Garry Brown: Bankers get down to business in TriCounty League –

New Orleans Baby Cakes second baseman Isan Diaz (1) makes a catch in the first inning during the home opener for the New Orleans Baby Cakes against the Round Rock Express at the Shrine on Airline on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

New Orleans Baby Cakes second baseman Isan Diaz (1) makes a catch in the first inning during the home opener for the New Orleans Baby Cakes against the Round Rock Express at the Shrine on Airline on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

By Garry Brown | Special to The Republican

Chalk up a seventh straight Tri-County League pennant for PeoplesBank. The Holyoke-based team clinched Monday night, beating Teddy Bear Pools 5-3 behind the pitching of Zach Handzel and a five-run rally from 3-0 behind in the sixth.

The Bankers stand 16-2 with three games to go. After that, they’ll shoot for a seventh straight playoff title.

In what may be a first for the Tri-County League, three PeoplesBank pitchers had no-hitters this season.

“Zach Handzel, Jon Ferry and Jake Graveline did it, and they all come from Palmer,” said Joe Ferry, the team’s new coach.

Over the winter, he succeeded Fred Perry, who gave up the PeoplesBank leadership role after the 2018 season. Perry, who serves as assistant coach at Westfield State University, had been with PeoplesBank teams since 2011.

For six-plus seasons, he served as assistant to Tri-County legend Jim Long. When Long, 75, passed away just prior to the start of the 2017 playoffs, Perry grudgingly accepted the head coaching role.

In Long’s time with PeoplesBank, his teams won 16 pennants and 12 playoff championships. Perry’s teams added two in each category.

Now, coach Joe Ferry also serves as the team’s regular left fielder. He’s one of seven who have been with the team for the last seven pennant-winning seasons. The others: center fielder Tom Bouvier, catcher Pete Hogan, second baseman Dave Clark, and pitchers Joe Popielarczyk, Danny Gaines, and Andy Gaines.

Another key player, Ted Lerud, has been with PeoplesBank for the last five pennant runs. In 2013, he played for Wilbraham Funeral Home, which lost to PeoplesBank in the playoff finals. With that, the current winning streak began.

“In my opinion, Ted is one of the most feared hitters in the league. He has done that for 15 years,playing for Teddy Bear Pools and Wilbraham before joining us,” coach Ferry said.

Ryan Franczek, a shortstop who won multiple MVP awards with PeoplesBank, isn’t playing Tri-County this season, but he played a key role on the 2013-2018 championship teams.

Most of the PeoplesBank veterans go back to the Jim Long days. Each season, they try to build on his considerable legacy.

DIAZ DAZZLES: Isan Diaz, the Springfield Central graduate who plays second base for the Triple A New Orleans Baby Cakes, has been on a batting tear since July 1.

In July games going into Friday night’s action, he’s hitting .385 (15 for 39) to up his season average to .306. He has 101 hits in 90 games, including 18 doubles and 23 homers. His 62 RBI lead the team.

In the middle of all that, he was selected for the July 10 Triple A All-Star game, in which he went 0 for 2.

On the Miami Marlins top-30 prospects list, Diaz ranks No. 6. By the way, their No. 13 prospect is middle infielder Jose Devers, cousin of Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox. Jose is now with Jupiter of the Gulf Coast League.

BRICK WORK: Quinn Woytowicz, a 10-year-old hockey player from Longmeadow, had a memorable week playing for the Boston Junior Bruins in the Brick Invitational, a tournament in Edmonton, Alberta.

“The Brick” is regarded as one of the elite youth hockey events, up there with the World Juniors and the Quebec Pee Wee Tournament. The Edmonton event features seven teams from the U.S. and seven from Canada. It’s sponsored by the Brick Warehouse of Edmonton.

“Quinn’s team went 2-4, but each game was highly competitive,” said his dad, Ted Woytowicz. “In the Boston Junior Bruins’ division, they lost 2-1 to Team Alberta, which played in the championship game and lost to the Connecticut Junior Rangers 3-2 in overtime. The difference between most of the teams was very small.”

Quinn finished with a goal and two assists.

SUMMER ON ICE: All phases of Springfield professional hockey – Indians, Kings, Falcons and Thunderbirds – will be represented at “Hockeyday,” an annual midsummer gathering sponsored by the Springfield Hockey Heritage Society.

This year’s event takes place next Saturday in the Young Building on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. “Hockeyday” used to be held in a corner area of the Coliseum, long-time home of pro hockey, but it had to be moved to a larger venue as fan interest grew over the years.

Paul Thompson, a veteran player with the Springfield Thunderbirds, planned to attend until he realized that he had a family wedding.

“We’ll miss Paul, but we’ll still have Boomer to represent the Thunderbirds,” said Steve Bordeaux, who teams with his brother Lou to run Hockeyday. (Boomer, the team mascot, is played by veteran skater Jim Syner).

American Hockey League Hall of Famers Bruce Landon and Bruce Cline will be among those ready to meet and greet. Landon has done it all in Springfield hockey – player, general manager, franchise owner. Cline goes back to the early ’60s Springfield Indians, when he skated for three straight Calder Cup winners.

“The Puck Stops Here,” a memoir written by Landon, will be available for purchase. The book is dedicated to the memory of Bruce’s daughter, Tammy Jacobson-Landon, who died of cancer on Feb. 20 at the age of 43. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to the Tammy Jacobson-Landon “I can hear you now” scholarship fund at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech. Tammy, worked at Clarke’s Northampton campus as a grants writer.

Hockeyday also will include a golf outing next Friday for the returning players at Oak Ridge in Feeding Hills. This event is open to Heritage Society members at $55, including a cart. Tickets for Hockeyday cost $22 for Society members, $27 for non-members.

To purchase Hockeyday and golf outing tickets, visit or get them in person at Steve’s Sports, West Springfield, (746-1696). No tickets will be sold at the door.

SACRAMENTO-BOUND: Jay Wagner, a grandson of Howard and Rae Davis of East Longmeadow, has qualified in the weight events of the Junior Olympics, which open Monday in Sacramento, California.

Last weekend, at the USA Track and Field regionals in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, he won the gold medal in the hammer throw, and silver medals in the discus and shot put.

Jay graduated last month from Perkiomen Valley High School in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. He capped his senior year by setting the school record in the shot put. He’s the son of Craig and Jeri (Davis) Wagner.

TODAY’S TRIVIA: How many American golfers have won back-to-back British Opens? Answer: Six – Bobby Jones 1926-27, Walter Hagen 1928-29, Arnold Palmer 1961-62, Lee Trevino 1971-72, Tom Watson 1982-83, Tiger Woods 2006-07.

BEST BET for the weekend: Maximum Security, in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.

Garry Brown can be reached at

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