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Lake Monsters ‘draft’ Bristol baseball player

BRISTOL — The Vermont Lake Monsters minor league baseball team in Burlington looked in their own backyard to fill an open roster spot by signing a Bristol native to a one-day contract.
The Class-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics signed catcher Ethan Fritz, who became a free agent after a strong season this spring with the Bristol Eagles.
Not bad for a kid who’s just 11.
OK, OK; it wasn’t exactly a big league contract, but it sure was a dream come true for nine Vermont ballplayers selected for the 2014 Little Lake Monsters Community All-Stars, a promotion sponsored by Northwestern Urgent Care.
For the competition, applicants answered three questions about sportsmanship, living a healthy lifestyle and supporting the community. A committee reviewed more than 200 applications and then selected the All-Stars. Fritz was the only winner from Addison County.
“The whole experience was amazing,” Fritz said. “It was one of the top 10 days of my life.”
The Lake Monsters offered each winner a one-day promotional contract worth $50 and signed by A’s general manager Billy Beane (of “Moneyball” fame), Lake Monsters GM Nate Cloutier and Vermont-based agent Jamie Murphy, who represents several major league players. The nine winners each donated their salary to charity.
After fielding questions from reporters at a press conference this past Friday, the winners were feted with a limousine ride to Burlington’s Centennial Field. They took a few rounds of batting practice with the full-time Lake Monsters, each threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and got to watch the game from the Lake Monsters’ dugout.
Fritz said he has loved baseball for as long as he can remember, and decided to play catcher in the footsteps of his older brother. He said he likes the position because of the strong relationship catchers forge with pitchers.
“They’re the first ones go out to the mound to congratulate the pitcher after the game,” Fritz said.
But his affinity for the sport extends beyond the diamond.
“It’s more than just playing it; it’s got all the history and everything, and there’s so much to learn,” Fritz said.
Fritz is a bit of a baseball historian himself. He chose his uniform number, 17, after Cool Papa Bell, an all-star center fielder that played his entire career in the Negro leagues.
Fritz said he came across Bell’s plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and was impressed that Bell purposefully forfeited the 1946 batting title to Monte Irvin, so Irvin would have a better chance of signing with a major league club, as Jackie Robinson did the following year.
“I read how he gave up the Negro league batting title to Monte Irvin, and I got really interested in (Bell), and did more reading about him,” Fritz said.
Fritz said he got to meet several Lake Monsters players and got some tips from the pros.
“I learned a couple things just by watching them,” he said. “The whole day was great.”
As an added bonus, Fritz got to meet former major league right fielder Trot Nixon, who visited Centennial Field for a team promotion. Fritz said he chatted up Nixon about what it was like to win the 2004 World Series with the Boston Red Sox, the team’s first in 86 years.
The Red Sox are Fritz’ favorite ballclub, and he listens to the team’s games frequently on the radio. Fritz said his favorite catcher is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter who played for the Red Sox for several years before being picked up by Miami Marlins.
Though Fritz’s stint with the Lake Monsters wasn’t quite the real deal, perhaps he’ll get a chance to affix his signature to a professional contract in the future. The Bristol ballplayer said he hopes to some day play in the major leagues.
“It’s what I want to do for my career,” Fritz said.
The Red Sox could use his help — the team has begun its annual late-summer fade and is comfortably in last place in the American League’s Eastern Division.
Heading into next season, where he will return to the Bristol Eagles, a Little League squad, Fritz said he hopes to sharpen his skills. In particular, he plans to work out some kinks in his swing.
“I’ve got some bad habits I have to break,” he said.
Since he’s been on summer vacation, Fritz said he hasn’t been able to share his experience with all his friends and Eagle teammates. But he’ll undoubtedly field some questions when school starts again this week about his time with a professional ballclub.
“One of my friends went with me to the game, so I think he saw it was pretty cool,” Fritz said.

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