Brighton Names Baseball Field for Program Builder, Longtime Leader

By Tim Robinson
Special for

May 4, 2023

BRIGHTON — Mark Carrow didn’t know what to expect April 22 when he arrived at Brighton High School’s baseball field, where he was the guest of honor for a ceremony officially naming it Carrow Field.

Mid-Michigan“I remember back in October, when they announced this would happen, I told my wife, Mary, that there will be probably 60-70 people here, because there are 18 players on each team and their parents,” he recalled. “We pulled up here and there were all these people, and these young men who look older now.”

Dozens of Brighton alumni, some of whom Carrow hadn’t seen since their high school days nearly a half-century ago, were in attendance for the ceremony held before a doubleheader with Ypsilanti Lincoln.

Carrow retired in 2006 after 34 seasons as Brighton’s baseball coach, recording 823 wins, now eighth on the state’s all-time list. He also was an assistant football coach and coached both boys and girls middle school basketball.

He came to Brighton a year after graduating from the University of Michigan, where he played baseball for the Wolverines, starring at third base.

“My dream was to coach baseball at Ann Arbor High,” Carrow said of his high school alma mater, now Ann Arbor Pioneer. “That was my dream.”

But he had applied to Brighton Area Schools as well, and after a year teaching in Grand Rapids, he and Mary both were offered teaching positions.

“Wouldn’t you know it? We were in school for two days and Ann Arbor calls me up,” Carrow said. “They had a phys ed job open. I’d have been the JV football coach, and I knew the baseball coach was on his way out. It was everything I wanted, and I went to (administrator) Bob Scranton and said, ‘Here’s what’s happening.’ He told me to think about it over the weekend and come back Monday.

“My wife and I talked it over, and we were so grateful to Brighton for giving us a chance to be near our hometown that we felt we owed them a year,” Carrow said. “In November, we bought a house that we lived in for 22 years.”

Brighton’s sports teams weren’t the dominant squads of today. The football team had had two winning seasons in 20 years, and the year Carrow arrived went 0-9.

“We played in six homecoming games, including our own,” he said. “Everyone wanted to play us.”

The baseball team wasn’t much better, having gone decades without a winning season.

But the Bulldogs were 12-12 that first spring under Carrow’s leadership, and never finished below .500 during the rest of his tenure.

The Carrow name stands tall atop the scoreboard at the field named for the longtime coach. The Bulldogs joined the Southeastern Conference the next year and got off to a 7-0 start before losing at Lincoln.

“The kids were crying on the bus ride home,” Carrow said, “and I knew right then that Brighton had turned a corner, that it meant something to win and losing wasn’t acceptable anymore.”

Brighton took off, winning 20 games or more in all of his last 23 years as a coach, and a total of 13 league titles, 12 District titles, three Regional crowns and while making two trips to the Semifinals.

The talent was there, too, including 16 all-state players and two Mr. Baseball Award winners in Ron Hollis and Drew Henson.

Carrow earned national and Michigan Coach of the Year honors three times apiece and was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992.

The field was renamed in his honor after the Brighton school board changed its policy to allow the renaming of facilities to honor living persons less than two years ago.

But Carrow is quick to cite the reasons for his success.

“The players are the ones who made this possible,” he said. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I never threw a pitch or hit the baseball. I got 800 wins, but it was because of them.

Carrow has a photographic memory, which came in handy while chatting with former players.

“It was funny, because with each kid I remembered an incident about them,” he said. “Jeff Bogos, who I hadn’t seen since he graduated in 1979, came out and I said, ‘Do you remember when we were at Milan and your knee went out (of place) in the middle of the field?’ It happened twice. He said, ‘How do you remember that?’ And I said, ‘How could I not?’”

Carrow moved to Florida after his retirement, where he and his longtime assistant, George Reck, meet up a couple of times a week. He makes frequent trips north to watch U-M football and to visit his son, Chris, who lives in Chicago.

Baseball is firmly in his past.

“I think I’ve been to one high school game since I went down there,” Carrow said. “I hated the way the coach was coaching, and Mary did, too. She said, ‘We don’t have to watch any more high school baseball,’ and I said, ‘You’re right.’”

When he retired, Carrow said he would likely be forgotten in a few years.

Seventeen years later, his legacy is assured and his memory will be invoked any time one looks at the scoreboard in left-center field that has a “Carrow Field” sign on top of it.

Not bad for a coach who was in the right place at the right time.

“My dream was fulfilled, and rightly so,” Carrow said. “And, believe me, I made the right decision. I couldn't have had better kids to teach or lived in a better community. It couldn't have worked out any better.”

PHOTOS (Top) The Carrow family stands together in front of the welcome sign to Carrow Field – including daughter Tiffany (front left), Mark and Mary (second from left, front and back) and son Chris (far right). (Middle) The Carrow name stands tall atop the scoreboard at the field named for the longtime coach. (Family photo by Daniel Collins.)

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)