PITTSFIELD — Dominic Dastoli never met Mark Belanger. The former Baltimore Orioles shortstop had stopped playing before Dastoli was born. Yet, that never stopped his interest from being piqued at the idea that a player like Belanger could come from the same hometown as him.
Belanger was born in June of 1944 in Pittsfield. A little over 21 years later, he made his major league debut on Aug. 7, 1965 with the Orioles. He went on to play for more than 15 years in the majors, earning eight Gold Gloves, winning the 1970 World Series and being named an All-Star in 1976.
While in Pittsfield, he led his American Legion team to a third-place finish in the country. Belanger unfortunately passed away in 1998, at the age of 54.
Dastoli, who works for the Golf Channel in Florida, always heard stories about Mark from those that knew him growing up and watched him play for Pittsfield High School. The stories were both epic and plentiful.
“Pittsfield is a baseball town, and I was a fan growing up as a kid. I had the opportunity, playing golf at Berkshire Hills, where Mark’s brother Al would tell me stories about Mark playing for 15-plus years in the major leagues,” Dastoli said on a recent episode of Berkshires Sports Extra. “I was always fascinated by Mark’s story. Having never met Mark, I always had this curiosity about him and how he made it to the big leagues and who helped him make it to the big leagues.”
The thought that Belanger could have made it out of a small town in the Berkshires and become such a big name ball player left Dastoli with a lot of questions. Those inquisitions are being answered now, as he continues with his work on a documentary centered on the former All-Star shortstop.
Belanger Film is still a year or two away from becoming a full reality, but there is currently a five-minute trailer on the BelangerFilm.com site, which was also on display at the Baseball in the Berkshires exhibit earlier this year at Arrowhead.
“This will eventually be an hour long film,” said Dastoli. “The purpose of the film is exploring the whys in life. Why did he pursue this, and the ‘who’ behind that. His brother was an important ‘who’ to push him to play up to older competition. Mark’s wife Dee played a big role as well. We’ve gone to Baltimore to interview his two sons; we’re going again to interview Boog Powell and Dan Duquette.”
Dastoli will also be back in his native Pittsfield in November to speak with Mark’s older brother, Al, and sister, Linda. He also has plans to speak with old PHS friends of Belanger, Dick, Ray and Felix.
Belanger’s story is no doubt an interesting one. As Dastoli says in the trailer, “he had a gift with his glove, but not with his bat.” He still owns the third lowest batting average of all time, given a certain number of plate appearances, yet managed to stay on the field for a decade and a half. That was due to his play at shortstop, which saw him hold the all-time fielding percentage record at the position at the time of his retirement. That number remains in the top-30 all-time currently.
“Teammates just swore by the leadership that Mark provided in the field, directing everybody based on player tendencies at bat” praised Dastoli. “He was a master at situational baseball. A great presence in the clubhouse. It is tough to judge someone solely on a batting average. Mark’s value, in a lot of ways, was almost intangible.”
For more information on the documentary, visit the website www.BelangerFilm.com, where you can sign up for newsletter updates on its progress or help the cause by donating to the project. Dastoli can be reached directly at BerkshireFilms@gmail.com.
You can view the Dastoli interview in its entirety by visiting berkshiressportsextra.podbean.com/ctsb-simulcast