Here are some Bill Rogan stories. Perhaps you will find them interesting and humorous. Perhaps not. By the way, that's Bill's cat Jeets in the picture to the right. He enjoys reading Bill's stories.
THE PARKING METER STORY
It was the summer of 1972, and as usual I was spending it with my grandfather in the Bronx. Why they call it “The” Bronx but not “The Brooklyn” or “The Queens” I don’t know. Anyway, I digress.
It was the summer of 1972, and as usual I was spending it with my grandfather in the Bronx. Why they call it “The” Bronx but not “The Brooklyn” or “The Queens” I don’t know. Anyway, I d
My entire summer revolved around baseball. We played baseball all day at Van Cortlandt Park, or we would venture over to Coyne Park and play against the kids from Yonkers. When not playing pickup baseball games, we would play stickball or go to Yankees games. There were no video games to play and no air-conditioned malls to hang out in. It was just baseball, all day every day, and I loved every minute of it.
Late one hot and muggy afternoon, I was involved in a spirited game of stickball in the schoolyard of P.S. 19. The kid I was playing against was twelve years old, two years older and much bigger. I didn’t like this kid because he was a Mets fan, and he was wearing one of those plastic replica Mets batting helmets, the inside of which read, “Not to be used for protective purposes.”
As the game moved along, we argued over every pitch, every ruling. It was getting nasty. I was pitching and decided “enough is enough.” I fired a pitch with everything I had in my skinny body, directly at his head. The rubber ball flew out of my hand and made a beeline to his noggin. Perfect aim. Pinpoint control. Bulls eye! I drilled this yappy Mets fan squarely in the head, his shiny Mets batting helmet shattering into hundreds of pieces.
The thrilling feeling I had didn’t last long. The big kid was somewhat perturbed. Actually, worse than that. He jumped off the asphalt quickly and threw his stickball bat (a broomstick) at me like a javelin. It missed. I may have said something about that, but I don’t remember. If I did it probably was, “Ha, ya missed!”
The 12-year old kid, after misfiring on his javelin throw, then took off after me.
Diplomacy would not work here, I quickly reasoned. I started running. The goal was now very clear and simple. Survival. I needed to get to Grandpa’s apartment on 235th Street before the helmetless maniac beat the stuffing out of me. The chase was on.
I ran out of the schoolyard and made a left on 238th Street. I ran to Katonah Avenue and made another left. This was a fairly busy street, with enough foot traffic to aid in my getaway. I was running as fast as I could, zig-zagging between pedestrians. I could feel and hear my heart pounding. Periodically, I would glance over my shoulder to see if my pursuer was still chasing me. He was. I crossed over 237th Street and 236th Street. I planned to make a right on Katonah at 235thStreet and race up the block to the safety of Grandpa’s apartment.
Unfortunately, I never made it. Midway between 236th and 235th Streets, I took a peek over my right shoulder to see my would-be murderer still chasing after me, about 30-feet behind.
What happened next still provides a painful memory. After that last glance, I looked forward only to see a parking meter inches from my face. Lights out. Ballgame.
The next thing I remembered was sitting on the edge of the tub in my Grandpa’s bathroom. Gramps was holding a cold, wet, bloody towel to my face. There were a few other bloody towels on the floor and blood all over my shirt and arms. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too good.
To this day, I have absolutely no recollection of how I got to Grandpa’s apartment. None. I do remember how my nose was swollen and I had two black eyes and a headache for a week or so. Looking back, I may have had a broken nose. No big deal, kids were tougher back then, not like the softy generation of flabby kids today. I also recall my Grandpa telling me not to tell my mom, and I never have.
As for the kid who was chasing me, I never saw him again. I wonder if he remembers the chase that ended with a parking meter jumping in my path and taking me out?
Years later, when I was able to drive, I would frequently visit Gramps to take him out to lunch or to the senior club. In the Woodlawn section of the Bronx, parking can be scarce. On occasion when seeking a parking spot, the only available space was at the meter that nearly decapitated me. I wouldn’t park there. I refused. I would rather drive around 20 more minutes to find another place to park than to put money in that specific meter.
