A few months ago, I learned about the recent passing of one of my Regina baseball coaches, Jerry Dente, from back when I was a teenager.
I played under Jerry & our manager, Ronnie Bianco, as we won 3 straight Greater NY Sandlot Athletic Assn championships (1972-74).
But it was more than just a baseball team.
We were family.
We played in 6 different leagues around Brooklyn, winning them all! Our schedule neared 100 games & we always seemed to be practicing whenever we weren’t actually playing.
(BTW, practice does NOT make perfect…only perfect practice makes perfect!)
And our coaches & all the men who ran the Regina Athletic Assn were like our seconds Dads…and they treated us like their sons!
Growing up in Brooklyn wasn’t an easy feat, that is, making it out alive…not wasting away our lives on drugs or in jail…learning the difference between right & wrong…treating people respectfully (especially our elders & all authority figures)…learning that you hadda work extremely hard for anything & everything you got & if you were interested in becoming a winner, you MUST work 10x harder than anyone else!
I happened to “meet” Jerry’s daughter, Jennifer, on FB when she replied to a buddy’s comment on a post I wrote.
The post was actually about Ronnie (“Do you know who this man is?”) who none of us had seen in over 40 years. In addition, I added a small announcement about Jerry’s death & information on his upcoming service, Mass & burial back in Brooklyn.
Everything…somehow, someway, some time…always takes us back to Brooklyn.
But being in San Antonio (and pretty immobile, at that), I was unable to pay my respects in person
Jennifer was so interested in knowing how we all (the people who commented on the post) knew her Dad. After all, as she later told me, all throughout her life, she always heard her Dad speak so fondly of “my boys”.
I started sharing a bunch of team pictures & newspaper articles that included her Dad.
I sent her a FB “friend request”, she accepted & so I sent her a message.
“If you wouldn’t mind…
I’d like to send you or your Mom a nice li’l flower arrangement or plant in memory of your Dad.
It’s impossible for me to impress upon you the importance that “my Regina years” hold for me & the effect they had on my life.
I played ball w/ Regina from when I was 7…from 14-18, I played with the Juniors team (the highest level @ Regina).
The impact that all the coaches & men who ran the Athletic Assn. had on the way I played, on how I treated people, on how I worked hard, on how I sacrificed, on how I respected my elders & authority, on how I dealt with my teammates & friends, on how I developed a true thirst to be the best at whatever I did…on how I grew up…ranks right up there with my Mom & Dad.
There is no higher praise in the world as far as I’m concerned.
And while your Dad was “only” my coach for the last 2 years, they were amongst the happiest times of my entire life!
Your Dad always had a smile, an encouraging word, a bit of helpful advice. And he would not accept anything but our very best, 100% of the time.
I took so many of the lessons that I learned playing ball with me throughout my life, whether it was when I was coaching baseball & basketball, being (trying to be) a good husband & Dad, or being a leader of people during my business career with Citi.
These men treated us like their sons & kept us on the straight & narrow…not an easy feat, growing up on the streets of Brooklyn.
I just want to send you guys a small token of my deep gratitude & appreciation that I had for your Dad.
Oh, and my love, of course.
I know how sad everyone must be, but when you realize just how much he did for so many of us, I truly hope it’ll put a smile on your face!
Sleep peacefully knowing you have an incredible set of genes inside of you!
God bless you! Thank you!”
She wrote back the next morning & said that she read it aloud to her Mom…and together, they had a nice cry!
There are 2 incidents with Jerry…
* * * * * DISCLAIMER (as opposed to “that claimer”): I wrote this story solely for myself. Unlike all my other stuff, where I try hard to entertain, or teach a lesson, or share things with my audience, this one’s just for ME. I just wanna revel in that time of my life when things were simpler, purer & way more carefree! Pls excuse me if it falls short of your expectations, but sometimes, that’s the price one pays when you decide to read my silly crap in the first place. Thank you. * * * * *
…that have, & will always, come immediately to mind.
