Living here in ‘Allen’-town

When a coach discovers an athlete with an extraordinary work ethic, it’s like striking gold. Finding an athlete with superior talent can be just as rare. Ask any coach what it’s like to find both in the same player, and he’ll probably shrug his shoulders and sigh.

It’s a one-of-a-kind athlete for sure, and that’s how former Southington High School baseball coach John Fontana describes third baseman Cris Allen.

“Some people are born with it. Look at Carl Pavano. Nobody could have taught him to do what he did for us. He came out of his mother’s womb being able to pitch,” he said. “Cris Allen was something else. He had some God-given ability, but he had an incredible work ethic, too. Nobody could have worked harder than he did.”

Allen arrived at the high school in the mid-1980s at a time when Southington was changing fast. It was no longer a small farming community. Housing developments were already choking open spaces. Southington was becoming a blue collar town, and Allen was the perfect blue collar Knight.

When scouts called him slow as a high school junior, he trained as a sprinter. He spent the off-season running 80 yard sprints and running up the hill on Lanning Street. He spent hours in the gym and practicing drills.

When the scouts returned for his senior season, Allen had chipped almost two seconds off his time in the 60-yard dash.

“I struggled my whole life,” he said. “I did start as a sophomore at Southington High School, but it didn’t really come easy. I think that the hard work just started to pay off for me.”

Few athletes trained as hard. Long before athletes started to focus year round on a sport, Allen turned his focus to baseball. He gave up football after the midget leagues and gave up basketball when he left DePaolo Junior High School.

For the next three years, Allen became a fixture on the high school diamond. He spent every day honing his craft. His father, a former minor league pitcher with the Boston Braves organization, would throw batting practice until the shadows settled on the field.

“He’d come down with his father and they used to be in the batting cages all day. That kid used to wait all day for his father to come home,” Fontana said. “He was the only one that I ever gave a key to our shed because he used to come here every day with his father. They’d grab the baseballs and helmets, and they’d go right over to the batting cages for hours.”

Fontana wasn’t one to promote underclassmen to his varsity team, but it was impossible to ignore Allen’s skills. As a sophomore, he could drive rockets into the outfield no matter who was pitching. He would line up behind the grass at third base during fielding warm-ups, and Fontana said that his throws to first base would whistle through the air.

“It was incredible,” he said. “He would throw long toss with Rob Dibble when Dibble would come to town, and they would stand with one on the left field foul pole and one on the right field foul pole. They would throw the whole width of the field, and they would throw bullets—no lobbing.”

Success came quickly. He earned a spot on the all-conference roster in all three years with the Knights. He was named as an all-state infielder in his junior and senior seasons and was named all-American in 1985.

“He was one of the bright stars, for sure,” said Jim Senich, a former sports writer for The Southington Observer. “He had a gun for an arm, and he could really hit the ball solid. He’d hit line drives in the gaps. He could run, too. He had the whole game.”

Allen batted .420 as a junior in 1984, and went .443 at the plate as a senior. He finished his high school career with 15 doubles, seven home runs, and 136 runs scored. He still holds the Blue Knight record with 74 career RBIs.

“The worst thing about Cris Allen was that nobody wanted to pitch to him. Most of the time, he would never see a fast ball, so sometimes he would have a tendency to go out of the strike zone to try to get his pitch,” said Fontana. “He’s the type of guy that, if you got him out three times in a row, he’d get up there and hit the fourth one 385 feet. He’d make you pay for any mistake.”

Allen shrugs off the compliment. Instead, he gives credit to his teammates.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page