Friday, July 22, 2011

Musings on the heat, Abbymania, Johnny Antonelli, Marcell Dareus's summer job and other topics

Any time I’m tempted to complain about this heat wave I just look at the snow shovel in my garage or the ice scraper in my car trunk and I’m reminded that it won’t be long before I’m bitching about how I’ve lost feeling in my fingers, toes and cheeks while clearing winter's white stuff from my walk and driveway.

Yesterday’s 98-degree day reminded me of my time covering the Olympics in Athens, Greece back in 2004. It was above 90 and humid every day for three weeks straight. I’ll never forget how, on the final day of competition, the poor marathoners had to run a course that was mostly uphill with the mercury topping out at 104. I was dying just walking the streets of Athens that day. I can’t imagine what it must have been like running in that oven.

I’ve been interviewing former major-league All-Star Johnny Antonelli for an autobiography I’m writing with him, and he mentioned a time in the 1950s when he pitched a complete game in Cincinnati when it was 110 degrees. In those days, you weren’t encouraged to pump the fluids and Johnny became severely dehydrated. It was so bad that they wrapped him in cold towels and he still couldn’t get his temperature down. “My eyes were about two inches back into my head and I thought I was going to die,’’ he said. “We had a flight to Pittsburgh after the game and I didn’t feel like myself again until the next day. It was scary.”

Speaking of Antonelli, the recent wave of Abbymania surrounding Rochester-born soccer star Abby Wambach reminds me a lot of the Johnnymania surrounding Antonelli back in the day. Antonelli was a big hometown hero who signed a "bonus-baby" contract with the Boston Braves two days after graduating from Jefferson High School in 1948 for the then-princely sum of $53,000.

Johnny’s career took off in 1954, when he was the top pitcher in major-league baseball while playing for the New York Giants. Following a season that saw him win 21 games and pitch the Giants to a World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians, Antonelli returned home to a hero’s welcome, reminiscent of the one Abby just received. There was a parade along with an assembly at Jefferson during the day, and an evening banquet at the Seneca Hotel, attended by more than 1,000 people.

The dinner featured all of Rochester's movers-and-shakers, including Frank Gannett, the founder of the newspaper empire. In addition to the key to the city, Johnny was given a brand-new car. Both the Democrat & Chronicle and Times-Union devoted several pages to coverage of the event. It was a big, big celebration, befitting a young man who had become a national sports figure.
By the way, Antonelli’s autobiography will be published by RIT Press next April. They also published my book about the prestigious Hickok Belt Award last fall. Great people to work with. They do high-quality work.

I’m not surprised that the magicJack has named Wambach as player-coach for the rest of the season. The way Abby carried herself throughout the World Cup and inspired her teammates had me thinking that coaching would be in her future. I definitely can see her coaching the U.S. national team some day.

Wambach, who has mastered the art of scoring goals with her noggin, gives new meaning to the term "head coach."

I think it’s cool that Bills top draft pick, Marcell Dareus, has spent the lockout working in the landscaping business of the family that looked after him and his siblings a few years ago when his mom became ill. There’s nothing like mowing and weed-whacking to keep one grounded.

I'm pleased to see that this tentative collective bargaining agreement addresses the needs of NFL players from the distant past who have fallen upon hard times. For too long, the league and the players association have not taken care of these pioneers who helped make the NFL into a $9 billion dollar industry, and that’s deplorable.

Every sports fan should, at least once in his or her life, experience induction weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. There are tons of activities planned tomorrow and Sunday at the cradle of the sport’s soul, including, of course, the enshrinement of new members Bert Blyleven, Robbie Alomar and Pat Gillick Sunday afternoon.

Saturday’s events include a 2 p.m. talk and signing by Rochester author and friend, Curt Smith, in the Hall’s Bullpen Theater. Curt’s latest book is: A Talk in the Park: Nine Decades of Tales from the Broadcast Booth.

Loved the line from Paul McCartney during his concert at Yankee Stadium last weekend: "Who is this Derek Jeter? I heard he has more hits than me."


PatC. said...

If you are writing about Johnny, it is a biography. If he is writing it then it is an autobiography. Sorry, just the librarian coming out in me. Love your work.

Scott Pitoniak said...

Thanks, PatC. It is going to be in his words as told to me, sort of a baseball memoir. I conducted a bunch of interviews with him and am in the process of attempting to capture his conversational voice and putting the anecdotes in logical order. I guess this makes me a ghost writer, albeit a visible one.

Being an author and a life-long lover of books, I always love hearing from librarians.

Thanks for reading my stuff and feel free to comment any time. Cheers.

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