Tuesday, January 31, 2012



Why would a Yankee fan utter these words? Let me tell you a story.

My nine-year-old nephew came to me around Thanksgiving and said, “Nino, can you put me into baseball?”  I told him that I would. I was a bit surprised because he never really showed an interest in the game. I was extremely happy because, I love hockey and football but my passion is baseball.

I signed him up for Cal Ripken Baseball in Long Beach, California. We went to the sporting goods store and he got his first baseball glove. We went to the park and had a catch. For a kid who never played the game before, he appears to have natural ability. He has a real good glove, a decent arm and he is not afraid to put his body in front of the ball. He was having a blast just throwing the ball around.

We went and bought him his first baseball bat and I borrowed a T and a bucket of balls. We worked on mechanics by hitting off the T and he seems to have a natural inside out swing, a la Derek Jeter. I threw batting practice and he was having fun, even when I center-punched him because he was getting a little cocky and talking his mush to me.

He had his tryouts for the league and I sat and watched, never interfering with what he was doing nor trying to correct every mistake. After every fielding drill or hitting drill, he would look over at me and give me a smile and a wave. I would smile and wave back and I realized why baseball is my passion. No matter what age, it just makes you smile. As I sat and watched the nine year olds trying out, my mind drifted back to 1960s.

I remember seeing the older kids playing baseball and stickball on East 7th Street and in the schoolyard of PS 209. I would hear the older guys talking about this guy named Mickey Mantle. I would hear the Italian guys saying that Joe D was the best. I was amazed how guys would sit around and argue about things that made no sense to me.

My dad took me to Mr. Baccagalupe’s barbershop and on the way there I asked about this Mickey Mantle guy and all this hoopla about baseball. I asked my dad how come we never have a catch, I asked how come we never go to a ball game, I said I want to play baseball and since this Mickey Mantle character seems to be the talk of the town, I want him as my favorite player. My dad basically nodded his head in agreement without uttering a word. Just as we crossed over Ave Y on Coney Island Avenue, I declared, “And I like the Yankees!!!” I looked at my dad to see if he had any input and he just kept walking. I figured he had a lot on his mind, since we were on our way to Baccagalupe’s and according to my dad if you take the wrong seat at that barbershop, you might get whacked. Amazing what grown-ups think about.

Since I had a new hobby, I needed to start somewhere. I got a hand me down glove from my cousin and a Spaldeen. I had no clue how to throw nor did I have anyone wanting to throw the ball to me. I would ask my dad to catch with me and he wouldn’t. I would ask my dad about hitting and he really had no answer. I came to the conclusion that I was on my own for this one. I figured that he just didn’t like this game called baseball.
I would roam on down to the parking lot in the back of my apartment building and I would sit and watch the older kids playing. I would run after the balls for them and I would act as a batboy for them.

One day I was asked if I would like to try hitting and I said sure. They told me to get into the batter’s box and they would pitch it to me. I didn’t know which side of the batter’s box to get into because that Mickey Mantle guy hit the ball from both sides. When I was asked this, I was standing behind the plate and I quickly thought that a lefty should stand to the left of the plate. From where I was standing, the right-handed batter’s box was on the left side. So as not to look like a dope, I quickly picked up a bat and jumped into the right-handed box. I gripped the bat with my left hand on top because that is what felt comfortable and tried to take a practice swing. The older guys made me switch up my hands and said that is how a righty bats. I didn’t want to argue the fact that I was left-handed so I just went with it. (I became a right-handed batter but not on purpose)

I taught myself to hit, catch, and throw. My dad never showed any interest for these shenanigans. I always said that he didn’t know what he was missing.

Fast forward to 1997, my father had passed away in 1993 and I was talking on the phone with an older cousin who had not seen me since I was a baby. I told him that I wanted to come visit him in Woodstock, New York when I was in the City.  I told him that I was coming into NY because I had opening day tickets for the Yankees and I wanted to watch the Championship Flag hoisted. My cousin said to me, “I never thought the day would come that there would be a male in our family that was a Yankee fan.” He went on to say, “If you come to visit me and you are wearing a Yankee hat, I will slap it off your head.” Wow, the hostility from my own family.

He proceeded to tell me that my father would take him to Ebbets Field and they would watch my father’s beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. I told my cousin, “I thought my dad hated baseball, he never wanted to catch with me, he wouldn’t watch a game on TV with me and he never showed any interest.” My cousin went on to say that my father was the biggest baseball fan around and when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, it broke his heart. My father refused to have anything to do with a game that caused him so much pain. My cousin went on to say that when I professed my allegiance to the Yankees, it just about killed him. My father could not believe that there was a Yankee fan living in the same house with him. A boy that loves Mickey Mantle and not Duke Snider. My cousin said that it completely killed my father to step foot inside of Yankee Stadium so I could watch the Yankees. I always wondered why he made me sit behind the girder for both games of the doubleheader. I bet he planned that and Baccagalupe was probably in on it.

When I hung up the phone, I was amazed. I never knew that my father was such a baseball fan. I had mixed emotions on this but I think the emotion that still lingers is the emotion of sadness. My father and I never had that baseball bond. Whether it was just having a catch or sitting around and arguing baseball. I never got the chance to ask him questions about the Dodgers and Ebbets Field. I never got to hear the stories from my dad and he probably had some good ones.  Just writing this makes me sad.

On Sunday night, I received a call from my nephew’s baseball coach. He told me that he had drafted my nephew to play on his little league team. I was excited for my nephew. The coach went on to tell me that my nephew’s little league team is the Blue Jays. My inner Yankee fan said, “The Blue Jays?” but then my memories washed over me again and all I could say to the coach was….


1 comment:

  1. Hands down the coolest thing to come out of the cheap seats. The love, art and science of baseball is lost on many.

    For those that get it, that truly understand, there is no greater feling than lacing up the spikes and stepping onto the clay. Or, to watch those that have mastered the craft.

    My dad had no true love for any sport. I do not recall him ever grabbing a glove and "having a catch" with me. That love was mine alone. But boy how that love flowed.

    My dad was a great man, but baseball did not have a hold on him like it did me. Baseball had me at age 5. I spent many a summer reading every baseball star biography in the public library.

    I learned to love Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, Willie McCovey, and yes, even The Mick for what they represented. I even read books about umpires (Ron Luciano, Ball Four and Strike Two!). There is something so pure, so American about just "having a catch" that makes one sit back and forget all the nonsense in the world.

    I think that baseball is losing its grip on the hearts of American youth. To read this story makes me well up and say-dare I? Let's go Blue Jays!!!!!!

    Thank you Mark for an unexpected venture out of my current very day life back to when it was all too clear.

    As an East Coastie, you represent teams that stir feelings of hostility......but a true fan will always see the true fan in another. As a lover of the game, I applaud you. Take your nephew and teach him the game. Teach him also history, the stories, and the nuances that made us both fall in love with something special.

    Go Blue Jays!