As the years went on, I would see that meter and remember that fateful and painful day. It also reminded me of how tall I was when I was 10.
That parking meter haunted me every time I saw it. I wanted to take a hacksaw to it like Paul Newman in ‘Cool Hand Luke’. Of course I never did.
Since that day, I’ve always had a dislike of parking meters.
In college, in Pittsburgh, I knew a student who commuted to class every day. He had a small hammer and would break the parking meter and put a little sign on it that said, “Broken Meter.” Then he would park for free. I admired him even though he was a vandal.
As far as the Bronx parking meter in question, I don’t know if it is still there or not. Hopefully it has met its demise and is rusting away in a junkyard somewhere. This story also reveals why I’ve spent most of my working career on the radio instead of television.
A MINOR DETAIL
When I was in college, a long time ago, I majored in journalism. I didn’t have a minor four semesters into my academic career at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Heck, it took me that long to learn how to spell Duquesne. I was more interested in playing baseball than worrying about what my minor would be.
Eventually, I was called into a meeting with an academic adviser whose name I cannot recall.
“Bill, we need to get you a minor,” he said.
“Ok. How about eligibility?”
The adviser didn’t laugh.
He looked over my academic records for a couple of minutes. He pursed his lips a few times and then sighed. I sat there, in a small, cramped office, thinking, “Uh-oh. This can’t be good.”
“Well,” he finally said, “Sociology is pretty easy.”
My immediate thought was, “Sociology?” The “pretty easy” part though caught my attention. It wasn’t a hard sell.
“Alright, sounds good to me,” I told him. So, that is how ended up with a sociology minor.
It also happened to be the only time I ever met with an academic adviser at Duquesne. And he didn’t lie to me; sociology was “pretty easy.” Although, looking back, why would the academic adviser suggest an “easy” minor for me? Just wondering.
I WANT TO RIDE MY BICYCLE
For my 13th birthday I wanted a 10-speed bicycle. I had an old beat up bike, and I had my heart set on a spiffy brand new one. I didn’t get it.
A few weeks before my birthday, my mom got a call from my art teacher. I’m a little fuzzy now on the details, but I was in trouble for allegedly throwing wet clay at a classmate. Mom and dad were not pleased. Hence, no bike. A year later, with no recent art class episodes, I finally got my bike. It was a beautiful blue 10-speed riding machine. I rode that bike everywhere.
A couple of years later, when all my friends were learning how to drive and ditching their bikes, there I was, still pedaling away. When I got my learner’s permit to drive, I didn’t even bother to take my driving test. A year went by, so I had to retake the test to get a learner’s permit. And when I did eventually take the drivers test I failed for going through a stop sign. Why did I need to drive a car when I had my bicycle?
I would frequently ride my bike to the park to play basketball or baseball. In the nearby parking lot were a bunch of kids I knew from school who were admiring their cars. All through high school those guys and gals would be smoking cigarettes and hanging out in the parking lot with their cars.
On breaks from college, I would ride my bike through the park and those same people from high school were still hanging out in the parking lot. They would wave to me and I’d wave back. I would think, “I can’t believe those guys are still hanging out at the park.”
They were probably thinking, “I can’t believe that guy is still riding his bike.”
Of course I had a car. I had to grow up sometime. But, unlike some people, I never ditched my bike just because I had a car. I still ride my bike as much as I can. Colorado is a wonderful place to ride a bike except for those prickly thorns that periodically give me flat tires.
My current bike is a 12-speed model and I’ve had it for a long time. It still is, and always will be, my favorite form of transportation.
THE BASEBALL CARD CAPER
In 1973, I was a proud member of the Eldorado Elementary School Chorus in Spring Valley, New York. Ok, I don’t remember if I was a proud member. Looking back I wonder how I even was in the school chorus. I’m sure they made me do it since I was pretty shy back then and singing wasn’t my bag. Unlike now when I can belt out a tune with the best of them. Sure.
