The dugout will look and feel a lot different at Cromwell High School this spring as longtime baseball coach Lewis Pappariella announced that he’s passing the baton after 11 successful seasons.
“I have made this difficult decision because of my aspiration to become a school administrator. I am placing my efforts into preparing myself for opportunities that may present themselves toward the later part of the school year. Whether I realize this goal sooner or later, I would not want to put the kids or this program in a vulnerable position,” stated Pappariella.
During his time at CHS the charismatic coach built a rock-solid resume, amassing an overall record of 198-79. In each of his 11 seasons the Panthers posted a winning record and three ended with trips to the state title game.
“Sustained success was obviously the goal and we started every year with two goals; win a Shoreline championship and win a state championship. We established high expectations right from the beginning,” said Pappariella, “Having high expectations is important, especially when working with young kids. It didn’t matter who we graduated the message was the same; if you work hard, you will get better. It was a formula that centered around pitching and defense. I was a former pitcher and I was able to share a lot of information, and in high school baseball if you have a couple of guys that can pitch and you get eight guys behind them that can all field, you’ve got a good shot.”
The crowing achievement was the 2012 title run, which ended with a 12-4 victory over Derby in the Class S championship game.
“That was the best team we ever had. Not the best players, not the highest averages. Sometimes kids get caught up with that, they want the individual accolades, which are nice but that’s not what makes a great team. That group knew that and they didn’t let their egos get in the way.”
The 2012 squad finished the regular season with a 15-5 record but took it to another level once the tournament started, defeating the #1 and #2 seeds along the way and outscoring their five tourney opponents by a combined score of 45-12.
“Steve Radziewicz had text me that offseason that he wanted to win a state championship and he wasn’t that type of kid that is a bold predictor. He was more reserved, quite guy so that struck me that these guys had the dream. That group believed in their core that they could do it. They were outstanding, they were very selfless, they did all the small things well, and they cared. It was remarkable to see them get better every week, we kept getting better and better. It was a very cool team to be around and watch,” recalled Pappariella, “Our season turned when John McMahon, who was one of our best players, turned it around. He was frustrated and pressing the first ten games and wasn’t enjoying himself. We finally told him to have fun and let loose. There were a couple of other guys that saw that and the idea of having a positive spirt became contagious.”
2012 was the pinnacle but there were plenty of other high-water moments over his tenure, including the five Shoreline Conference championships. The confident coach is walking away following three straight conference crowns.
“These accomplishments are the result of hard work and commitment to excellence of the players and families that have been in our program. I cannot thank them enough and will always be indebted to them. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with so many fine people, including players, my coaching staff, teachers, fans, administration, opponents, reporters, umpires, the list goes on and on.”
Stepping away from the game wasn’t an easy decision for Pappariella, who has been involved in baseball since he first learned to throw a ball while growing up in Pennsylvania. He would go on to star on both the football and baseball fields in high school.
After high school he chose Central Connecticut State University, originally to play on the gridiron but quickly realized that his true passion remained on the diamond.
“My high school had a really good baseball team and we won the state championship. At the time I thought that would be the last baseball game that I ever played,” recalled Pappariella, “My freshman year I did a work study where I would rake the infield for the baseball games at Central and it was my first time away from the game. That’s when I knew I missed it.”
After switching sports he went on to pitch three solid seasons at Central, closing as a sophomore and starting during his junior and senior campaigns where he was named a team captain for a team that won three consecutive conference championships.
Following CCSU, he earned his master’s degree from the University of Bridgeport before settling down in Cromwell and becoming the JV coach.
Two years later the then-26-year-old began his impeccable 11-year run as the head coach for the varsity program, where he would go on to mentor some of the area’s best baseball talents.
“Coach Papp helped many in many ways from having quicker hands in the field to helping me be a versatile player to play almost anywhere. He showed us that we have to do the little things right and showed me how being into the game really makes an impact,” said 2018 graduate Austin Roy, who was a vital part of Cromwell’s three straight conference titles, “[He] helped me see the game better and that it’s about buying into a process and that everyone has a role and everyone has to buy in to accomplish something.”
Roy was part of the last senior class that Pappariella coached. The two helped elevate the program and set the standard for the next generation.
“I think they’ll be pretty good,” Pappariella said of the returning 2019 team, “We graduated a good amount, including our pitching from last year but they have six or seven bats that could pop and they’re some young guys that could do that too. If I were coaching the team, I’d be excited about them.”
One of the returning starters is Bryce Karstetter, who is best known for his brilliant work behind center during football season, and now is a senior leader for the new-look baseball team this spring.
“Coach Papp taught me many lessons in baseball and in life through our time together. As a sophomore I underwent knee surgery in the offseason and wasn’t able to play. I told coach that I was going to focus on rehabbing and getting back and he told me that I need to stay around the team for the year because it would hurt me if I completely left the game for a whole season. Coach was also very understanding to my situation and allowed me to lift and rehab on some days and attend games and practices on others. He made me text him every day telling him what I was doing and would also encourage me to come to practice. He taught me a lot that year about how to handle tough situations and be able to work back onto the field after an injury without losing the game,” recalled Karstetter, “Coach was a hard coach to play for but he would always pull out the best of our players often making sure we were focused and knew what our task was. Coach Papp was able to give name to Cromwell baseball.”
This spring will be uncharted territory for Pappariella, who will be without a baseball commitment for the first time since his early days in Pennsylvania.
He said he might dust off the old mitt and play Twilight baseball but for now the father of two is focused on writing the next chapter in his life.
“As my family grew, my aspirations to be an administrator grew. At this point in my career it was more self-reflection about where I see myself long term and when I thought about where I wanted to be it was in administration,” said Pappariella, who is currently a teacher in Cromwell, “Coaching has been very rewarding. I think there are a lot of overlap with school administration leadership and athletic leadership and I’m just looking for an opportunity to expand my leadership capacity. I know what I can do in a classroom full of 25 kids and with 30 players and how to create that culture, but I’m looking for the opportunity to do it building-wide and I’m eager for that next challenge.”
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin