By Jim Sullivan
---- — It wouldn’t be Yankee Homecoming without the annual Newburyport High Alumni Baseball Game. And although this year’s game will be the second played at Pettingell Park, it will be the first to be done in the shadow of a permanent sign dedicated to the former coach, Bill Pettingell.
“When the dedication of the field took place last (year) in front of so many great people that I really care about, I was emotional and speechless,” said Pettingell. “Last Tuesday, when I actually saw my name on the field after Rick Salmonson and Coach (Steve) Malenfant actually finished putting it up, I received goose bumps and then became extremely proud of my Pettingell name and what it represented presently as well as in the future. What is more important to anyone than their last name? It is clearly the greatest gift my parents gave to me.”
With their numbers growing with the addition of the Class of 2013, the Odds team will once again face the Evens, followed by the annual awards ceremony that will see recent graduate Ryan Short receiving this year’s alumni scholarship. The 2013 Person of the Year Award will go to the current freshman coach, Rob Daigle, of the Class of 1982.
“I was shocked and excited at the same time,” Daigle said. “I told coach (Pettingell) when he told me that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s an emotional time to get something like that. You don’t expect or try to get it. But when it happens, it’s pretty cool.”
Daigle was a one-year varsity starter at third base for the Clippers and went on to play for the U.S. Army for nine years. He also pitched and played shortstop for the All U.S. ARMY Europe Baseball team, playing in 15 different countries against both military and civilian opponents. Daigle also started a German national baseball team, where he played and coached 13- to 18-year-olds, even though they had never played baseball before.
“The basics of baseball had to be taught to them from square one,” said Daigle. “And then at the same time, a lot of them only spoke German. So you had to translate it. (But) they wanted to know more about the American game. And you had 13-year-old kids that got out there and within three weeks, they had mastered the game. I had two 15-year-olds who were just phenomenal. And they had never played baseball before. They picked up the game like it was nothing. We only had problems with the pitching.”
Daigle also played both in the Boston and Denver Men’s Baseball Leagues before returning home to become a volunteer assistant coach for the state champion Clippers in 2011.
“That was awesome,” Daigle said. “I had been back for a little while, and I always wanted to be a part of that team. It was fun to be a part of it and to teach the kids. (And) they didn’t know me or had even met me before. So, for them to listen and for us, as a coaching staff, to go through that run was just amazing.”
Currently a housekeeping manager at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, N.H., Daigle played the role of Clippers junior varsity coach in 2012 and freshman coach in 2013.
“It’s a very exciting time to be a part of the organization,” said Daigle. “(Malenfant) used to be my paper boy. He was my Babe Ruth coach when I was a junior in high school. I’ve known him most of my life. We have our battles on a consistent basis, but it’s only because we’re both hardheaded and stubborn baseball players. But it’s a fun time. All of us in the coaching staff get along well together. It’s a great system to be a part of.”
Even though Daigle spent almost 25 years away from Newburyport before returning home in 2007, he still plays the game three to four times a week and said that he always kept Clipper ball with him wherever he was.
“Absolutely, everywhere I went,” said Daigle. “Everything that Coach Pettingell taught me from the simple things in the game and how to master the game and also just to play the game right. Coach P. always told us to play the game right. Wins or losses don’t matter as long as you’re playing it right.”