Anyway, I was in Mrs. Mayhew’s 5th grade class and she was the meanest teacher in the school. Time has not softened my view on Mrs. Mayhew. She was intimidating and I truly she believe hated kids. Especially me. These days teachers have to search students for guns, knives, and drugs. Back then Mrs. Mayhew was on a crusade to eliminate baseball cards from Eldorado Elementary school. That’s right, baseball cards. To her, they were the worst things in the world and she would confiscate them at every opportunity.
On many occasions, she would go into my coat pocket and take away my baseball cards. You read correctly, she stole them from my coat pocket! She would rummage through the other kids pockets as well and she would steal our precious cards. Or she would take them out of our desks. Mrs. Mayhew was the baseball card Nazi.
One time she even pulled me off the school bus before it departed the parking lot and looked in my book bag. Yep, baseball cards. She took them. At recess, she would sneak up behind us and steal our cards. I half expected her to show up at my house, enter my bedroom and take away my cards. Mrs. Mayhew always took the cards and put them in bags in a big closet in our classroom. Then she would lock the door and our cards were gone forever.
Back to the school chorus. We had our big spring concert on a Friday night. Mom and Dad were there and probably my sister Mary. I can’t definitively recall if Mary was there or not, but she is irrelevant to the story. She’s still pretty much irrelevant. I say that because I hope she reads this story and gets irritated. That’s what brothers do.
The concert went off without a hitch. We were cheered and it actually felt pretty good. I can’t remember any of the songs we sung but it was a nice night. After the concert, I told my parents I had to go to my classroom to get a book. Which was true. Once in the darkened classroom, just for the heck of it, I decided to turn the knob on the closet door. A jolt of excitement ran through my chest when the door actually opened. In the darkness I could see the outline of bags. Four large bags of baseball cards!
The classroom was on the ground floor. I took the bags to the window andset them outside. Then I went back to my parents. I told them I had to go to the bathroom. I went back to the classroom, crawled out the window and hid the bags of cards in the nearby woods. I climbed back into the classroom, locked the window, locked the closet door, and then headed to the front of the school and my patient parents.
I forgot the book I was originally was supposed to get but neither Mom or Dad said anything about it. All night long I was praying it wouldn’t rain. I was also paranoid, waiting for Mrs. Mayhew to knock on the front door with the police demanding my arrest. Early the next morning, I rode my bike to Eldorado Elementary School and was able to recover two bags of cards. A return trip brought home the rest. I also had to sneak the cards into the house. My mom was a police officer so it wasn’t easy to get away with things.
Finally, the cards were safe and sound in my house. I had all my cards back and all my classmates cards too. I pulled it off, a true caper! Monday morning, as I entered Mrs. Mayhew’s class, I was sweating profusely. I knew that she knew what I had done. Nervous doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.
When Mrs. Mayhew went into the closet, I expected her to fly off the handle and immediately know it was me who stole the cards. Much to my surprise and relief, she never said anything about the missing cards. Ever. For the next week I was a wreck, but nothing ever happened. Mrs. Mayhew never brought up the missing cards although she still was on the lookout for any student possessing baseball cards.
What became of the baseball cards in question? I still have them. They’re in my closet safe and sound and Mrs. Mayhew can’t do a thing about it. She’s dead.
I’m not into hunting or fishing. I retired from fishing at the age of 14 when I started feeling sorry for the fish. Some people claim fish don’t feel pain. Well, when they are thrashing about with a hook in their mouths, it looks painful to me.
As for hunting, I’ve never tried it. I’m not anti-hunting but I couldn’t shoot a defenseless animal.
Wait a minute. Actually, I have hunted before. Not deer or elk or anything like that. I’m a former hunter of…rats.
When I was a kid in New York, my friends and I would grab our BB guns and ride our bikes to the Bronx River. We would head down a dirt path, through all sorts of overgrown weeds and garbage to a clearing across the water from a sewer pipe. We would then throw eggs and tomatoes across the 40-foot wide stream towards the sewer pipe. Then we would wait.
It didn’t take long for some giant New York sewer rats to emerge. They would be sniffing around the debris and the new food items that had recently arrived. Then four or five of us knuckleheads would pick out a specific rat, aim and shoot at the same time. The rat that was hit would usually jump in the air and then scamper back into the sewer pipe. We would be joyous and laugh hysterically at hitting the rat. Unfortunately, we rarely killed any rats. Those things are tougher than a $3 dollar steak. Or Mrs. Mayhew, my fifth grade teacher.
My rat hunting career came to a close one overcast summer day. As usual, we targeted a rat to pepper with BB’s. We shot a particularly large rat and it barely moved. The angry rat made direct eye contact with me. For a few seconds I was paralyzed by fear. Nothing on this planet scares me more than rats. After locking eyes, the rat dove into the water. It was coming after me. I jumped on my bike and raced out of there. Lance Armstrong would have been proud.
Lessons were learned that day. If you shoot a rat use something more powerful than a BB gun. And always have a getaway plan.
BASEBALL IS LIFE
There aren’t too many things that I loved as a child that I still love today, but there is one thing that comes quickly to mind, and that is baseball. My entire life has revolved around baseball, and each long winter day that passes brings me closer to another season. This season will be different for me though. The Yankees will be playing in a brand spanking new billion-dollar stadium. It is said all good things must pass and that is certainly true in this case. Some of my fondest memories in life took place in the big ballpark in the Bronx. Maybe my fondest Yankee Stadium memory occurred in the early 70’s when my dad took me to a game.
Back then, I used to bring my glove to each game hoping against hope to catch a baseball. This particular afternoon we were sitting, as usual, in the lower level of the right field stands. In the latter innings, my favorite player, Bobby Murcer, came up for the Yankees in a key spot. My dad told me, “Get ready, he’s gonna hit one out here.”
Sure enough, on the very first pitch Bobby ripped a liner to right. It was a long drive that sailed over the right fielder’s head and kept going. The ball banged off a wooden chair about five rows in front of me. I scampered as fast as I could after the ball, heart pounding with excitement. I would love to say I grabbed the ball and it is sitting on a shelf in my home. But that wasn’t the case. An older guy beat me to the home run ball. My disappointment has lasted a lifetime.
To this day I can close my eyes and remember how big and colorful Yankee Stadium was. I can vividly remember the chills that ran through my body when my dad would ask, “Want to go to the game today?” I never said no.
My final trip to Yankee Stadium was July of 2008, a couple of days after my mom’s funeral. I thought about all the times I was in Yankee Stadium with my mom and dad. Both are gone now. So is Bobby Murcer, who passed just a couple of weeks after my mom. Yankee Stadium is also gone, succombing to the wrecking ball.
Baseball is about memories of not just the games, but the people you care about most. It is about family, friends, and the players on the field. It truly is a beautiful, time-tested sport that is more than just a game. It is life. At least for me it is.
I’ve watched games on TV from the new Yankee Stadium. I’m also anxious to visit the new park. Maybe I’ll even like it. But it can never replace the original stadium.
I took a trip to New York in 2008 to attend to family business. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to drive over to the park near my mom’s house to take a look. You know, for old time’s sake.
Not much had changed since my last visit a decade ago. The basketball court where I dominated in my younger days was still there. The same for the baseball field, tennis courts, and handball courts. The small lake looked the same. Or is it a pond. The park was quiet except for a couple of mothers with baby strollers enjoying the late morning sun. There was a dopey kid on a skateboard nearby and an older gentleman throwing a ball against the handball wall. Just a quiet Monday at the park.
After taking in the scene, I began to stroll with flashbacks and memories stirring in my head. As I got closer to the handball courts, I recognized the man throwing the ball. He wasn’t just lobbing it either. He was firing the ball against that huge cement wall. I looked closely at the man and I couldn’t believe it. It was John Verwoert, one of my former baseball coaches and a man whom I had met 27-years earlier. I hadn’t seen him in at least ten years.
“Mr. V,” I yelled.
