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The Gang's All Here
2005-11-16 09:30
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

On a hot August evening last summer I met a guy named Bill Kent on my way home. We got to talking and as it turns out, he is a great New York Giants fan. He told me that he gets together with a group of old Giants fans several times a year and invited me to come along to one of the gatherings. I missed the shindig in September but last night, I headed up to the Hunan Balcony on Johnson avenue in Riverdale--just a few blocks away from my apartment--for Chinese and baseball with a dozen or so other fans.

I used to swear by the old Groucho Marx line (filtered through Woody Allen) about not wanting to belong to any kind of club that would have someone like me for a member, but am happy to say, I'm way past that now. I am honored to hang around or be associated with a group of baseball nerds, regardless of their age. There was a reporter there from The Riverdale Press who is a few years younger than me, and we were by the far the youngest of the group. Most of the guys were Giants fans, but there was also a Dodger fan, and a guy who was simply a baseball fan too. Some kept up with the Giants once they moved to the west coast, while others gravitated to the Mets, and even more, to the Yankees.

They were great company. I peppered them with questions about Leo the Lip, Bill Rigney, Alvin Dark, and the Polo Grounds shuttle, a train that ran from Manhattan over the east river and into the Bronx. As we were breaking up for the night, Steve, who I had not gotten the chance to really chat with because of where we had been sitting, asked if I had gotten a satisfactory answer to my subway question. I told him that I hadn't, and being a subway buff, he gave me the skinny. As it turns out, the 9th avenue El, which was discontinued in 1939, went up the west side of Manhattan and then curved over into the bronx, over a bridge that is no longer there, and connected with the Woodlawn line (or the Lexington avenue line, the 4 train, as it is more commonly known). Well, when they took down the line, they kept the last portion of it, primarily as a way to get from the Bronx to the Polo Grounds.

The baseball talk was terrific. Bill, holding court, made some announcements about a mailing list and getting a Giants newsletter, and then had some random interjections like, "They've got brown rice if anyone wants." There were stories about Yankee third baseman named Celerino Sanchez, as well as the slow-footed catcher Ernie Lombardi, who evidentally was even slower than the Molina brothers are today. Bill told us of the time that he and a kid from his neighborhood, a wiseass named Lenny, heckled Lomardi from the bleachers at the Polo Grounds before the game. He was busting on Lombardi for being so slow and Lombardi went after little Lenny with the high-pitched voice and according to Bill, chased him the length of the field. Bill said he spoke to Lenny not so long ago, and Lenny was still sore about Lombardi going after him.

The guys had terrific faces--one looked like he could be related to Yogi Berra, another like he could be Whitey Ford's cousin. One guy looked like Ron Silver, another like basketball broadcaster Bill Raftery, another like a cross between Edmund Wilson and Gordon Jump. One fella brought posters to show us, and another is writing a book about Bill Terry. And even better than their mugs was their accents--bonafide New Yorkese, man. It was like listening to music--everyone gabbing over each other. Really, I was in heaven. I mean, how great is it to learn about a guy with a name like Celerino Sanchez eating chicken with Broccoli with a group of baseball guys in the Bronx? Riddle me that.

Oh, and when the fortune cookies and orange slices came, everyone grabbed for the cookies but nobody read their fortunes aloud. Know what mine said? "Love." I've never had a one word fortune before, but that one just about said it all.

Comments
2005-11-16 10:32:32
1.   Nick from Washington Heights
Great stuff, Alex.
2005-11-16 10:34:54
2.   NetShrine
Sanchez played 3rd in the first game that I ever went to. My seats were right by 3rd, so, I watched him the whole game - 8/8/73.

The game story:

http://www.netshrine.com/vbulletin2/showpost.php?p=183770&postcount=16

2005-11-16 10:43:20
3.   Nick from Washington Heights
Just out of curiousity, how long have they been getting together? You could write a real Joseph Mitchell New Yorker type piece about the history of the group, the personalities, etc.
2005-11-16 10:46:56
4.   Alex Belth
Yeah, I was thinking about it. You know, I was one of two or three guys whose first time was last night. Another couple have just been coming for a few years. But I'm going to keep hanging with them. A few want to go and pay a visit to the old Polo Grounds. Hey, I'm down. Also, if anyone lives in and around New York and is interested in coming to the next get together, let me know, and I'll be happy to pass along an invite, or at least forward Bill's e-mail address. The more the merrier.
2005-11-16 11:19:08
5.   Repoz
Good stuff Alex... It sounds (CLLLANNGGGK*) a lot like some of the NY/NJ SABR meetings I've attended, well...everything except the anti-sabermetric speilage.

