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Article Published September 11, 2019
Don Shannehan: Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Rita Christopher, Senior Correspondent

Don Shannehan thought his ball playing days were over after he broke a finger fielding a line drive in an adult softball game more than 25 years ago. So why is Don not only playing again, but also captaining the Essex Team for the tri-town classic baseball classic on Sunday, Sept. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Devitt Field in Deep River?

Don’s answer is simple.

“Hank McInerney asked me to,” he says “When people ask you to volunteer, you do what is needed. It’s something I believe in.”

McInerney is president of the Essex Historical Society, which helps organize the game along with the historical societies of Chester and Deep River. The three squads play a four-inning round robin and then the top two teams face off for a playoff. Don is the membership director of the Essex Historical Society.

The old-time baseball contest is not the game you would see today at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. The teams play by 1857 rules. There is no umpire, and balls and strikes are not called. A batter stays up until he gets a hit, is put out running to base, or whiffs at a pitch three times. That is not called striking out. It is far more serious. That batter is dead.

To be absolutely accurate, the player is not even a batter. The person at the plate is a striker; the person throwing the ball is a hurler and the players fielding the ball are known as scouts. Those scouts have not forgotten their gloves; the game was played without them. Luckily the ball is far softer than a modern baseball, and the bat was a far longer, thinner piece of equipment.

“It looks like a tree branch,” Don says.

Managing a baseball team is a far cry from Don’s regular occupation as a realtor, in tandem with his wife Cathy, at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Essex. He was the local contact when former Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently purchased a home in Essex.

“They made a number of trips here; they looked for a good year and a half. They definitely wanted to live in Essex,” Don says.

Though the goal was to keep the Malloy’s visits quiet, that was a challenge.

“It’s hard when a black SUV with state police show up,” Don adds.

Don was born in Connecticut, but his speech still retains the soft accents of his southern upbringing. He started college in North Carolina, but he says his grades were not good and he felt as though he was drifting, so he dropped out and joined the Marines. Actually, he was not originally planning on the Marines. In the military recruitment office, someone came along and marked an X on every third person.

“Then he said that all the guys with an X were going to Parris Island,” Don recalls.

Don served in Vietnam as a combat engineer, shipping out from California in December of 1966 and returning in January 1968, just before the Tet Offensive. On their 50th wedding anniversary, Don and Cathy went to Washington and visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, completed in 1982. He had not wanted to do it earlier.

“I traced a few names, a memorial to friends, I’m glad I did it,” he says.

Don has remained involved with the Marine Corps, at one time counseling young veterans on how to get jobs. With a fellow Marine, he also started local collection for the Marine Corps’ holiday program, Toys for Tots.

When Don returned from the Marines, he finished college and began working full time as in sales a for a printing company, where he rose to a senior executive position. Along the way, the family had moved to Connecticut, to Wilton, where they lived for 30 years. They have now been in Essex for 17 years.

Don retired from the printing business, but he had no plans to stay retired.

“I never wanted to retire. I like golf, but not five or six days a week; I like to fish, but I don’t want to fish every day,” he says.

Instead, he opened his own business, making his special-recipe barbecue sauce. He had made it as a gift to friends for many years but decided Donnie’s Down Home Barbecue Sauce had commercial potential.

He is glad to talk about the business, but he never reveals the special recipe. The most he will say is that it is “just different; first it has a sweet taste and then a spicy finish.”

Don kept the business going for about three years but the in-person grocery store demonstrations necessary to publicize the product grew increasingly burdensome for the couple. Still, Don didn’t completely give up the barbecue sauce; he has returned to making as a gift for friends.

In 2012, he joined Kathy, who had already had a long career as a realtor.

“I’ve been in sales my whole life; I like the human interaction that’s always a part of selling,” he says.

He adds that he and Kathy work well together as a real estate team.

“She had the experience; I learned from her, and we feed off each other,” he explains.

As Don looks forward to the upcoming baseball game, he has a manager’s positive outlook about his team, known as ICE, not because the bats are cold, but because it is made up of players from Ivoryton, Centerbook, and Essex.

“The game will be tightly contested, but ICE is looking for best showing in years,” he says.

Old Time Baseball Game

The annual Old Time Baseball Game hosted by the Chester, Deep River, and Essex historical societies returns on Sunday, Sept. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Devitt Field, off of Route 154, Deep River. The event is free. For more information, call 860-767-0681.