By Ryan Massad, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Ten years ago, Matt Vaccaro began playing for the Shrewsbury Dirt Dogs Stan Musial team, an adult baseball team composed of mostly Shrewsbury residents. Matt played ball for Framingham State at the time. Not long after, younger brother Frank Vaccaro joined the squad while he was attending Becker College. Merely years after they were the “young guys” on the squad, they'se now coaching the team. A team that just happens to be one of the best in the league so far this season.
Both Matt and Frank played for Bob Bigda, whose long run as the Dirt Dogs coach ended last year after some ups and downs. However, the Vaccaro brothers vow the team wouldn's even be in existence had it not been for Bigda.
“Coach Bigda set the foundation,” said Frank. “He was instrumental in keeping the team together through the tough times.”
Bigda resigned as the Dirt Dogs coach at the completion of last season, opening the door for change.
Last season ended with the Dirt Dogs being one of the worst teams in the league, barely able to field a full team, and without a coach. As the Vaccaro brothers went through the process of finding a new coach, they quickly realized that if you want a job done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
Keeping a half dozen of the core players, and adding an arsenal of new players from all over New England, the Dirt Dogs are now creating a buzz around the Central New England Baseball League. The most notable additions are Keith Landers and Steve Paddock. Landers, a lefty pitcher, was drafted in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles. Paddock, an outfielder, was drafted in the 46th round of the 2003 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Both opted to go to college instead, to the University of Louisville and UMass-Lowell, respectively.
Frank credited networking for the revamped lineup.
Through networking, and just knowing people around the game, we'se been able to build and expand the team to our liking,” he said. “Success attracts college talent, so hopefully we can bring in even better players in the future.” This is a future that at one point looked dismal.
Catcher Corey Abbascia, of Shrewsbury, started playing five years ago as a freshman at Worcester State. At one point, he was afraid he's have to find an entirely new team to play for.
“If you asked me last year, I would'se probably said there was no future for the team,” Abbascia said.
“There were games we couldn's even field a full team. Matt and Frank worked hard to get us to where we are now.”
With a 32-game season ahead, the Dirt Dogs still have a lot to prove, but judging by the first few games, they may be the team to beat. And although some of the guys are nearly 30 years old, they still have the same passion as they did as 13-year-olds playing at Dean Park.