I played a LOT of baseball (and later, softball) in my life.
And over that span, from 7 years old to well into my 20s, I have had a number of weird (improbable? coincidental?) things happen along the way…
– I never choked up on a bat.
I always believed in holding the bat right at the bottom & ensuring I was using the proper weight & length.
We were playing at Dyker Park fields in Brooklyn, diamond #1. It was one of the few fields in the entire borough of Brooklyn (with its 3MM+ inhabitants) that actually had an outfield fence for right-handed hitters…and not one that was 2000 feet away!
Someone on my team had broken my favorite bat so I suddenly found myself in a little quandary.
I picked up this brand-new Joe Torre model.
What was unique is that it didn’t have a normal bottom like most bats.
Instead of a knob at the bottom (against which you can place your bottom/left hand), the handle simply “got wider” at the very end, like an inverted cone.
It felt a bit uncomfortable, but the umpire was telling me to get into the box & I knew I absolutely hated all the other bats we had.
So, for the first time since I began playing ball, I choked up a little to get my bottom hand away from the wide part of the cone.
On a 2-1 pitch, I hit a long drive over the left-field fence & into the Veterans’ Hospital parking lot for a home run!
It helped propel us to a win & send our Regina team to the Regionals in Waltham, Massachusetts, representing NY.
But I never used that bat again nor did I ever choke up again!
Actually, I did have it in my hands as I came up to bat in the bottom of the last inning, 1 out, score tied and men on 2nd & 3rd.
No, the damned cowards intentionally walked me (also a first in my career) so my buddy, Marc Armato, won it with a clutch base hit to right!
– I never, ever swung at a 3-0 pitch (3 balls & 0 strikes). I always felt “funny” & figured I’d be too anxious to swing & would mess it all up.
I was in my 20s & playing fast-pitch softball on asphalt in a Sunday morning doubleheader league in Staten Island.
We were facing a pretty tough team & they had Big John on the mound.
(Note: This is Big John #1 in this story. Later on, you’ll meet 2 other Big John’s & a Big Steve.)
A hard-throwing lefty, he could really bring the ball in a hurry. Besides, he was throwing “illegally” (as per ASA/American Softball Association rules, a clear violation that was often ignored by the umps), something that greatly helped his tremendous speed.
First time up, I run the count to 3-0. I’ve always had a pretty good eye at the plate.
I figured he might let up a little & just try to get the pitch over for a strike.
I gave this totally-relaxed stance at the plate, trying to convince the pitching that I would be “taking the pitch” (not swinging).
Instead, I swung at his 3-0 pitch…and smashed a long home run over the left field fence & into the street.
That was the only time I had ever even swung at a 3-0 pitch…and the last time!
BTW, I hit another one that same game, on the first pitch that at-bat.
And then a single.
We lose 3-2 (the rest of our team got all of one hit the entire game).
So what happens in the second game of the twin bill?
Our player-coach drops me from the clean-up spot (4th) to batting 6th!!!
Yes, I held a grudge for awhile, but never publicly called him out for a terrible, terrible move.
– Rarely does a team try bunting when the batter has 2 strikes on him.
Unlike with a “normal” at-bat where a foul ball is merely a “do-over”, fouling off a bunt with 2 strikes is actually considered a strikeout.
In addition, rarely does a team try to execute a “suicide squeeze” bunt.
That’s when there’s a runner on 3rd base who immediately breaks for the plate as soon as the pitcher starts his wind-up & the batter MUST bunt the ball.
If he misses, it’s usually suicide for the runner as he’ll get tagged out by the catcher. Hence, the name “suicide squeeze”.
In addition, you’ll never see a suicide squeeze when the batter has 2 strikes on him. If the pitch is a strike & he misses, it’s an easy double play as the catcher merely tags the oncoming runner. If the batter fouls off the pitch, it’s a strikeout & the batter returns to 3rd base.
In a State Championship (GNYSAA/Greater NY Sandlot Athletic Association) game against the powerful Parkville team, I was facing the unbelievably hard-throwing righty, John Seneca, who also happened to be my teammate on the Xaverian HS team.
