NEWTON — Nearly every morning in June and July, he has the same routine. He wakes up at around 6:30, goes out to the side of his house, and tends to his birds. He has 150 racing homing pigeons he keeps in a large gray loft that he helped build himself. He feeds them, makes sure their space is clean, and lets them out to fly around in the open air until they get hungry and fly back.
“Then,” said Manny Connerney , “I wait for baseball.”
Connerney’s life in retirement has revolved around three passions: his family, his pigeons, and his baseball teams. The 72-year-old grandson of Irish and Italian immigrants, he is a lifelong Newton resident and former firefighter who has coached baseball in the city for 39 years.
For the last 20, he’s managed the team at Newton’s American Legion Post 440.
His summertime routine hasn’t wavered much since taking over Post 440, but it will this week: He’s scheduled to have hip-replacement surgery on Thursday at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and is expecting to miss the team’s final three regular-season games as he recovers.
‘I’ve always told him, “If you can do it, stay with it.’’ The kids love him, and he’s going to be 73, but other than his hip, he’s in good shape.’
“Those games are so critical, too,” he said, shaking his head. “They could be the whole season.”
Connerney’s right hip has bothered him for the last three or four years, and recently, it has gotten worse. He feels twinges in his leg when he drives his black Mercury Grand Marquis, and he has to get on all fours just to climb the stairs at home. The pain was almost unbearable earlier this summer when he struggled to make the walk from the dugout to the mound.
Since then, he has known he needed surgery. But with his team sitting at 10-5 last week, and close to earning a District 5 playoff spot, he wished he didn’t have to sit out the stretch run because of a bum hip.
“Hopefully we can do some damage for him in the tournament while he’s gone, make him happy,” said Post 440’s shortstop, Hector Coscione . “That’d be nice.”
Players like Coscione are the reason Connerney still manages. A lean athletic shortstop with power, he’s as quick with his glove as he is with a quip.
For the last decade or so, every time Connerney has thought about stepping down, he finds a player with real talent who loves the game. Those are the ones who keep him young, keep him coming back.
The closest Connerney got to stepping away from coaching was this spring, when he found out his assistant coach of 35 years, Richard Fontano , would not be on the bench after being diagnosed with cancer.
“I told him, ‘If you’re not with me, I’m not here,’ ” Connerney said. “He didn’t want me to quit.”
It’s not the same, but Connerney still loves the game. He still loves to win. He still loves being his team’s maestro, judging an opposing batter’s swing, and moving fielders to where he thinks the ball will be hit.
His wife of 52 years, Betty , said she doesn’t know what he’d do if he wasn’t coaching.
“I’ve always told him, ‘If you can do it, stay with it,’ ” she said. “The kids love him, and he’s going to be 73, but other than his hip, he’s in good shape . . . We’ll see. He might be 75, he might be 80 out there. You never know.”
Reminded that his 11-year-old grandson Jackson wants to play for him someday, Connerney didn’t shoot down the idea. He just shrugged and smiled.
For now, though, Connerney’s focus is still on this summer. Despite his impending surgery, he hasn’t given up on managing in the playoffs. He has seen videos online of hip-replacement patients being back on their feet in less than two weeks, and if his team makes the postseason under the guidance of interim manager James Greeley , Connerney said, he hopes to do the same.
“If we make the playoffs, I gotta be back,” he said. “They can’t hold me out of that.”
Sudbury in tourney
With a 13-3 win last week against Billerica, Sudbury’s American Legion Post 191 squad earned the right to represent District 5 in the state’s national-bound tournament.
“It’s very big to know that you’re one of eight teams with a chance to go to a World Series,” said manager Len Noce . “That’s what we play for.”
On Monday, Sudbury will play at Newburyport for a chance to advance to play at Worcester Academy the following day in the semifinals of the tournament. The winner of the finals, held Wednesday, will represent Massachusetts in the Northeast Regional tournament next month.
Post 191’s run has been all the more enjoyable for Noce, knowing that his roster has almost completely turned over since last summer. He has 15 new players this year, coming from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, Acton-Boxborough Regional, Concord-Carlisle, Maynard, and Littleton teams.
“To get them to work as hard as they have, and jell in such a short time is unbelievable,” Noce said. “And to be 11-2 and be a representative in the tournament? It’s really euphoric for us.”
Pitchers Mike McGavick and Reid Jordan have helped lead the way for Sudbury with three wins each. At the plate, the team has been without its best hitter and starting shortstop, Dan Cellucci , who suffered a head injury early in the season. But infielder Mike Marshall , outfielder Thulani Denaro and third baseman Alex McLaughlin have helped make up for Cellucci’s absence.
Though he has just three returnees, Noce said that his players have quickly embraced Post 191’s style of playing hard-nosed, intelligent baseball.
“I feel like they’re starting to get it,” Noce said. “At times there are lapses, and we can come down on them for those. But if they perform, in the end it all goes away.”