Lombardi Column: Batting a thousand on the North Fork

03/20/2011 8:09 AM |

Enough! All winter I’ve read about Long Island’s little brown bats and how they face extinction because of some fungus. Now I’ve no particular feeling, one way or another, about bats, but I tell you I don’t like mosquitoes. And bats eat lots of mosquitoes, so you can see the problem. We may face an itchy-scratchy summer.

But you know what? It’s spring and the only bats I want to hear about are the bats that are an extension of one’s self, one’s dreams. The bats that drive a ball out of the park, into the skies, over the rainbow. Never, ever to be caught. Well, perhaps caught by “Say Hey” Willie if he happens to be suited up and out in a field anywhere, anywhere at all.

A baseball bat is not a toy. I discovered that as a kid trying to borrow my brother’s bat. I even offered to let him read my Nancy Drew books in exchange for a few swings. It was an offer my brother refused.

Later, as a Yankee fan married to a Brooklyn Dodger fan, I was permitted the use of my husband’s bat. In exchange, no Nancy Drew, but I did have to bake some corn bread.

On the North Fork, there are many precious bats, many precious bat memories. While a North Fork bat may not fetch over a million dollars in auction as did a Babe Ruth-used bat in 2004, or find its way into Louisville Slugger Museum, our bats are contenders.

Up at the plate first: The Doctors and the Landscapers. That’s the name they went by as they played baseball for years on Southold High School’s field. We’re not talking about teens but rather older guys.

One of those guys is North Fork cardiologist Dr. John Pearson. Dr. P. indeed recalls a long-ago favorite bat. It was an Al Kaline bat and Dr. P. remembers hitting two right out of the park on a day his father, a New York City firefighter, was able to attend the game. How thrilled father and son must have been.

By the way, Al Kaline had super stats with the Detroit Tigers — over 3,000 career hits. I’ve no idea if Dr. P. has similar stats but I bet to his patients he’s a Hall of Famer.

I can hear it now. Dr. Pearson’s song. As Dr. P. approaches the plate, the public address system blasts that hit from the musical “Damn Yankees.” Perfect for a swinging cardiologist. “You gotta have heart. Miles ’n’ miles ’n’ miles of heart.”

A Southold swinger sent me a note about his bat. Good thing, too. For if Bob Johnson had told me his story face to face, he would have seen my tears. Here’s what Bob wrote.

“My father, when he was discharged from the Army in the 1960s, brought home his baseball equipment along with his old military uniforms. One day when I was 9 or 10 years old, my dad broke out the equipment bag, actually his Army duffel bag. There was one bat way too big for me. It had a chunk missing from the barrel but I always used it because it was his. He also had two baseball gloves. One had only four fingers so you had to double-up two fingers. It was great because it was different and because it was my dad’s. I also had fun playing army when I wore my dad’s uniforms even though they were 10 sizes too big.

“Dad’s bat made it out to Southold when we moved here. Over time the bat began to split, producing world-record splinters. Finally it was discarded. That bat had no special logo, no insignia, no signature. But the memories are irreplaceable.”

As is a father, Bob, as is a father.

Here’s a grandpa, Cutchogue’s John Minerva. First, his baseball credentials. John coached Little League years ago in Wantagh and then CYO ball here on the North Fork. One little guy, who played third base on the CYO team John coached, was Kenny Homan. Now Kenny’s the head guy at Braun Seafood Company in Cut­chogue. Time and baseballs fly.

Grandpa John’s bat story? John and wife, Jane, recently returned from Orlando. They weren’t visiting Disney but cheering 11-year-old grandson Anthony (A.J., please) as he represented South Carolina in a state teams Baseball Blast in Orlando.

A.J., a catcher like his grandpa, excelled in Orlando. Batting cleanup, in one game he totaled seven RBIs, including a monster triple. But before the games began, each youngster was given a mini-bat. Assignment: Get the autographs of all the players, coaches and managers. Then take the bat home and treasure it for a lifetime. John and Jane, the bat and A.J. may be in South Carolina, but you’ve a treasure, too.

OK, so it’s bat season on the North Fork. Let’s team up with Dr. P., Bob and John and get out to a game. Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. I don’t care if I never get back.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.