I knew very well how difficult he was to hit & he also had a great curveball as well.
Runner on 3rd. 1 out. Tied score.
I have a 1-2 count (1 ball & 2 strikes) on me.
This is only the 2nd time I’ve ever faced John in competition & that was earlier this same game.
My manager, Ronnie Bianco, who also coached 3rd base, flashes me a sign.
He calls for a suicide squeeze bunt!
I believe he’s lost his mind, but nevertheless, I acknowledge receiving the sign. (Had I done really something stupid like call timeout to get a clarification, it would have totally destroyed the element of surprise.
And Ronnie would’ve killed me! Rather, tried to kill me, but nonetheless…)
Here comes the runner!
The pitch is a fastball, high & outside.
I successfully lay down a perfect bunt along the 3rd base line.
The runner scores, I’m safe at first & that proves to be the winning run as we capture our 2nd consecutive GNYSSA crown!!!
(Later that game, I make a shoestring catch of a sinking line drive & doubled off the potential tying run…John Seneca…at second base! He thought for sure it was a base hit, and in reality, it SHOULD have been, but I played with both John & the batter, Steve Gardella, at Xaverian and knew that while he had INCREDIBLE power to left & center, Steve would only slap the ball to the opposite field so I was playing him Little League depth in right field.
Yeah, it was kinda like advance scouting…
BTW, John went on to pitch for Seton Hall on a full scholarship, then got drafted by the NY Yankees. But the screwed with his head, trying to change his motion & he never made it to the big show.
Steve Gardella became an NYPD cop, just like his Dad, but sadly, his life was cut short in a traffic accident. RIP ❤️ 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼
– The following year, we’re playing in our 3rd straight GNYSSA championship game at the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn, trying to capture yet another state crown.
Tie game 2-2 in the fifth inning & I’m on 3rd base with one out.
Frankie Farruggio is at bat. He’s our catcher & has some enormous power at the plate. He’s hit several tape-measure homers already this year.
But he’s been in a terrible slump lately & has a penchant for striking out a lot.
It’s a 1-2 count & I’m taking my lead off 3rd.
Ronnie verbally tells me to “go on this pitch”. That means to steal home!
Not only are there 2 strikes on the batter (that could easily turn into a double play if it’s a strike, he misses & I get tagged out at home), but he DOESN’T FLASH ANY SIGN TO THE FRANKIE!
Frankie has no idea whatsoever that I’m gonna try & steal home!
This is absolute INSANITY!
********** T I M E O U T ***********
Reminds me of the time several years later when we received a bomb threat at the Citi facility at 100 Baylis Road in Melville, Long Island and we evacuated the entire building!
Everyone’s standing outside in the freezing cold in our parking lot.
Now here’s the really, really stupid part!
The Dealer Finance Collections Dept would “regularly” receive these bomb threats from their disgruntled, delinquent customer base (as they provided financing for new/used cars purchased at their network of participating dealerships).
Yes, people would indeed get irate when you threatened to come & tow away their car. But Citi’s name is on the title & we have equal rights along with the customer when you don’t fulfill the loan obligations.
Same as when you have a mortgage.
But apparently, we had so many “false alarms” that required the Suffolk County Police to respond to our site that they actually got pissed at us & threatened to charge Citi some ginormous penalty going forward!!!
Is it just me, but aren’t “unsuccessful bomb threats” actually a GOOD THING (as opposed to those that are successfully carried out)?
I absolutely love & adore law enforcement & the brave men & women who risk their lives for us, but would you rather we didn’t react when we received a bomb threat & God forbid, it turns out to be more than just a hollow threat???
Just so you weren’t inconvenienced?
Anyway, I get approached by the head of Citi’s Facilities Management Unit & they ask me…along with 2 other officers…to “go inside & conduct a thorough search of the entire facility”!!!