(* that was the oft-hoid sound of yet another ball bouncing offa Celerino Sanchez's chest...arm...face...and dusty pumis.)

2005-11-16 11:45:19
6.   Murray
For more on the Anderson Ave. Shuttle, there's this:

http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/abandoned/sedgwick.html

Small portions of the line remain intact and still visible, such as remains of the Sedgwick Avenue station.

2005-11-16 12:09:48
7.   Upperdeck
So when are we gonna have a Bronx Banter get together?
2005-11-16 12:29:31
8.   Dimelo
Bronx Banter get together sounds really cool. I could get into that. It can be the meeting of the 'sweathogs'.
2005-11-16 12:34:16
9.   wsporter
I remember the summer of 1972 for two things. First, we were in it and it seemed like we had a shot, a real shot. The big question was which of the big 4 would take the East. Baltimore, Boston, Detroit or us. We'd go on these long winning streaks and then seem to match them with equally long loosing streaks. Yet, there'd been nothing since 64 (which seemed like the beginning of time to a 15 year old kid) so even the possibility of winning was glorious. Second was Celarino Sanchez. I recall Scooter telling this heart rending story of a young man trapped in the Mexican Leagues by a contract and a manager that wouldn't let him go. He told how Celarino had gotten older and hurt and that the manager didn't much care to hold him to his contract any longer. He told how the young man worked and took a chance and finally made it to the Stadium. Then we got to watch him play. He was beautiful, that's the only way to say it because that's the only way I can remember it. He caught everything anywhere near third base. Nobody is Brooks Robinson, but Celarino was the closest human to him. He took your breath away. Everyone fell in love with him. All my friends and their parents. "Did you see what he did? " Its what we always said in July and August. You didn't ask who. Because there was no one else that summer to ask about. He had grace. He had style. He had depth. If only he had a stick. He'd bring you up so far then he'd have to hit and he couldn't and you'd be back on earth. Yet that too brought us closer to him. He was human. He was one of us and he could do what he did. It made you feel special. The Scooter fell in love with him. You could hear him hopping and praying and begging for him to hit his first home run. White and Messer would rag Scooter mercilessly but he'd still pray, for all of us to hear. What a great summer. My Grandfather took me to 7 or 8 games that year. I'll never forget. We didn't win. But God it was wonderful.

Cellarino eventually hit his homerun, the season after. I didn't see it. Then he was gone. Just gone. I didn't hear about him again for some time. My grandfather passed away and I moved on and life moved forward. It seemed I had forgotten about Cellarino Sanchez. Then I heard that he had died. And I remembered how it had felt to be a part of that wonderful summer. Celarinio Sanchez will always be more than an aside. For one glorious sun drenched summer was everything.

2005-11-16 12:40:46
10.   Dimelo
BTW Alex, I went back and read your piece on how you met Bill Kent. I thought he'd drop a few f-bombs for saying "Two-at-a-time", people have been cussed out for less and killed for even less when they are in that 'New York State of Mind'. That's the stuff I've come to expect in NYC.
2005-11-16 12:42:08
11.   JohnnyC
Thing about Sanchez was he had just hit like .440 in the Mexican League a couple of years before. It's probably a combination of major league pitching and his real age being a few years more than he claimed. But, I'm old enough to remember he could pick it, really pick it.
2005-11-16 12:48:40
12.   Rich Lederer
...and the Gang was made better by your presence, Alex. I can see you sliding into that group of oldtimers. You enjoyed them and I bet they liked having you there, too.
2005-11-16 18:09:34
13.   tommyl
Hey Alex, I grew up a couple of blocks from that restaurant and my family still lives there (all diehard Yankee fans). I wouldn't mind knowing about future get togethers since even though I live in Philly currently I am back to visit quite often.
2005-11-16 20:17:38
14.   The Bear
Sigh... i've been waiting for the evaluation on the pitchers this year.. but it seems to be no where...

oh well.. i am just a new yankee fan... but i like the way that play XD

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