He walked over to the fence. It took a couple of seconds before he replied in his New York accent, “Billy Rogan. What are you doin’ here? You’re supposed to be in Denvah.”
I entered the handball courts and we shook hands. Mr. V told me he just celebrated his 78th birthday. I was astounded. 78? I didn’t know he was that old. He looked just like he did twenty years earlier. He handed me his glove and had me throw the ball against the wall as we talked about the old days and what we were up to today. I noticed the glove was relatively new and broken in well. I thought to myself, “What guy in his 70’s buys a new baseball glove…for himself!?” Mr. V, that’s who.
“Mr. V, people must think you’re crazy to be out here throwing a baseball around,” I said.
“Probably,” Mr. V said with a smile. “But I don’t care.”
During our conversation, Mr. V reminded me of his baseball philosophies, the same theories I had heard many years prior. Philosophies like “the neck pitch,” “stepping on eggs,” and my personal favorite, “baseball is a martial art.” It would take hours to explain Mr. V’s original baseball teaching philosophies and analogies, so don’t ask. While he was coaching at John Jay College in Manhattan, Mr. V explained that he improved the hitting of a couple of players from the Dominican Republic by teaching them that hitting a baseball was like chopping sugar cane.
“What are ya doin’ tonight?” Mr. V asked.
“Good, we got a game tonight.”
I played for Mr. V’s team in a mostly college age league for three years beginning in 1981. Then in 1984, I started my own team in the same league called the Pearl River Salty Dogs. A year or two later we asked Mr. V to be our coach, and he’s been the coach of the Salty Dogs ever since.
“We’re playing Saddle Brook,” Mr. V told me. “Skelly still plays.”
Ah, Skelly. Mike Skelly is a medical doctor now. He was an original Salty Dog and one of the best amateur hitters I’ve ever seen. Example: We played a game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown in the early 90’s, and Skelly hit a ball completely over the white, two-story house in right-centerfield. It was a jaw-dropping bomb.
Mr. V asked, “So, you playin’ ball in Denvah?”
My last year playing was 1993, and I haven’t given much thought to seriously playing again.
“Mr. V, I’m 46.”
“So?” responded Mr. V. “Jerry Quigley’s still pitchin’. He’s 51. Threw five shutout innings last week and got the win. You should find a team in Denvah to play on.”
I went to the game that night. Mr. V put me to use as the first base coach. Felt strange but nice. I can’t remember the name of the player who batted ninth in the Salty Dogs lineup, but I recalled a conversation I had with Mr. V years back when he penciled me into the nine spot in the batting order. Mr. V had sat next to me on the bench and put his arm around me. He said, “Billy, do you know why I’m batting you ninth tonight?”
“For speed at the bottom of the order?”
“No. The reason you’re batting ninth…is because there’s no number ten!” He’s managed a million games, and I bet he’s said that to every guy who has batted ninth for him.
The game between the now tradition-laden Pearl River Salty Dogs and the Saddle Brook Whatevers was called due to rain and lighting after three scoreless innings. Mr. V, Skelly, and I then drove to a restaurant in Pearl River to talk about baseball and everything else. Mike paid the tab. He should, he’s a doctor.
I had lost contact with these guys through the years, and that’s sad. It was nice to reconnect. And it all occurred because I happened to cross paths again with a 78-year old guy who still loves baseball, coaching, and the simple act of throwing a baseball against a wall.
THE ORIGINAL DOCTOR J
My first radio job out of college, in 1984, was working for WRKL in Rockland County New York . I announced high school football games on Saturday and during the week covered insanely boring things like planning board and town hall meetings.
One of the few meetings I actually enjoyed covering was the monthly board of health gathering. I found it interesting and informative to know which restaurants had been fined for health code violations.
At the first board of health meeting I covered, I spoke with a woman who was there for the local newspaper. She warned me about Doctor Fletcher Johnson, the board of health president. She told me he was tough to deal with. When the board of health members walked into the meeting I was struck by how huge Dr. Johnson was. He was about 6’8 and solidly built. All throughout the meeting I kept thinking, “Fletcher Johnson. Where have I heard that name before?”
