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09/15/2023 07:12 AM

Fritz an Impactful Figure in Clinton’s Youth Sports

Willie Fritz Jr. has made an impact on Clinton’s youth sports, especially baseball, for a long time, serving as a great role model and mentor for many young athletes. Photo courtesy of Willie Fritz Jr.

Some people just do it all. They take on multiple roles and fill their lives with a variety of activities that make them one of the biggest names in a community. Willie Fritz Jr. has certainly made that mark in a local area, as a figure who has made an indelible impact on local sports.

Willie Fritz Jr. and Pete Christopher first met six years ago, while coaching their sons’ travel basketball teams. Despite being on opposite benches, they built a quick connection.

“I liked him right away,” Christopher recalls. “He had this old sweater. It kind of looked like a Louie Carnesecca sweater. I used to tease him about it because he wore it to every game.”

Figuratively speaking, Willie has worn a lot of hats over the years. There’s almost too many to list. When asked how long Willie has coached, Christopher, 53, responds half-jokingly: “Forever.”

The point is, Willie remains a fixture around the town of Clinton.

“I’ve been coaching youth sports since 2001,” Willie says. “Yeah, it’s been a long time. I started out with Little League, and was on the Little League Board of Directors for 15 years. I was First Selectman for 10 years, 2005 to 2015. I was the volunteer assistant coach for baseball in middle school.”

Nowadays, Willie coaches East Shore Travel League baseball with Christopher. Together, they guided the 19U Clinton Huskies to a successful summer this year.

“He is wonderful with the boys,” Christopher says. “He definitely is. He’s got a ton of baseball knowledge. He’s quick to correct. He’ll let you know what you’re doing wrong. But he’s also quick to praise when you’re doing something right. I think the kids like that.”

In that sense, Christopher describes Willie as “old school,” unafraid to practice what he preaches.

“For some reason, the kids like playing for me,” Willie jokes. “I’m old school. I’m a little rougher around the edges at times. I’m almost 59 years old. I played (baseball) at UConn during the 80s. It was discipline, it was get things done. If you make a mistake, you’re going to hear about it. I’ve definitely mellowed because parents and kids change. But they know it’s not personal. It’s in the moment. It’s learning, and we go from there. There’s no dwelling on it.”

Behind that gruff, no-nonsense personality is a noted jokester who cares deeply about his players and his community. Christopher jokes that Willie always has a one-liner at hand for every situation, making him a consistently fun person to be around.

“His interactions with the boys are definitely unique,” Christopher says. “He does get on them from time to time, but they love him. I cannot explain the relationship with him and his players. It’s fantastic. Sometimes the message may be a little hard, but they love it. I’ve never seen anyone leave (the program). We have guys that clamour to play for him. My son’s played five years.”

Willie was an outfielder at UConn from 1983-87 under Andy Baylock. He’s made sure to stay involved in sports since then, no matter the responsibility, year after year after year. It’s how he was raised.

“I grew up that way,” Willie says. “I was the oldest of six kids. We were all involved in something. My mom and dad wanted us involved, and I was involved. ... lo and behold, here I am. I kept playing ball. I was playing ball into my early 30s. It just matriculated. I wanted my kids to be involved in stuff, and me being involved made sure they were involved.”

For Willie, staying involved doesn’t necessarily always mean playing or coaching. Sometimes, it’s running the concession stand at a high school football game. He estimates he cooked 600 hot dogs for Little League Opening Day. What makes him so special is that he does all of this for something much greater than himself.

“It’s about the kids,” he says. “It keeps them busy, gives them something to do.”

Everyone who’s been around Willie has felt his passion for sports. That, of course, includes his wife. Willie jokes that she didn’t know what she was getting into when she married him.

It’s a lot to take on, but Willie doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Staying busy is all he knows. For him, it’s a way of life more than a job or responsibility. That always has been the case. And it always will be the case.

“I love it,” Willie says of baseball. “I miss it. Now, we’re not playing ball. I miss it.”