High school baseball: Amherst earns HFBUA Sportsmanship Award for 2024 season

Amherst Spencer Waite (1) puts the ball in play against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst.

Amherst Spencer Waite (1) puts the ball in play against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Amherst pitcher Aryeh Rubinstein (31) throws against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst.

Amherst pitcher Aryeh Rubinstein (31) throws against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO

The Amherst Regional High School baseball team huddling up during a game earlier this season. The Hurricanes’ tremendous sportsmanship throughout the spring has earned them the Hampshire Franklin Baseball Umpires Association Sportsmanship Award.

The Amherst Regional High School baseball team huddling up during a game earlier this season. The Hurricanes’ tremendous sportsmanship throughout the spring has earned them the Hampshire Franklin Baseball Umpires Association Sportsmanship Award. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Amherst’s Neil Cunniffe makes contact against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst.

Amherst’s Neil Cunniffe makes contact against Chicopee Comp earlier this season in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-19-2024 4:43 PM

Modified: 06-19-2024 5:23 PM


What started as a friendly gesture turned into a common occurrence for Jeff Gladu and his Amherst Regional High School baseball team this spring.

Early in the season, opposing coaches addressed Gladu following the handshake line after their games to tell him how he has a team full of high-character individuals. It didn’t stop after a few games, it happened throughout the entire regular season.

Gladu knew he had great kids on his roster, but it meant even more to consistently be told that from coaches outside of the Hurricanes’ program.

“That’s the ultimate compliment that you can get at the end of a game,” Gladu said. “There’s nothing better than for a coach to tell you, ‘Hey, I love the way that your guys play the game, and you do a fantastic job leading them.’ That’s where I get my pride from, hearing that from other coaches.”

It turned out that other head coaches weren’t the only one to take notice of Amherst’s tremendous sportsmanship, as late last week the Hurricanes earned the Hampshire Franklin Baseball Umpires Association Sportsmanship Award for the 2024 spring season.

When asked about his initial reaction to the award, Gladu didn’t mention himself, or even his individual players. His first thought went to those who helped shape his group into the young adults they are today.

This award stretches deeper than just the 2024 Amherst Hurricanes baseball team.

“I look at this as a community award,” Gladu said. “Because even though I might be the one making the lineup every day for the Hurricanes, there were plenty of people before me that [coached] each and every one of those kids at some level or another and molded them into great people with great character. They put their own emphasis on what the winning tradition is and how to play the game and be respectful. These kids learned from a young age to do whatever they can to leave the best impression on people. That has everything to do with their parents and the coaches they had as kids.”

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Since word has spread across the community, Gladu received congratulations from a plethora of folks in town. He and his father Ren own Ren’s Mobil Service in downtown Amherst, which has been open for 53 years. He’s had customers of his, former players and plenty more congratulate him for the sportsmanship award over the past several days.

Once again, he’s reminded them it says more about the city of Amherst than it does himself.

“People are very aware of this, and the last couple days have been fantastic with people texting me, emailing me or even coming by to see me and express their congratulations,” Gladu said. “But for me, I want them to know that this is more than just a coaches and players award, this says a lot about Amherst and the people in this community.”

One player in particular on the Amherst team stood out to both coaches and umpires. Senior Neil Cunniffe was not only one of the Hurricanes’ standout players, he’s a two-year captain with standout integrity.

Cunniffe, who is one of only a few Hurricanes players to have back-to-back seasons with at least 20 stolen bases, would always chat with umpires during stoppages, and talk to opposing players whether he was holding runners on base or running the bases himself. According to Gladu, Cunniffe always handled himself with class in victory or defeat.

“We had one particular kid on our team who is by far one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Gladu said, referring to Cunniffe. “Time after time, game after game, coaches, umpires or really anybody would come to me and ask me who No. 12 was on our team, because he always had a smile on his face. That kid right there is the epitome of the way that Amherst wants to be known. He’s the ultimate competitor on the field. His loss to graduation will be felt for years to come but as a coach, I’m lucky to call him one of mine. His parents raised one hell of a kid.”

This award will be accepted by Gladu and members of the Amherst baseball team on Aug. 25 at Amherst Golf Club, a place Gladu learned to golf and has spent plenty of time over the years.

Although he isn’t sure how many kids from this year’s team will be there since it’s in late August (seniors are getting ready to go off to college, others perhaps wrapping up vacations), Gladu is eager to accept an award that puts the city of Amherst under a positive light.

“For me to accept that award among my other peers on behalf of Amherst baseball at a place that I’ve been to a million times, it’ll be extremely sweet,” Gladu said. “It’s going to be cool to get an award with my team at a place I’m very familiar with.”