Returning ace Jonathan Fingold connects for a single in the Rams’ out-bracket playoff game against Mount Vernon last spring. He is one of three players with proven pitching records, the others being Colin Gillespie and Angel Garcia.
File photo
Returning ace Jonathan Fingold connects for a single in the Rams’ out-bracket playoff game against Mount Vernon last spring. He is one of three players with proven pitching records, the others being Colin Gillespie and Angel Garcia. File photo

As classic newspaper baseball headlines go, the tabloid New York Post's "The Oys of Summer" is already a classic and the regular season has yet to begin.

The headline refers to the improbable early success of the lightly-regarded Israel Association of Baseball team in the World Baseball Classic, a kind of World Series featuring major leaguers, minor leaguers and semi-pro pro wannabes representing their respective countries on playing fields stretching from Miami and San Diego to Tokyo, Guadalajara and Seoul, all leading up to the upcoming semi-finals in Los Angeles.

Odds-defying poetic line

Team Israel, ranked 41st in the world and regarded as a 200-to-1 shot to win the tournament, swept its three first-round games in Seoul against clubs from the Netherlands, South Korea and Taiwan, beat Cuba in the second-round opener in Tokyo last Sunday and has a solid shot at making the semi-finals.

The headline, of course, is a witty takeoff from a poem by besotted Welch poet Dylan Thomas that describes "the boys of summer in their ruin."

That line also inspired a best-selling 1972 non-fiction book called "The Boys of Summer" by Roger Kahn that recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his life as a young reporter on the New York Herald Tribune in the days when he fell in love with the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers of Ebbets Field fame. It also relates some of their history leading up to their victory over the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series.

Time remembered

He then tracks the lives of the players over the subsequent years as they aged, and that includes a lot of tragic aging because those players included Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Clem Labine, George Shuba, Carl (Oisk) Erskine, Andy Pafko, Joe Black, Preacher Roe, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Billy Cox.

It has sold more than 3 million copies and is ranked as one of the top 100 sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated.

That poetic line also inspired a song called "The Boys of Summer" by the Eagles’ lead vocalist and drummer Don Henley who wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Mike Campbell for the 1984 record hit of that title. The song won Henley a Grammy for the best rock vocal performance of the year.

Focus on PCYBL

So that line about the boys of summer, the boys of summer in their prime as well as in their ruin, in newspaper type, books, music and lyrics, says a lot about youth and aging, good and bad, with the focus hereabouts on a bumper crop of former Port Chester Youth Baseball League (PCYBL) players

They represent Port Chester's own boys of summer growing up on the PCYBL playing fields of Lyon Park at a time when they are about to come of age as teenagers of various degrees of seasoning on the Rams varsity team at Port Chester High School.

They started their season inauspiciously enough Monday (3/13) with a pre-season practice at the Middle School, that venue necessary because of a scheduling conflict that had the Lady Rams softball team practicing after school in the high school gym that day. So the Middle School it was if the Rams wanted to get in any kind of batting practice and any kind of batting practice was a virtual necessity because Tuesday was a certain wipeout due to the predicted Nor'easter blizzard called Stella cancelling school and who knew at that time what Wednesday would bring.

New kinda 'tude

What they did know at the opening pre-season practice was that the air was filled with a something old, something new kind of atmosphere permeated with a where do we go from here attitude that was filled with the right kind of 'tude, shorthand for the right kind of optimistic attitude bordering on swagger based on confident belief that their winning time was at hand.

For openers, there was the flip-flop in coaching that saw hard-driving, raspy-voiced former assistant coach Eddie Martinez, an ex-Stamford High and Concordia College baseball star, take over as head coach, essentially trading places with Port Chester physical education teacher John Cafaldo. The latter is a veteran former All-Section Rams soccer Coach-of-the-Year who led the baseball Rams to the sectional semi-finals in his first year as baseball head coach. But Cafaldo decided to step down to the assistant baseball coach position this year so he could concentrate on bringing Rams soccer back to its glory days. His team came within one goal of winning the school's first state championship during the Steven Hernandez era. He also wanted to spend more time concentrating on a different kind of diamond: Cafaldo became engaged to PCHS guidance counselor Stacey Wolff and they were married over the summer.

Banner season ahead?

Martinez has already challenged his Rams to become the first PCHS baseball team to win a league championship in almost 20 years, calling his team's attention to the last league championship banner hanging from the high school gymnasium rafters.

"But you ain't going to hold no parade if you ain't got all the horses," as legendary baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said.

And it looks as though this year's baseball Rams could have a lot of horses, if not a stampeding herd, because this could well be the year the former PCYBL All-Stars finally come of age as varsity players.

It all starts with pitching and the kind of staff that doesn't wear down during a 20-game regular season with their collective arms virtually falling off on the rare occasion that they make the sectional playoffs. That is essentially what happened with Cafaldo's first team in the sectional semi-finals.

