By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
TORRINGTON, June 5, 2001 -- The crowd had long slipped away and the grounds crew was spreading the tarp onto the Fuessenich Park's pitching mound. Players from both teams swapped stories and renewed friendships.
A few feet in front of the mound, Danbury coach Moe Morhardt stood with a baseball, ready to pitch a few underhanded pitches to his seven-year-old grandson, Justin, standing in the dirt near home plate.
After a few swings, Justin let his five-year-old sister Amanda take a few swings before they happily ran around the infield bases.
Two more students for Morhardt, the long-time college and high school baseball coach, to share his passion for baseball.
"Look at all the people in Northwest Connecticut that Moe instilled the love of baseball into. It's amazing," Twister head coach Gregg Hunt said after the Twisters spoiled Danbury's season-opening contest with a 5-4 NECBL victory Tuesday night. "If there is a finer baseball coach I want to meet him. I don't think there is."
Morhardt, the long-time baseball coach at The Gilbert School, was honored with the new Twisters' Lifetime Achievement Award just before the game. The directors of Torrington Collegiate Baseball, which operates the Twisters, chose Morhardt for the award.
"We wanted to recognize people who have dedicated a great deal of their lives to improving baseball in this area," said Twister general manager Kirk Fredriksson.
Morhardt is entering his fourth year as manager of the Westerners and led Danbury to the NECBL finals in 1999, losing to Keene.
"This is very enjoyable," he said of coaching in the NECBL. "I like coaching college players. I'm not so crazy about college baseball."
He coached for seven years at the University of Hartford, five years as an assistant and two as the head coach (1993-94). He also was the head coach at Western Connecticut State University for three years.
His biggest splash came with coaching in the high school ranks.
He was the head coach at The Gilbert School for 21 years, posting a record of 299-134, leading the Yellowjackets to four Class M state championships (1970, 1973, 1976 and 1979) and eight Northwest Conference titles. He was Gilbert's first boys soccer coach in school history, coaching the team for eight years. Morhardt also coached the boys basketball team for six years in the early 1970s and mid-1980s.
He played baseball and soccer at UConn. He helped the UConn '9' earn a spot in the College World Series in 1957 and 1959 and earned All-American honors.
Morhardt played with the Chicago Cubs organization from 1959-64. He played 25 games in the major leagues with the Cubs as a first baseman in 1961 and 1962. But Morhardt's future was limited playing behind Hall of Fame first baseman Ernie Banks.
Morhardt has had a huge impact on the Twister program.
Fredriksson and Twister assistant coach Jeff Dombrowski all played under Morhardt at Gilbert, where he was a physical education instructor and athletic director. Hunt has coached with Morhardt for years and worked many camps with him. His son Darryl is the team's pitching coach.
"I was an honor roll student but I think I learned more about baseball from Moe in four years than I did in all of my classes," Frederiksson said.
Morhardt's other son, Greg, a scout with the New York Mets, was in the stands with his children to see his father receive the award.
"There have been a lot of good guys who have helped out in sports," said Greg Morhardt, a former Gilbert School star who played Triple A baseball in the Twins organization. "My father, [former Winsted American Legion coach] George Case, [former Shepaug baseball coach] Ted Alex. If you start naming names, you will forget someone. But there have been a lot of coaches who have spent a lot of time, not for the money, but to make a difference in the community."
Fredriksson and the Twisters plan to award the Twisters' Lifetime Achievement Award each year during the second home game of the season.
"I was surprised and honored," Moe Morhardt said.
TWISTER NOTEBOOK -- Mike Rabelo, who played with the Twisters in 1999, was a fourth round pick of the Tigers and 117th overall in Tuesday's Major League Baseball draft. ... A year ago, Michigan's Jeff Tzroz was a set-up man in the Twister bullpen. This year, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound lefthander looks to be the closer. He picked up his first NECBL save Tuesday by striking out all three batters he faced in the 5-4 win over Danbury. At Michigan this spring, he was 1-1 with 4 saves and a 1.64 ERA in 18 appearances.