Take Me Out to the Ballgame

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. Ever. I always believed in holding the bat right at the bottom & ensuring I was using the right weight & length.

Except once.

We were playing at Dyker Park fields in Brooklyn, diamond #1. It was one of the few fields in the Brooklyn area that actually had an outfield fence for right-handed hitters (and not one that was 800’ feet away).

Someone on my team had broken my favorite bat so I suddenly found myself in a little quandary.

I picked up a 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 place your left hand), the handle simply “got wider” at the very end, like an upside-cone shape.

It felt uncomfortable, but the umpire was telling me to get into the box.

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 fence for a home run!

But I never used that bat again nor did I ever choke up again!

> > 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 & 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.

A hard-throwing lefty, he could really bring the ball in a hurry. Besides, he was throwing “illegally” (a rule that was rarely enforced 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 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!

> > Rarely does a team trying bunting when the batter has 2 strikes on him. Unlike with normal swings where a foul ball is merely a “do-over”, fouling off a bunt with 2 strikes is 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.

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.

I have a 2 ball, 2 strike count 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.

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 win our 2nd consecutive GNYSSA crown!!!

> > The following year, we’re playing in our 3rd straight GNYSSA championship game at the Parade Grounds in Brooklyn, trying to capture yet another crown.

Tie game 2-2 in the fifth inning & I’m on 3rd base with one out.

Frank 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 & he 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 HITTER!

Frank has no idea whatsoever that I’m gonna try & steal home!

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 take off on the very first movement of the pitcher’s left foot.

Frank has 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 score & again, it turns out to be the winning run in our 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!

Never.

Even my teammate, the mercurial Mike Abatemarco, couldn’t claim that distinction.

> > 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, it may have belonged to the other team.

Possibly.

Before the age of camera phones.

Anyway…

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) 24 of my first 25 times using the “magic bat”, including 22 consecutive base hits!

Eventually, it & I cooled off (somewhat) and 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…

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