley 62 times over the years and the Bulldogs have come away with just four victories against the veteran coach.
And the only team that has given the Eastern coach any real trouble was Southington as Fontana and Giovinazzo have butted heads in so many classic games.
But the wins aren’t what motivates Giovinazzo in the end.
It’s the teaching moments, seeing the kids using those skills, and watching them perform better by the game.
Several of his former players and assistants coaches were at the game in Plainville – rooting for their former team and coach – as all those men, some young at the time, helped Giovinazzo get to 600 wins along the way.
“When you’ve been at it as long as I have and you have a lot of good players, that’s what you end up with. That result,” said Giovinazzo of 600.
And don’t forget that Giovinazzo is a state championship level coach.
His team won it all as the No. 17 squad in the 1986 Class L bracket. Injuries played a role in a very slow start that year but Giovinazzo knew that the team was of championship caliper.
Giovinazzo has brought Eastern to two championship games overall and half-a-dozen semifinal showdowns in state tournament play.
He’s had seven players sign professional contracts and was the Connecticut High School Coaches Association 2010 Outstanding Baseball Coach.
2013 was an award winning year for Giovinazzo as he was the American Baseball Coaches Association Region 1 Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year 2013.
Connecticut American Legion Baseball named him High School Coach of the Year as well that season.
He’s won several league championships, including Colonial Conference Championships in 1975, 1978, 1981, and 1984, more than a few CCC South titles including 1996, 2006, 2008, and had a great run over 2015 and 2016.
And in 2015, Giovinazzo was inducted into the CHSCA Hall of Fame.
“He’s done a great job,” said Mandeville. “And I’m happy to see him get it and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
In the end, it’s all about his kids and he hopes that every player that comes through the Bristol Eastern baseball program can answer three simple questions when their playing days are over:
Did you compete to the best of your ability every day?
Did you learn lessons that you could use in your adult life?
And did you form friendships that will last a lifetime?
“When all is said and done, these kids are going to remember who they played with and the relationship they had,” said Giovinazzo. “That’s what I’m going to remember. Having my ex-players as coaches, that means so much to me.”
Maybe someday in the distant future, Giovinazzo will decide to hang it up – call it a career at Bristol Eastern.
But the shoes that the new coach would have to fill will be the size of Mount Everest.
“600, it’s not the wins. He’ll tell you the wins don’t mean anything,” said Ray. “It’s the losses that killed him. To endure all those games between the 600 wins, you also have to deal with a lot of losses and deal with things in-between. We praise the wins but you also have to understand the everyday grind, going out and doing your job every day [win or lose]. That’s what makes him special. That’s what makes him the best.”
“They’ll never be anyone like him.”
The milestone wins: There have been some big games over Giovinazzo’s 600 victories. Here’s a special look at some of those wins:
April 18, 1975 – Win no. 1: Bristol Eastern 5, Southington 0 – Pitcher Mike Beaudoin helped Giovinazzo win his first scholastic game as the head coach of the Lancers’ program. Beaudoin struck out 16 while walking just one over the winning effort against the Knights.
May 5, 1983 – Win no. 100: Bristol Eastern 13, Newington 5 – Brian Rooney did it all that day as he allowed just four hits and struck out seven on the hill to pick up the win for the Lancers. He also went 3-for-4 at the plate, collecting six RBI.
April 12, 1991 – Win no. 200: Bristol Eastern 16, Maloney 3 – Shawn Kelly smoked out four hits – one hit away from the cycle – as Eastern won big over the Spartans. Chris Gaudet allowed just five hits over the winning effort for the Lancers.
May 2, 1997 – Win no. 300: Bristol Eastern 5, Maloney 1 – Shawn Crosbie won the game in relief to lead the Lancers over Maloney for win No. 300. Daryl Bushy smashed out two hits to lead the Lancers’ offense.
May 25, 2004 – Win no. 400: Bristol Eastern 2, Rockville 1 – Sean Allaire went 3-for-4 and Mike Wentland gave up only one unearned run as the Lancers ended the regular season with a win. Wentland tallied the game-winning hit, a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh frame to clinch the victory.
April 4, 2012 – Win no. 500: Bristol Eastern 18, Rockville 2 – Alec Lamar and Nick Plancho each tallied three hits as the Lancers knocked down Rockville for win number 500. Mike Nocera won the game behind a three hit, one earned run effort.
May 17, 2019 – Win no. 600: Bristol Eastern 7, Plainville 1 – Dylan Woodsome goes the distance on the mound as Eastern hit Plainville for five runs in the second inning – helping Giovinazzo win his 600th game.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Michael Letendre, email him at MLetendre@BristolObserver.com.