Over the past 6 years, Sikorsky Credit Union has been a sponsor of the Stratford Brakettes women’s fast pitch softball team. To me, summer is personified by spending an evening watching the Brakettes in action at their home park (Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field in Stratford.)
Once upon a time, the Stratford Brakettes were one of the top entertainment options in the area. The team (then sponsored by the Raybestos manufacturing company) drew attention by being the preeminent women’s fast pitch softball team in not only Connecticut, but the nation. It was not uncommon for 7,000 people to attend a game at the Brakettes old field in Stratford. Joan Joyce played for the Brakettes for the better part of 20 years and became a household name. The Bridgeport Post newspaper gave the Brakettes nearly the same coverage as the Yankees and Mets. They were even featured on the TV show 60 Minutes in 1981 (the episode can now be found online.)
Raybestos once funded the team, but they left Connecticut years ago—so long ago, most of the current players weren’t even born. Their old field was closed and is now an environmental remediation site. In recent years, the Brakettes has been mostly reliant on small contributions from local businesses to survive while crowds have thinned from thousands to a few hundred at best on most nights. Ironically, I never saw the Brakettes in their heyday. While the team could count on year-round athletes for many years, the Brakettes are now largely comprised of current and recently graduated college softball players, many of whom are local. There are a few veteran players who return each year, and the team still wins at an astounding rate. In fact, the Brakettes went over a year without losing a game in 2013-2014.
What happened to the crowds? It is a challenge to get people to the ballpark these days. The team’s best days were long before 24-hours sports channels, social media and Hi-Definition televisions. This is not just a Brakettes problem. The crowds aren’t that much different than the Bridgeport Bluefish in their final years. However, the Brakettes operate with very little overhead and are a non-profit organization—which helps keep the team afloat. While the players change, other names stay the same. Their General Manager, Bob Baird, first got involved with the team as a newspaper reporter in the 1960’s and has been General Manager for over 30 years. Bob does it all from organizing operations, to managing concessions, to donning a silly wig when hawking 50/50 raffle tickets. He recently retired from his position as the Athletic Director at Stratford High School. The coach of the Brakettes is John Stratton, a former teacher who has been involved with the team for even longer than Bob and has been the team manager for over 40 years. John’s wife is a former player from the Joan Joyce days. The majority of the remaining staff are volunteers who have been involved with the team for years. Foul balls are chased down and returned, due to the cost. My kids have been active “ballboys” for many years on the days we’ve gone.
They are not the New York Yankees, but the Brakettes don’t need to be. What I like best is that when I go to the park, everyone knows me and my family, and we feel a part of the Brakettes family even though my softball experience is relegated to some mediocre slow pitch play. It is a great way to support a local business and I’m very proud that my company has sponsored annually for several years now.
The Brakettes season is quite short, so make sure to pay a visit before their season ends in early August. This Friday (July 13) is Sikorsky Credit Union night—come out to the ballpark to see some great softball—and say hi to us!