By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport High School baseball alumni both young and old assembled for their annual Alumni Game at Pettingell Park Saturday to renew a decades-old rivalry between graduates of the even-numbered years (the Even team) and the odd ones (the Odds).
Amid some controversy, the Odds were victorious, 14-13, behind two three-run homers from Ryan O’Connor (’11).
“Don’t let this game get away,” said former Clippers’ varsity coach Bill Pettingell. “There will be some down years I’m sure, but if you end up playing with nine guys, you play strong and keep the game alive.”
Current Clippers’ varsity coach and Pettingell’s successor, Steve Malenfant (’72) was the source of much of the day’s controversy as he brazenly switched sides from the Evens to Odds on game day, a move that left many in attendance in a state of shock.
“I just wanted to give them somebody that knew how to win,” Malenfant boasted during the game. “I’m on the Odds now and we’re going to win and when I’m with the Evens, we win. It’s just something that happens.”
Malenfant then looked around and made a startling claim about the Odds.
“They cheat,” Malenfant said. “They’ll do anything to win, even when they don’t.”
Malenfant’s former Evens teammate Rob Daigle (’82) was not happy with his friend’s flip-flop.
“We’ve got to figure out who the commissioner is to complain too,” said Daigle, tongue in cheek. “But once we figure that out, we will totally make a complaint. That just wasn’t fair. Had we held onto him, we would’ve totally walked away with the championship, like we always do.”
The Evens broke out for a four-run 7-3 lead by the bottom of the third inning, but O’Connor’s first three-run bomb shaved that lead to only one.
The Evens would tack on three more runs to open things up again in the bottom of the fifth inning. But O’Connor would tattoo another ball in his next at bat to tie things at 10-10.
An RBI single by Ryan Short (’13) jumped the Odds ahead 11-10 and the Odd ones continued to tack on runs in the bottom of the sixth with another pair.
The Evens threatened in the top of the seventh, but Steve Bradley (’83) made a diving catch in foul territory to maintain his team’s lead. The Evens would then mysteriously add three more runs in between innings to tie the game at 13-13. But the Odds would pull off the win with a walk-off single from Short’s father, Skip (’79), that plated his son.
“It’s certainly a special day to play on the same field as your son,” said the elder Short.
“I look forward to a couple of years from now when (younger brother) Matthew and Ryan and I can all be out there together.”
The younger Short would be singularly honored that day as well, winning the John “Bear” Currier Alumni Baseball Scholarship award as well as the MIAA Sportsmanship award.
“It’s just an honor to be recognized along with some of Newburyport’s greatest baseball players,” Short said of winning the $500 Alumni Scholarship. “To be recognized with this scholarship is just a huge deal. I’m really humbled and it’s an honor.”
Daigle received the Tim Powers Alumni Baseball Person of the Year award and was equally moved.
“It’s a cool feeling,” said Daigle.
“It’s good to have my mom and dad here for it too — they mean the world to me — and to get this award in front of everybody here is a neat thing.”
Another highlight of the day was the dedication of a permanent sign in honor of Pettingell and the park named after him.
“That sign reflects all of the kids that played in this game all of these years,” said Pettingell.
“My name happens to be on it but it’s because of these guys. That is why I coached and the kind of kids who come back for this alumni game, those are the type of kids who you loved to coach. They still have a love for the game and they still have that concept of giving back to the game. That’s why they’re here.”
Charlie Cullen (’69), chairman of the Provident Bank, which sponsored the construction of the sign, went two for three in the Alumni Game.
“We couldn’t be more pleased,” Cullen said of the Provident Bank.
“I have so much affection for Coach Pettingell. He’s just a legend in this town.”
“It’s an awesome sign,” said Malenfant.
“The first time we saw it, we knew it was the perfect sign for us.”