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On Saturday, January 30th, the Al Thomas Baseball Club held its annual Hall of Fame awards dinner. Held at the prestigious Neighborhood Club in Quincy, the evening featured over 100 people celebrating the team’s 2009 season, the induction of two former players into the team’s Hall of Fame, and a candid and enlightening question and answer session with former Al Thomas player and current major league pitcher Rich Hill.

In its 29 year history, the Al Thomas Club has amassed 5 league championships and 16 Division titles. We’ve sent 30 to 40 players to Fenway Park to play in our annual All Star game, and in recent years, have sent about 10 players to represent the Yawkey League against the US Military All star team.

Our fans share the same integrity, devotion and enthusiasm. Over the years, it is the fans who have inspired us to greater glory. It has always been the fans, our loyal followers who travel night in and night out to support us. When it comes to our fans, it could be a glance, a wave, a shout, a high-five or even just a smile. But their presence is always felt, and it is and always has been appreciated more than any one of us could ever communicate. The Al Thomas Club is not made up of simply 15-20 ballplayers, but it consists of every person who has ever been to one of our dinners, one of our cookouts, one of our games, every person who has ever checked the newspaper or gone online and smiled when they saw a victory from the night before.

The awards portion of the night began by honoring one of our dedicated fans. We honor Fans of the Year each year to say thank you. We don’t always get the chance to say it during the season, or may not even think of it then, but we appreciate the effort it takes to journey to our games, and to sit in the stands, or in lawn chairs, or to walk back and forth in sheer agony waiting for that next pitch. You never know on a given night what might inspire someone to greatness, but your presence always increases those chances. One fan, whose optimism and enthusiasm was always appreciated, was always there to cheer us on, and provided her great talents as a photographer to take team and individual pictures at our games and the All Star game. Congratulations to our 2009 Fan of the Year, Judy Salvucci.

2009 saw the Al Thomas Baseball Club begin the season with many new faces, a trend that continued until about midseason. After a subpar first half, the A’s posted a 13-3 mark in the second half to win the Tarpey Division. We outplayed a veteran Somerville team in the first round of the playoffs, but a bit of bad luck saw us lose the tight deciding game 5.

Our 10th Player Award generally goes to a player who does a lot of different things, basically whatever it takes to help the team win. Last year, there were a number of guys who fit that description, but one in particular played a critical role on the team. He bolstered the pitching staff, as both a starter and reliever, played some first base and all three outfield positions and filled in at DH. His answer was always, “Yup, whatever you need”, and players like that are so important to have on any team. The 2009 10th Player Award winner is Dan Gaughan.

We had a bunch of rookies this year, with some relegated to part time due to job constraints and because they had to go home when the street lights came on. We also had a number of rookies who joined us around midseason and played very well. Chris McDonough and Brendan Wheeler were named to the YBL all rookie team. Team spirit and celebratory longevity are major components of our award, and this guy did it all on the field and did a nice job off the field upholding the true traditions of Al Thomas baseball. The Rookie of the Year for 2009 is Brendan Wheeler.

The team also acknowledged its league All Stars for last season, as voted by the league: Steve Lambert, Ryan Stoller, Ricky Salvucci and Brendan Wheeler. .

The final team award for the evening was the MVP, and this year we had co-winners. These guys tore through YBL pitching, finishing 3rd and 8th in the league in hitting. Ricky Salvucci hit a torrid .431 with a team leading 16 stolen bases, despite missing a number of games as he was leading his American Legion team in the playoffs. He played infield and outfield and I’m looking forward to even more heroics from him this season. He also was the only player cut from the Northeastern baseball team last year to try out again this year. He busted his tail working out and preparing himself for tryouts and made the team. He, along with Steve Lambert and Ryan Stoller played against the US Military all star team last summer in Nashua, NH. Brendan Wheeler led the team in runs, hits, doubles, triples, hr, rbi and being hit by the pitch, having one of the best rookies seasons anyone has ever had on this team. Congratulations to the co-MVPs for 2009, Ricky Salvucci and Brendan Wheeler.

The Al Thomas Club Hall of Fame began in 1996 with appropriately enough, a single induction of Al himself. Since the inaugural year, 17 players have been inducted into this prestigious group, some of whom were in attendance: Tom Degnan, Paul Ratti, Andy McDonnell, Todd Hohenleitner, Mike Hannon, Mike Toland, Larry Fennelly, Kyle Robertson, Lloyd Hill and Larry Hill.

Tom Degnan gave a nice speech to introduce our first Hall of Fame inductee, Danny Lovett, who played for eight years and did everything the team needed, and enjoyed playing in an all star game at Fenway Park, lacing a single in his only at bat. Playing on a championship-caliber team of all stars, Lovett often found it tough to crack the lineup, but prepared himself for every game and was always successful when called upon to produce.

Current player and eight-year veteran Chris Malloy inducted his friend and former teammate, Jimmy Schindler, noting that Jimmy played for 12 years, but his hamstrings only played for eight. Schindler also enjoyed an all star game at Fenway and always filled in admirably whenever needed to spell an outstanding outfield lineup.

Congratulations to both Danny and Jimmy, both well-deserving and the epitome of what being an Al Thomas player is all about.

After a brief team presentation thanking Al Thomas for his continued generosity and friendship, the evening concluded with a Q & A session with Milton’s Rich Hill, who after four years with the Cubs and Orioles, is in the St; Louis Cardinals spring training camp vying for one of the last two rotation spots. Among other things, Rich stated that his elbow and shoulder feel great and that he’s looking forward to making the Cardinals and helping them drive for a championship.

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