BLOOMINGBURG, NY – Today I’m waxing nostalgic as a result of a confluence of things. The original The Bad News Bears was on television yesterday, as it normally is shown to coincide with Spring Training and the beginning of a new MLB season. This movie still holds up well since first seeing it at the Dale Theater in what I’d like to think was the absolute best neighborhood to grow up in- the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The weather warmed up to (Rudy?) May-like numbers and yesterday marked 37 years since losing my dad, and we know there’s nothing more American than the father/son connection with baseball.
The weather this past week would be what every neighborhood kid waited for over the course of winter—the opportunity to go outside and toss the ball around with a friend or their Old Man. The break in the weather often meant breaking in a new glove; tying the mitt around the baseball in the pocket, adding a generous application of glove oil, and sticking the leather between the dresser and wall for the duration of the off-season. This was the method my dad used for every glove he’d ever bought for his three kids, and was a lesson not lost on any of us.
The Kingsbridge Little League was not unlike the organization depicted in The Bad News Bears. Games were played on the well-manicured Cooney Grauer Field, named after the man of many hats who made baseball possible for the bastion of generations of neighborhood kids.
We had our own Buttermaker in the chain-smoking, beer-swilling (Miller nips never in the dugout, however) Benny Benson of the Stella D’oro sponsored team. Benny had the gaunt facial characteristics of a drinker; red nose and cheeks with vertical purple veins running down his mandible. He once yelled aloud to my lefty-swinging friend to bat right-handed when stepping in the batter’s box because he wasn’t hitting the ball on his natural side. My buddy struck out on three pitchers and Mr. Benson exclaimed, ”See, it didn’t matter a bit!”
My coach was a high-ranking fireman in a nearby suburb who smoked Tiparillos in the dugout. Yes, it was a bygone era, prior to the term second hand smoke. He was a soft spoken man and got the most out of his players while teaching us the fundamentals which seem to get lost by Major Leaguers with every passing decade. My VFW Post 3300 team – coached by Max – engineered one of the bigger upsets during the era in the 1977 KLL World Series against ArtSteel.
My parents never missed a game me or my siblings ever played. Advice was given after the game and encouragement during play. One thing I wished for was to treat my dad to a ballgame, a hot dog and a beer once I reached the legal drinking age. But God laughs at our plans at times. It didn’t happen and just wasn’t meant to be. So here comes another baseball campaign that just doesn’t hit the same notes for me since losing my dad.
Leave your thoughts or memories below and come back for somebody that is apparently tone-deaf when it comes to hitting notes, Junoir Blaber.