Monday, June 25, 2012

A baseball lover's dream weekend

                My 24-hour baseball marathon included a book signing with a World Series hero, a ceremonial first-pitch, two Triple-A games as a spectator, one 19th century game as a participant and a few hours as a volunteer at a baseball game for physically, mentally and emotionally challenged kids.

 It began Friday evening with Johnny Antonelli, the pitching star of the 1954 Fall Classic and a five-time National League All-Star, joining me at Frontier Field to sign copies of our new book, Johnny Antonelli: A Baseball Memoir, before the Red Wings game. John’s family was in town for this one and it was great to see the former New York and San Francisco Giants southpaw mingling with his family and fans. One of the really cool moments occurred when John’s old catcher at Jefferson High School – Gordie Scott – came through the line to get a book signed. You could just see the decades peel away as the two men reminisced about the good, old days when John was establishing himself as one of the nation’s most sought-after school boy pitchers.

Interestingly, John throws left, but signs right-handed. He has had me do the inscriptions for each stop during our recent signing tour. He tells me that I have better penmanship and I’m the writer, so it would be better if I handle that stuff. I joke with him that I’m the set-up guy and he’s the closer.

After motoring through about 100 books, we got to throw out the first pitches. I’m happy to report that I fired a strike. John, meanwhile, bounced his toss. No shame in that. The old lefty, after all, is 82 years old. I jested that he did that just so I would look good.

The next morning I was back at Frontier for the 20th annual Challenger Little League Baseball World Series. I’ve volunteered at about 16 of them and I always walk away from the experience uplifted. Many of these kids are in wheelchairs. A number of them are battling some pretty serious stuff. But this is their chance to get their turn at bat, so to speak, and they go at it with such gusto. Each participant – and there were a record 280 kids this year – is paired with able-bodied “buddies” or “guardian angels” who assist them, if they need it. The Challenger World Series is one of the highlights of the baseball season for me because everybody wins and nobody loses. You are reminded how the simple act of hitting a ball and taking a trip around the bases can bring a smile to one’s face – and soul. Tony Wells has been the mastermind behind this event since the beginning, and deserves a huge doff of the cap.

After finishing up at Frontier, I headed to the Genesee Country Village & Museum for two hours of vintage base ball (yes, it was two words back in the day.) We interpret the game according to 1866 rules, which means no gloves allowed. Our teams are based on actual ball clubs that played in the area around the time of the Civil War. My squad is the FC (either Flour City or Flower City) Base Ball Club, and we wound up beating our opponents, the Rochesters, 19-16, at Silver Base Ball Park, the only replica 19th century ball diamond in the country. We play virtually every Saturday or Sunday during the summer. If you get a chance, please check it out.

My whirlwind baseball weekend brought me back to Frontier Saturday night for the Wings-Charlotte Knights International League game and a bachelor’s party for my friend Matt Michael in one of the suites. More than 10,000 were on hand for the International League tilt, and as I looked at the enthusiastic throng I was reminded what a great place Frontier is and what a great job the Wings do in making it feel like a party atmosphere. I drove home that night joyfully exhausted. The weekend had been a home run.

The above photograph is courtesy of my friend Joe Territo, a fellow 19th century base ballist and professional photograph. Joe truly is an artist with a camera in his hands. The Red Wings commissioned him to shoot quite a few of their games this season and he's produced some wonderful stuff. You can check out his stuff at . Great stuff.
Mark Herzlich, the Giants linebacker who overcame a rare form of bone cancer to play in the Super Bowl, will speak at a benefit for Camp Good Days & Special Times Wednesday at the Rochester Plaza. Tickets for this inspirational speaker are $60 and can be purchased by calling 585-624-5555. 


Anonymous said...

Amazingly, I just started searching for Johnny Antonelli today for an elderly handicapped fellow, named David Tomkinson, who was befriended by Johnny in the '50's when he pitched for the Giants. David wanted to know if I could help him reconnect with Johnny. David was a wheelchair bound 18 year old when he knew Johnny and he used to get him special seating behind home plate and had dinner with David and his family several times. David is 76 now, living in Florida, and has not spoken to Johnny in several years. Could you possibly speak to Johnny for me and see if he would be kind enough to speak with David again? I just spent the afternoon hearing the story of their friendship and it inspired me to search for Johnny on David's behalf. I will check back to this blog and see if we can get these two in touch with each other would certainly mean the world to David! Thank you so very much for your help. Sincerely, Lynn Taylor

Scott Pitoniak said...

Hi Lynn,
That's a fantastic story - one I wish I knew about for Antonelli book, but Johnny's such a humble, modest guy and doesn't like to blow his horn about the good deeds he's done.
I spoke to Johnny and he would love to speak with David. Why don't you e-mail me some contact information at and we'll hook up the two of them. Thanks for sharing the story.