Gary LaRocque, who graduated from West Hartford’s Conard High School in 1971 provided words of inspiration at the Conard High School baseball programs inaugural pasta dinner fundraiser.
By Ronni Newton
Pitchers and catchers don’t report for duty for several more weeks, and it will nearly another month before high school baseball begins, but Conard High School baseball players and their families are already fired up for the upcoming season after a highly-successful fundraiser last week.
Math teacher Sanjay Rambhia has taken over the position of head baseball coach at Conard, and also new is a booster club/fundraising organization, Friends of Chieftain Baseball.
The new coach and the fundraising committee began meeting together in late December and hosted its inaugural fundraiser, a pasta dinner, on Jan. 28. The event netted nearly $2,000, which will be used for equipment as well as scholarships.
The highlight of the evening, which was attended by 158 people, was a visit by Conard alumnus Gary LaRocque, Class of 1971, who currently serves as director of Player Development for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Friends of Chieftain Baseball President Eric Mallinson invited LaRocque to attend the pasta dinner. “Gary told me that some of his fondest memories were of playing at Conard,” Mallinson said. He was shocked and surprised when LaRocque readily agreed to travel from St. Louis for the event.
“Giving back is a privilege,” LaRocque said.
LaRocque said that his baseball career began with the Lions in the “boys league” (now West Hartford Youth Baseball League). He wasn’t originally dreaming of playing major league baseball, as many kids his age did, but said he was awed and inspired to do well playing baseball in high school the first time he set foot in the Conard cafeteria for an event with the Lions. That was the very same cafeteria where he spoke to current high schoolers Thursday evening, and he said it hasn’t really changed at all.
“It all started in baseball for me when I walked in here in 1965, as an 11-year-old,” LaRocque said. “This is high school, this is what it’s all about,” LaRocque recalled thinking.
To this day, LaRocque said his work ethic was honed during his years at Conard. “I knew I had to be an overachiever,” said LaRocque, and said he had great coaches behind him.
Former football coach Robert McKee, the father-in-law of retired head football coach Rob Cersosimo and grandfather of current Conard head football coach Matt Cersosimo, was also the varsity baseball coach when LaRocque played at Conard. LaRocque said that McKee told him to: “Keep your feet on the ground and reach for all you can get.” That advice has served him well throughout this life, LaRocque said.
“We are still in touch on a regular basis. He was a remarkable influence and is a great man – my best friend,” LaRocque said. He was planning to visit with McKee the next morning.
He urged the students to take advantage of the opportunities to play baseball in high school that they have right now. “It goes by very quickly,” he said. “I hope it’s as great for you as it was for me,” he said.
Additional advice from LaRocque that was a hit with the adults in the room: “Be sure to say thank you to your parents,” he said.
LaRocque grew up in Elmwood, where his 93-year-old mother still lives. He attended Wolcott Elementary School and Talcott Junior High, and was a varsity player at Conard for all three years. (Ninth grade was part of junior high at the time.) He was an All American shortstop at the University of Hartford, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, and played minor league baseball for three seasons. He then spent several years as a coach, field manager, and scout with the Dodgers, and was a scout and assistant general manager/vice president with the Mets.
LaRocque has been with the Cardinals since 2008, and has focused on player development. He is author of the handbook, “The Cardinal Way.”
For more information about future fundraisers and other Friends of Chieftain Baseball activities, follow them on Facebook by clicking here.
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