At the conclusion of the meeting, I went up to Dr. Johnson, a cardiovascular surgeon, while carrying my tape recorder and introduced myself. He didn’t appear all that impressed with me. He wasn’t rude, but he gave the impression he had other, more important things to get to.
Before I began the interview I asked him, “Are you the Fletcher Johnson who played basketball at Duquesne?” He stared at me. Then his eyes lit up. He even smiled.
“How did you know that?” asked the doctor.
I had finally remembered that name from reading a Duquesne University basketball media guide a while back.
“I went Duquesne,” I told him. The glory days of Duquesne basketball were in the mid 1950’s when Fletcher Johnson was a rebounding machine.
Every board of health meeting I went to after that, Dr. Johnson was very friendly and cordial to me. He would even joke around with me. Other members of the media wondered why he would give me information that they had to drag out of him. He would also give me courtside tickets to Knicks and Nets games. I probably shouldn’t have accepted them since it likely broke some journalistic ethics. But hey, the tickets were worth more than I was getting paid from the radio station.
In time, I moved on from WRKL and no longer covered the board of health meetings. I’d see Dr. Johnson at Knicks games, and we would say hello or just shoot a wave at each other.
WRKL is no longer on the air and Dr. Johnson is no longer operating. He passed away October 14, 2008 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 77. He was still working until a week before he passed. The original Dr. J.
BASEBALL AND BUTTERMILK
When I'm sore after a day of playing baseball in the old guy's league, I smile at the memory when I didn't know what muscle soreness was.
As a kid, I played baseball all the time. At least as often as I could. I stayed with my Grandpa in the Bronx during the summers of my youth and my schedule was simple. Baseball followed by more baseball.
A typical day would begin at 7 a.m. since my Grandpa would be up earlier than that making breakfast. Old timers always seem to wake up early. Maybe they are just happy to make it to another day. Anyway, Gramps would feed me around 7 and although I didn't like getting up that early, I did like the breakfasts he would make with one exception. He made me drink buttermilk. I hated buttermilk back then. I don't know if I still hate it because I haven't had it since the age of 13. Gramps would always say, "Drink it. It'll put hair on your chest." I would answer, "But Gramps, I'm 10 years old. I don't want hair on my chest." I guess Grandpa was right since I have hair on my chest today. I blame the buttermilk.
Anyway, after breakfast I would ride my bike to Van Cortlandt Park. I would get there a little after 8 a.m. and was usually the first kid at the field. Soon enough other kids on bikes would arrive and we would play baseball.
We would break for lunch, usually a hot dog or two and a soda. Sometimes we'd get a slice of pizza. Then, around 1 o'clock we would play more baseball.
Finally, I'd get to Gramps apartment for dinner. After dinner it was either watch the Yankees on TV or go to the schoolyard at PS 19 to play stickball since they had lights and we could play when it got dark.
After a full day of baseball, I would go to bed waiting to do it all over again the next day. Without the buttermilk. And I never got sore either.
A MOST STRANGE ENCOUNTER
I'm fascinated with the period of baseball between 1946 and 1957. Some might call them the halcyon days of baseball.
It was right after the war, players were returning from miliary duty, Jackie Robinson was a year away from breaking the color barrier and the country was hungering for baseball. No more so than in New York City where the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers resided.
I was born too late to experience those wonderful years but my baseball encyclopedia certainly got a workout as I frequently studied the teams and players of that era. Or I should say, I got a workout. The baseball encyclopedia was heavy. Thank goodness there is baseball-reference.com now so I don't have to lug the baseball encyclopedia around anymore.
In 1988, I was working for USA Today Sports Hotline, the audio service of the newspaper, based in Leonia, New Jersey.
One afternoon my boss, Mike Farrell, sent me on an errand to nearby Fort Lee, New Jersey, not far from where the George Washington Bridge is.
It was a nice, warm summer day and as I was walking on the sidewalk, near the Fort Lee Library, a neatly dressed older man passed me going in the opposite direction. We nodded at each other as we passed. About three seconds later I turned back at the man and said, "Excuse me, mister..."