MY LEFT HAND IS FIRMLY PLACED ON THE HOLY BIBLE & MY RIGHT HAND IS RAISED. 🤚
We each were assigned a different floor & had to go into all the restrooms, checking every stall & waste receptacle. Enter every work area & check every waste paper basket, every unlocked closet/room, every garbage pail, every file cabinet.
And I actually agreed!!!
And we carried out our mission successfully.
Totally irresponsible & absolutely idiotic on Citi’s part to even ask us. We won’t even mention potentially dangerous.
BUT 1,000 TIMES MORE STUPID FOR ME TO SAY YES!!!
I coulda been a gazillionaire had I the brains, the guts & a good lawyer to later sue their asses off! I would’ve make a great victim, unable to leave me room, huddled in a corner.
*** B A C K T O O U R S T O R Y ***
If he hits a hard line drive along the 3rd base line (where I happen to be running full-speed), I could actually get killed…literally & figuratively…or “just” get my face rearranged, that’s all.
What the hell, I thought.
“Mine is not to question why, mine is to just be a freakin’ numbskull!”
I take off on the very first movement I detect…as soon as the pitcher lifts his left foot.
Frankie has absolutely no idea I’m coming.
The other team yells out, “He’s going!!!”
The pitch is a little low, but is actually the perfect pitch for snuff out an attempted steal of home.
Frank takes the pitch (doesn’t swing).
I slide into home.
The ump yells “SAFE!!!” & gives an emphatic safe sign. (I actually knew the ump, Tom “Wolfman” ItalianlastnamethatIdon’tremember, from years prior & I believe he was a Phys Ed teacher at Bishop Kearney High School in Brooklyn.)
I score & again, it turns out to be the winning run in our state championship game!
Three consecutive GNYSSA titles in the Senior Division…
…but even more importantly, I’m still alive to tell (write) about it!!!
> > In all the years of playing baseball (in HS as well as on my Regina team, playing in 5-6 different leagues every year), I’ve never been caught stealing 2nd base!
Even my teammate, the mercurial Mike Abatemarco, couldn’t claim that distinction. He got thrown out once leading off a weeknight National Competition league game against our arch rivals, Ty Cobb.
Actually, got thrown out by a mile, which was pretty incredible since he was the Jet.
I took that as a challenge.
I came up next & walked on 4 straight pitches. But, once again, prior knowledge of the opponent came into play.
Big John LoDuca, Ty Cobb’s pitcher, was also my teammate at Xaverian & he ALWAYS had the same exact routine with a man on base…
Come to a stop…count 1…count 2…throw home.
When I got that base on balls, I faked a limp to first base & literally walked the entire 90 feet as slow as possible.
Then, I took a tiny, 2-step lead.
And when I counted to 1, I was off to the races, sliding in well before the perfect, but late, throw got there!
When John glared at me from the mound, I gave him the ol’ “sticking my thumb into my open mouth” routine & told him, “Eat me!”. 🤪
> > And finally, when I was playing on the Sabres softball team in Brooklyn (after “retiring” from baseball), I once “found” this copper-colored bat during a game.
“Found”? Hmmm, OK, it may have belonged to the other team.
Before the age of camera phones.
I loved the way it felt. 34” & the perfect weight. It felt great in my hands.
I used it in the first game of a doubleheader & went 4 for 5 (4 hits in 5 at bats)…and the one out was a screaming line drive that was clearly headed over the fence, but hit a tree limb & ricocheted to the center fielder for an out!
I then went 3 for 3 in the second half of the doubleheader.
I was not giving up this bat.
I brought it home with me as I played with different teams in other leagues.
I went 3 for 3.
Another team, another league.
4 for 4.
This continued on. I now referred to it as the “magic bat”!
As it turned out, I hit safely (got a hit) in 24 of my first 25 times using the “magic bat”, including 22 consecutive base hits!
Eventually, it & I cooled off (somewhat) and then, one day, I actually lost my magic bat!
I accidentally left it at the field & by the time I realized & drove back, it was gone!
Never really got around to holding a memorial service for it…
As always, thank you so very much for listening!