At least 3 'horses'

But the current Rams figure to have at least three "horses" with proven pitching records: last year's returning ace Jonathan Fingold and two other proven senior starters. They are Colin Gillespie, who quarterbacked the football Rams during their turnaround season, and Angel Garcia, a former varsity wrestler who threw a no-hitter last year.

That starting rotation figures to have a solid, sure-handed infield behind them with the possibilities including Luisbert Frias at third base, Armond Yusi (last year's leading hitter) at short stop, Michael Boccarossa (heir apparent to the Rams’ grid quarterback position) at second base and Keyshawn Ellis, once one of the top PCYBL sluggers, at first base.

The potential outfield could well include the fastest trio in years: centerfielder Jason Wiley, the former grid Rams’ All-Section breakaway running back as well as the football team's MVP on offense and special teams, former Track & Field sprint ace Christian Chumpitazi and returning outfielders Francisco Romero and Juan Garcia likely battling for the third spot. Whoever isn't pitching that day will also be among the candidates vying for a starting outfield position.

Lots of surprises possible

That possible tentative lineup is based on last year's team as well as the coming of age of the PCYBL players who have already paid their dues while coming of age on the varsity. There could still be a lot of surprises emerging from the tryout ranks. After all, look what has happened with the so-called "Boys of Summer" with a World Baseball Classic (WBC) roster filled with minor leaguers, former major leaguers and baseball misfires, all of them Americans with enough Jewish heritage to play for Team Israel.

Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already congratulated Team Israel on Twitter, the team has already won $1 million for finishing on top of Pool A in Seoul, and stands to win several hundred thousand more if they make it to the semi-finals. Half that money will go to the players and half to the Israeli Association of Baseball.

That's not bad for a team with a "Mensch on a Bench" approach to baseball and a chip on their collective shoulders because they are making do without the best Jewish players, a group that includes such recognizable major league players as Ryan Braun, Kevin Pillar, Joe Pedersen and Ian Kinsler. They are making do with such non-household names as pitcher Jason Marquis, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, right fielder Zach Borenstein and left fielder Blake Gailen alongside such other not-quite major league and cup-of-coffee lifers as Sam Fuld, Ike Davis, Cody Decker, Ty Kelly and a sprinkling of lower minor leaguers who have played for such teams as the Loons, the Nuts and the Tourists.

Joke around the WBC

The joke around the WBC is that the Chicago Cubs had to wait 108 years to win a title and that the Jewish people had been waiting over 5,000 years. That makes the Rams’ league title drought look like a blink. But nobody is laughing at Team Israel and "The Oys of Summer" now. And nobody is going to laugh at this year's Rams either. Because this is the year the Ram "Boys of Summer" from the PCYBL finally come of age. The nucleus is certainly there.

And, who knows, there may yet be another potential Hank Greenberg on the Rams’ roster, someone nowhere near that great perhaps although you never know, but almost certainly good enough to lead P.C. out of the losing wilderness and into, if not the promised land, then at least into contention for a playoff berth?

But first, who pray tell is/was Hank Greenberg?

For those of us of a certain age he will always be the first Jewish-American superstar, the Yankee nemesis who hit 58 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 1938, equaling Jimmie Foxx's 1932 mark for the most in one season by anyone but the legendary Babe Ruth up until then. The Babe, of course, hit the seemingly unreachable 60.

His full name was Henry Benjamin (Hank) Greenberg (born Hyman Greenberg in New York City Jan. 1, 1911 and died Sept. 4, 1986 in Los Angeles). He was nicknamed "Hammerin' Hank," "Hankus Pankus" or "The Hebrew Hammer," played primarily for the Detroit Tigers as a first baseman in the 1930s and 1940s, was the star player on the Tigers team that played in four World Series, won two championships (1935 and 1945), made four American League All-Star teams, won the major league home run title four times, was the first major league player to hit 25 or more home runs in a season in each league (he played his last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates), batted over 300 for eight consecutive seasons, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, was one of the premier power hitters of his generation and is widely considered one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history with no telling what he might have accomplished had he not had 47 months of military service including service in World War II, all of which took place during his major league career.

That's quite a resume, almost impossible to contemplate for even the most beautiful of beautiful dreamers. But then the current Rams baseball team is made up of beautiful dreamers, kids named Boccarossa, Yusi, Ellis, Wiley, Gillespie, Garcia and more, including a kid named Fingold, first name Jonathan, not Greenberg or Hank, but a top tier scholastic athlete nonetheless who has made a habit of flying under the athletic radar during most of his high school career only to emerge as the ace of last year's baseball team. Fingold made the All-League football team for the Rams as one of the pillars of the defense on a playoff team that turned around a losing season earlier this year and could well be the pitching ace of diamonds P.C. has been lacking for so many years now. So it may finally be the season the PCYBL "Boys of Summer" come of age on the Rams varsity with a player named Fingold making his pitch to lead the way to a season to remember.