In a few weeks, Ridgefielder Ryan Callanan will leave town to begin his freshman year at Lafayette College. Thus, one journey begins, although Callanan — an All-FCIAC lefty pitcher who led RHS to a state quarterfinal berth in the spring — took another interesting expedition over the summer.
Callanan was among the players selected to compete on the Old World Baseball (OWB) squad that toured Europe for a 10-game swing. Old World was founded two years ago by Ridgefield resident (and Greenwich real estate attorney) Stephan Rapaglia along with a partner, Tom Gillespie (a Europe-based baseball scout).
The teams are comprised of players who are graduating high school seniors who will be playing on their college baseball teams. Rapaglia grew up in Rye, N.Y., pitched at Amherst College, and spent one season in the Houston Astros’ minor-league system as a non-drafted signee 20 years ago.
“I was 5-3, but the next year in spring training, I was a given a quick look and then carfare home,” said the affable Rapaglia. His college coach, Bill Thurston recommended Rapaglia try Europe. He got on a plane immediately to Rotterdam and wound up pitching for Neptunus, one of the Dutch league’s premier squads. Although he didn’t speak Dutch, he didn’t feel uncomfortable in Europe as he had been born in Tuebingen, Germany, to American parents (his father was on a work assignment).
Rapaglia returned to teach history at Rye Country Day School, but he couldn’t shake the baseball bug and played independent ball in Pennsylvania before a rotator cuff injury in 1996 sent him to Pace Law School. Yet, he remained in the game and was pitching coach for Iona College. He also was the player-manager for Tuebingen’s major league German team.
Answering an advert online in 2005 led him to England, where he was named head baseball coach of Team Great Britain. Two days later, the International Olympic Committee eliminated baseball as an Olympic sport.
“I was kind of crushed, but the five years in the UK were wonderful, though I now had a wife and three kids, so I became a weekend commuter to Heathrow to coach.”
Rapaglia’s love affair with baseball and Europe made OWB a perfect business marriage.
“I wanted to give American kids a taste of European baseball against a variety of youth squads, older players, and against national teams such as Czech U-21 and Belgium. And we used wood bats.”
Callanan’s trip this summer included nine games in 10 days and visits to eight cities in three countries.
“Europe was amazing,” said Callanan. “While we didn’t fare very well on the field, pitching against the European teams was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.
“The best memory I have from on the field was when I got to pitch against the Solingen Alligators, a German major league team. After the game, we had dinner in the clubhouse with their players and they all told us about what is was like to play professional baseball in Germany. Off the field, I had a great time meeting new kids from all over the country and especially seeing all of the different places we traveled to.
“We got to stay in a variety of accommodations, from four-star hotels to youth hostels. They all really gave great insight into the culture of Western Europe. One day, we got to tour Leiden, a beautiful college town in the Netherlands. That was my favorite of all of the different places we saw just because it was so old but its buildings are still perfectly preserved. Overall, the trip was one of the best things I have ever done.”