The man looked to be in his mid 60's or so and appeared to be in pretty good physical condition.
He turned around and said, "Yes?"
I said, with some apprehension, "Are you Willard Marshall?"
He gave me an inquisitive look and said, "Yes I am."
"The ballplayer for the Giants?"
"Yes," he said with some enthusiam. "How did you know that?"
It was a name I was familiar with thanks to the baseball encyclopedia and he played in the era I had an obsessive interest in.
To be completely honest, I have no idea how I recognized him and I told him that. I might have seen a picture of him from when he played ball some 35 or so years earlier. But I certainly had never seen a picture of him as an older man. I'm not sure how I knew who he was and I'm even more surprised I actually called out to him after we passed each other on the sidewalk.
We chatted for about five minutes then shook hands. He was most pleasant. When we parted company, I wondered all day what he thought of our encounter. Would anyone believe him if he told them that some young guy who never saw him play recognized him on a sidewalk in Fort Lee, New Jersey?
Willard Marshall played 11 seasons in the big leagues for the Giants (NY), Braves (Boston), Reds and White Sox. He began his career in 1942 with the Giants then lost the next three seasons due to WWII. He belted 130 career homers and finished with a .274 batting average. His best season was in 1947 when he cracked 36 home runs and drove in 107 runs while hitting .291. I just looked up his stats on baseball-reference.com as opposed to the old encyclopedia.
Marshall died in 2000 in Norwood, New Jersey at the age of 79. I've often wondered if the five minutes I spent with him on a sidewalk in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a mere micro-snippet of his 79 years, was as bizarre to him as it was to me.
My varsity baseball coach at Spring Valley High School in New York was Mr. Steen. His first name was Harry but everyone called him Babe. I don't know why. His other nickname was Butch. Don't know about that one either.
But I do know all the players loved Coach Steen, me included. But there was one time he really ticked me off. I'm going to play the blame game here. I struck out one particular time and I place the blame squarely on Coach Steen.
At the end of practice one afternoon, Babe gathered the team around and discussed the theory of hitting. His message was, “you get three strikes. If you don't like the first pitch, if it's not in your zone, let it go by. You have two more strikes. I see guys going up there and swinging at everything. Be selective, get your pitch.” Something like that anyway. He made a lot of sense as he broke down the art of hitting.
The next day we had a game. Early in the game I remember leading off an inning and thinking, “get your pitch.”
First pitch came in, I didn't like it, so I let it go by.
From the third base coaching box I heard Coach yell, “Come on, what are you looking at? Be aggressive up there.”
Wo, wo, wo, wo, wo. Hold on a second here. Where was Mr. Selective from the day before?
Well, OK, time to refocus and be aggressive.
The next pitch came in and it was high, in my eyes, but, being aggressive, I swung anyway. And missed.
Now to further paint the picture, I batted left-handed. I had a clear view of an agitated third base coach. Now Babe was a big, heavy guy. You couldn't not see him no matter how much you tried and at this particular time I tried, without success, to avoid looking at him. Plus, our school nickname was the Tigers (very unique, I know) so our colors were black and orange. Emphasis on orange. Wearing his all orange uniform, Coach Steen looked like a giant pumpkin.
So when I swung and missed the second pitch I heard it again. This time he barked, “What are you swinging at? Come on!” He didn't sound pleased.
As Yogi Berra once said, correctly by the way, “you can't hit and think at the same time.”
My mind was racing, I was thinking all sorts of things and finally the next pitch came in, right down the middle.
I would love to say I connected for a home run and as I rounded third base I said to Coach, “Take that big man!”
Alas, it wasn't meant to be. I took the pitch for called strike three.
I was mad. I'm still mad (let it go Bill, for heavens sake let it go). As I walked to the dugout, I mean-mugged Coach Steen. Stared him down good. But only for two seconds because he gave me a look and took a step towards me and I quickly put my head down and continued my walk of shame to the bench.
