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