This past week, I learned about the recent passing of one of my 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 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 seemed to practice whenever we weren’t playing.
(BTW, practice does NOT make perfect…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 worked 10x as hard as 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, service & Mass.
Jennifer was so interested in knowing how we knew her Dad. After all, her whole life she heard her Dad speak so fondly of “my boys”.
I started posting various 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 in 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!
It’s so sad & 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. They move away, they raise families, life’s priorities change.
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 with & becam friends.
It is a great vehicle to reminisce, to tell people exactly how you feel about them, to share info & for me, to be able to “get out”!
Yeah, social media certainly has its shortcomings, from all the political crap to all the “keyboard warriors” who write stuff, but would never have the nerve to say out loud, especially directly to someone.
But overall, I’ve found it so valuable in keeping in touch with people that, otherwise, would merely be a faint memory on 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 it for now!
Thank you so very much for listening!