Wolfsie: We were in a league of our own

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Dick Wolfsie

A small framed photo stashed in my office corner is over 60 years old. It’s a picture of my All-Star Little League team from New Rochelle, New York, back in 1959—all of us posed in our individual team uniforms and bound for the state championships in Poughkeepsie, New York. Two more victories there, and we’d be headed to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League World Championships.

I briefly wrote about this some 12 years ago, but doing a replay seems appropriate. Despite my love for baseball, I had not attended a major league game in many years. The other day, with my friend Joe, I went to Cincinnati to see the Reds play the Cardinals at the Great American Ball Park. Sitting there, sipping a beer, smelling the field, hearing the crack of the bat, and watching players round the bases (too many of them were on the Cardinals squad) brought back memories of 1959.

We were a motley crew: Jews, Hispanics, Italians, Blacks, and Ryan, our Irish second baseman. We were all animals: Cubs, Panthers, Colts and Tigers, our team names from regular season play. Money was tight, so the city couldn’t dress us in spiffy new uniforms for the All-Star games. Our lack of funds also meant we couldn’t afford hotels in Poughkeepsie, so the league arranged for us to stay in the homes of local residents. In the first game, I was thrown out at third base. I looked up to question the umpire’s call and it was the guy whose house I was staying in.

Our team was small in stature but big in talent. Our shortstop, Larry Seidman, absorbed every grounder and flicked it sidearm to first base, the ball spending but a nanosecond in his glove. Larry is now a professor of economics at an Ivy League university.

Pete Wagner threw a curveball that mystified every batter. Dickie Lipson majored in home runs. And then there was Dave Enoch, our other pitcher. He struck out the hitter or struck him…on the arm…on the back…on the head. He was so wild that when the other team had runners on base, we sometimes put one of our outfielders behind the catcher.

In that first game in Poughkeepsie, Pete struck out six. In the final inning, the score was tied. The coach told us all to bunt, so four times in a row we laid down the perfect dribbler. It worked. We won by one run. The other teams called us wimps. The Daily News called us winners…and favorites to win the next day and then head to Williamsport.

In that final game, we lost badly. I made a diving catch in the outfield, so we only lost by 10 runs. One sports reporter said I was the best Little League center fielder in the tri-state area. Three years later, I didn’t even make the high school team. Baseball can be very humbling.

Look at the picture on my Facebook page. See the faces of 14 boys who never considered race, religion, or family heritage differences. We were a team. And a pretty good one. As a result of those experiences, my guess is that most of these young men grew up free of prejudice—the kind that may someday destroy our country. That photo makes me feel better about who we can be. And it makes me love baseball that much more.

Television personality Dick Wolfsie writes columns for The Daily Reporter. Send comments to [email protected].