So that's why I blame Coach Steen for that strikeout. I was fully capable of striking out on my own, I didn't need his help messing up my head.
Coach Steen was born with a deformed left arm but with his good arm he could hit fungos better than anyone I've ever seen. He knew the game and was a fine coach.
He passed away in 1998. My mom sent me the obituary. I was sad but appreciative that I had him as a coach. As I get older I think about some of the people who were major influences in my life. Coach Steen, The Babe, was one of those positive influences. Except for the one time he made me strike out.
WELCOME HOME "BUMS"
One of my favorite baseball books is "Bums...An Oral History Of The Brooklyn Dodgers," by Peter Golenbock. When it came out in 1984, I eagerly purchased a hard cover copy.
I was living in New York again after four years of college. After reading "Bums" and thoroughly enjoying it, I lent the book to someone. Then I forgot about it and apparently the guy who borrowed it forgot too. He never returned it. I can't for the life of me remember who I lent it to but it wasn't someone from my small but close circle of friends.
Over the years, from time to time, I looked for a hardcover copy in old bookstores. I did find a softcover version. Anyway, in February of 2015 I ventured into a store called "Bill's Sports Collectables," in Denver. I was just killing time, looking at all the interesting stuff in stock. I wandered into a section in the back where there were a bunch of used sports books for sale. I saw a hardcover version of "Bums" and immediately reached for it and bought it for $17.
When I got home, I put it on my bookshelf, feeling good that my long quest for a hard cover copy of "Bums" was finally over.
A few days later, I grabbed "Bums" off the shelf and opened the book. On the first page that is blank, except for title "Bums", in the lower left corner are two small initials. BR. In my handwriting. It's MY book! I got MY book back! I wonder what kind of journey MY book has been on? How many people have read it? How did it end up in Denver? After all these years, I'm happy I have THIS book back. It's also the only book I've ended up buying twice although the thought crossed my mind to return to the store and get my money back telling them they sold me my own property.
This time, I promise, I'm not lending it out. To anyone.
MUSIC CITY BOWL TALK...IN OMAHA?
One of my bucket list items was to attend the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. I didn't make it as a player but was glad I got the opportunity to go as a fan in June of 2015.
It was an awesome event, better than I even expected, and I would encourage baseball fans to at some point make the trip to Omaha.
Anyway, I met some nice, friendly people but one guy stands out more than the rest.
Prior to the Cal State Fullerton-Louisiana State game I was walking around the outfield concourse when I was approached by a funny looking man. He was a short, skinny guy with long stringy hair, a bad complexion and a weird, squeaky, from the Bayou voice. He looked like he exchanged his overalls for a purple LSU t-shirt and left the swamps for a trip to see his beloved Tigers in the College World Series.
He approached me and pointed to my Notre Dame cap and said, or squeaked, “Notre Dame? Notre Dame? They ain't in the World Series.”
At first it was hard to understand him so I asked him, “What?”
He repeated what I thought he said.
“Notre Dame ain't here. Notre Dame ain't in the World Series.”
He said it with a smile. He wasn't combative or anything. Just a guy busting my chops.
Alright, I'll sling a verbal jab right back at him.
“Hey, how did LSU do in the Music City Bowl?”
Which was an Irish win over LSU.
His reply was immediate and stunning. We have all heard of double negatives, right? Well, this guy exceeded that as he said loudly, three times, “That ain't not no real bowl game. That ain't not no real bowl game. That ain't not no real bowl game.”
Wow, a triple negative! Impressive! When said three times, it turns into a nine-negative. I don't even know what you call a nine-negative.
He also said, “bo” instead of “bowl” just to give you some insight into his pronunciation skills.
When the game ended I was walking out of the stadium and I happened to make eye contact with the triple negative guy. He pointed at me, I pointed at him and watched him happily exit after LSU's 5-3 victory.
I talked to a few of the legion of LSU fans on this day and many of them seemed to speak a different language but none of them spoke quite like the LSU fan who believes the Music City Bowl “ain't not no real bo game.”