Without a cloud in the sky, a spring day begs for baseball for kids across Westchester, as the High School Sectional Championship is on the line in Mt. Vernon, New York. The normal butterflies apply and the players understand the magnitude of the game. It’s safe to assume that the school and the city are equally as excited – or not.
Save a few dads who came to watch, says Somers Resident and 1959 Mount Vernon Baseball player Bruce Fabricant, “No one gave a hoot or a holler.”
But this was a different time, he admits. One that he has recaptured in a self-published novel called, “That Perfect Spring.”
Despite baseball being king at the time, he believes the lack of hoopla emanated from the simple expectations parents had back then. Mostly first or second generation Americans, he says, “They basically wanted us to stay out of trouble, go to school and have fun.”
So long before the 1959 season, an acumen (without the need for acclaim) developed on Mt. Vernon baseball fields. “You played all day long,” he said.
Unfortunately, the hyper-structure of sports today has put kids at a loss. In order to reserve fields, rosters had to be filled out and forms submitted at City Hall. Your parents didn’t do any of this, he says, and it taught you responsibility.
In turn, the process probably helped kids put aside the politics of deciding who played where. We knew in our hearts who was the best shortstop or leadoff hitter, he says, and there were no arguments.
On the other hand, Mt. Vernon was one of the first Westchester cities to have Little League Baseball. “It was very organized,” he said, and when the coach showed up at your house with the uniform, he added, it felt like receiving a gift from Bloomingdale’s.
Entering high school, the core of the Westchester Interscholastic Athletic Association Champs started as sophomores on JV. Otherwise, the 1959 season began unceremoniously. Among a league consisting of schools such as White Plains, Roosevelt and Yonkers, he says, after four games we were 2-1-1.
Belief emerged in the form of a fifth game no-hitter. “We had tremendous pitching from Eddie Martin,” he says, who finished the season 7-0, and propelled the team to a 12-3-1 record.
Given the bigger biceps that produce so many fly ball homeruns today, the younger fan might be shocked at a team batting average of .245, which consisted of one triple and no dingers. “Good defense and pitching wins,” said the starting second basemen.
In this team’s case, he says phenomenal defense, but another difference is the manner in which the title was won. Mt. Vernon needed a win coupled with a second place loss to secure first place and the championship. No sectionals, he says, “Basically, you played your season and that was the end.”
Nonetheless, only passing reference in the school newspaper didn’t dissuade him from writing this book. It came to him at his 40th High School Reunion in 1999.
Coupled and inspired by a book called, “The Glory of their Times,” Mr. Fabricant mirrored his book after this oral history of turn of the century baseball players. Written by Lawrence Ritter, the author traveled the country interviewing baseball players in the 1960’s and came up with what Mr. Fabricant calls, “the greatest baseball book ever written.”
Tracking down his teammates, he took his tape recorder and let them talk. Aside from one season in the minors by the team’s catcher, it doesn’t matter that most of these stories ended in slow-pitch softball leagues after high school.
In fact, for Mr. Fabricant, the most important payoff came only years later. In those days, he says, dads would never give out compliments and mostly remained silent.
But through his uncle, he learned that his father couldn’t say enough about his play. Concluding in yet another instance of this lost past, he says, “It was like the cat’s meow.”
Rich Monetti interview of Bruce Fabricant