The first one was in ’73 when Jerry joined Ronnie Bianco as his coach (after we won our first NY crown). I had already played 3 years under Ronnie since I was 14 & lemme tell ya, playing against the older guys (17 & 18) was quite the education!
I clearly remember Jerry drumming into our heads that, whenever we were at bat, we hadda “keep our eye on the ball!”
Nothing earth shattering, right?
Every Little Leaguer hears that ol’ hackneyed line from the very first time they start playin’ the game.
But Jerry insisted on ALWAYS, ALWAYS keeping your eye on the ball!
While the infielder tossed it to the pitcher after an out.
While it was lying on the ground on the mound after the 3rd out of an inning.
While the pitcher had it in his glove, or behind his back, taking the sign from the catcher.
While the pitcher started his wind-up…EVEN IF YOU COULDN’T SEE THE BALL ITSELF, you kept your eye on it.
That simple philosophy made a profound difference in my own hitting…and my ability to hit for power.
I was now a split second quicker in “recognizing” the ball as it left the pitcher’s hand. I already knew where it was…I wasn’t “looking in the general area” waiting for it to appear.
This subtle li’l change really fine-tuned my game.
In my last 2 years playing, I don’t believe I ever hit a ball (I’m a righty) to the right side of 2nd base, regardless of the pitcher.
I stood close enough to the plate to actually pull that outside pitch (strike) & if I couldn’t reach it, it hadda be a ball. I was now very selective at the plate & with (most of) the pitchers at the amateur/high school level, you rarely got buzzed inside.
The second thing I’ll always remember about Jerry is how easily I could lift him off the ground.
🤔 ? ? ?
It was the 1974 NYC CYO/Catholic Youth Organization championship game at the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn & we were battling this pesky-ass team from Queens.
I don’t specifically remember their name…hell, it could’ve been “Our Lady of the Airports” for all I know.
We were tied behind 3-2 and it was the bottom of the 9th inning.
I came to bat with 1 out & runners on second & third (the potential tying & winning runs)…and smashed a drive deep to left.
And while we didn’t play on the “Field of Dreams”, ya know, carved out of a cornfield in Iowa, the baseball diamonds @ the Parade Grounds had no “reasonably-distanced” left field fences (they were, at least, a thousand feet away),
I believe the left fielder is still chasing after the ball…47 years later!
Anyway, as soon as I touched the bag & I was sure that both runners were scoring, I turned to Jerry (who was coaching first base) as my teammates came pouring out of the dugout & onto the field!
Instead of just celebrating like a normal human being with him, I picked Jerry up off the ground with this big ol’ bear hug…I was SHOCKED as how easily he went up!…and started carrying him around the field!
Note: That kinda reminded me of the time I beat both my Dad & my Uncle Anthony at arm-wrestling.
I was amazed, but knew at that very moment, no matter what happened to me afterwards, I would now always be a man.
💥 🔥 💪🏼 🦍
Well, maybe, physically, that is. I’m still, like, 9 years old upstairs.
It’s so sad & actually very frustrating, though, when it takes someone’s passing for the rest of us to have (take?) the opportunity to tell exactly how we feel & felt about the deceased.
People tend to drift apart as they “get on with their lives”.
We/They move away, raise families & along the way, life’s priorities change drastically.
Personally, I’m incredibly grateful for what Facebook has enabled me to do…stay in touch with soooooo many people with whom I grew up, went to school, played ball, hung out, worked & of course, became & remained lifelong friends.
It is a great vehicle to help reminisce & provides an easy platform to tell people exactly how you feel about them, to share info & for me personally, to be able to “get out & have fun”!
Yeah, social media certainly has its shortcomings, from all the political crap to all the “keyboard warriors” (who would never, ever think of saying 90% of the nonsense they write to someone’s face), but overall, I’ve found it so valuable in being able to keep in touch with people that, otherwise, would merely be a fond memory in my mind.
Take the opportunity to say how you feel to the people you like & love…while they’re still here with us to appreciate & cherish your kind words.
That’s about all I have for now!
And “Thank you!” so very much for listening in as I reminisced!