Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Hihowaya, Pleasedtomeetyuhs
2005-08-05 04:58
by Alex Belth

With the 231st street station closed for repairs this summer, the fastest way for me to get to my apartment is by getting off on 238th street and walking. About seven blocks from the station is a mountain of a steps. There are eight levels, each comprised of sixteen steps. After you make it past the first four flights, there is a rest area where you can catch your breath or puke your guts out, whichever comes first. Since the station at 231 has been closed for a few months now, I no longer suck wind by the time I get to the top of the stairs. Still, at the end of the day--particularly in these dog days of summer--the schlepp isn't exactly something to look forward to.

As I approached the stairs last night, I took my head out of my book and saw an old man in shorts ahead of me. Carrying two plastic shopping bags, he was walking oddly, almost hopping, as if he wanted to jog but just didn't have it in him to move any faster than he was already going. I caught up to him at the bottom of the steps and said hello. "Two-at-a-time," he announced in a thick Bronx accent. Well, if he was up for it, so was I. We started chatting--I told he reminded me of Art Carney. The conservation kind of died so I asked if he was a baseball fan. He said he was.

"Yankee fan?"

Nope. I figured it was a stretch that he'd be a Dodger fan so far north, so I said, "Giants?"

Sure enough, I'd hit the nail on the head. As a kid he remembered buying a cardboard Giants cap for a nickel that was held together in the back with a rubber band. He was razzed by the kids on his block--a Yankee neighborhood--and that cemented it. He had to defend himself and so a Giants fan was born. I asked if he'd seen Mel Ott and he had--told me Ott had a great arm and used to be able to throw runners out at first from right field. He told me about Monte Irvin and Bobby Thompson and Leo the Lip.

"Durocher was one uncouth sombitch, huh?" I offered.

"Well, I never knew the man but I suppose you are right."

I felt like a presumptuous ass but nevermind. We sailed up the stairs, only stopping a few times to catch our breath. We continued up 238th street for a few blocks until we got to my apartment. We walked in the street and he continued to do his little jog. I told him I was writing a book about Curt Flood and he told me that Orlando Cepeda's cousin worked at the Bank of America not far away. He also said that not only did he continue rooting for the Giants when they moved to San Francisco but that he belongs to a club of old-time New York Giants fans who get together a few times each year to share memorabilia and swap stories. There is one official annual gathering where a former player is invited but then several smaller meetings where about a dozen guys meet for a meal and talk about the old days.

Excited, I invited myself to the next meeting that will be held sometime in September. "It's just a bunch of old guys," he warned. Well, I should hope so, I told him. That sounds great to me. My new pal Bill Kent gave me his card. He's a writer and edits a website called Health Bulletin that is all about using foods for health instead of drugs. And here I was worried that he was looking frail in the heat. As he firm handshake suggested, he was anything but. Just goes to show you never know who you'll meet on your way home if you open your mouth and say hello.

2005-08-05 05:23:47
1.   NetShrine
Awesome story. Thanks for sharing. I love stories like this - baseball bringing people together. I've "used" baseball a million times to get to know people better - it works more than it doesn't!
2005-08-05 05:27:11
2.   Alex Belth
I think that's one of the reasons why I like baseball so much. It's a way to connect with people, especially with older people. I mean I can read about the old Giants but it's much better to hear the stories from the people who grew up with them, right?!
2005-08-05 06:03:39
3.   Pop
Your tale about Bill Kent put me in mind of my own conversion to fandom.
In 1946 my family took a summer cottage in Mohegan Colony, a small community near Peekskill in northern Westchester. I was nine and went to a summer day camp with my next door neighbor Paul Dicky Kushner where we were both devoted to the game of baseball. It was a summer to remember because I was the star of the team and a "power hitter" knocking home runs with abandon. (If memory serves, most of those homers were due to the ineptitude of the opposing fielders, but they were home runs nonetheless.)
To the degree that I was a fan, I guess I was a Yankee fan. We lived in Washington Heights, the Giants were not even on my radar, and the Yankees were just 15 blocks south and across the river, so it was the Yankees by default.
But that was before Harold.
Harold was Paul Dicky's older brother by two years, if memory serves, and a pear of a boy, however unkind that may sound. The Kushners came from Brooklyn and Harold was a committed and committable Dodger fan. He was one of those kids who could not play the game but would sit in front of the radio, keeping box scores and stats and could tell you before a batter was up, what his average was and what it would be by the end of his at bat whether he got a hit or not. He was appreciably larger than I (although that was easy to accomplish; when 4 years later I went to high school I was only 4'10") and he daunted me. Not only that, but he heaped significant quantities of scorn on me, or anyone else, who didn't have the good sense to be a Dodger fan, backing it all up with stats and "logic" that I, a simple home run hitter from the house next door had no way of debating.
And so, after living with abuse for the better part of the summer and the very real concern that Harold would get up from his radio chair at some point and sit on me to prove his point, I became a Dodger fan … and started a period of ten years when the Dodgers were arguably the best team in baseball who would predictably get their brains beat out by the Yankees who were, without question in my mind, the best "money" team that ever lived in any sport.
And Kushner, it will be noted, is the guy who subsequently wrote the wildly successful book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", a moving narrative about the loss of his child but a title I've always found ironic.
2005-08-05 06:45:28
4.   jkay
A beer at the Punch Bowl will get your journey off to a proper start.
2005-08-05 07:52:10
5.   Rich Lederer
That's an awesome story, Alex. Belth at his best.

Thanks for sharing, my friend.

2005-08-05 08:47:41
6.   Alex Ciepley
very nice story, alex.

sorry about the crap subway situation going on, it's why we have to get you living down on the UWS!

though actually, i like that you live up in the bronx, so never-you-mind.

2005-08-05 09:11:18
7.   Rob
I was shopping at Staples last night in San Diego, wearing my Yankees hat when the salesperson stopped me, asked how long i've been a Yankees fan and then proceeded to tell me about how while at his first game at the stadium he pleaded to the Mick to hit a home run to him. Turns out, the Mick hit one that landed just over his head (he said he never had a chance to catch it, being only 7 years old and about 3 feet tall). He told me how the Mick made him a Yankee fan for life with that one homerun. Great story.
2005-08-05 09:46:14
8.   Alex Belth
If anyone is interested, here is another encounter I had with an older baseball fan a few years ago:
2005-08-05 09:51:32
9.   jedi

Man, I use to go to school at CMSV/Manhattan College and lived right there on 238th! Next time take the guy over to the Piper's Quilt on 231st (I'm sure you been there and had one of heir mean burghers)...the owner over there has some great stories to share. I remember him quizzing me on baseball trivia while I was chopping down on a 3lb burger, a killians and tomorrow's stat test. It would be interesting to listen to these two fellas talk to each other in person.

Man, you describing that station and your walk home reminds me of that area...ah the memories.

2005-08-05 10:03:09
10.   brockdc
Cool story, Alex. Thanks, man.

Not that a story akin to that couldn't happen anywhere else...but it couldn't. Just goes to show that New York is a city that is, contrary to many stereotypes, conducive to human contact. L.A.'s the antithesis: It's very difficult to strike up a thougtful conversation when you're trapped in your tin box on wheels on the 405 parking lot.

2005-08-05 10:25:31
11.   yankeegirl26
That is such a wonderful story Alex, and so well written. Thanks for sharing. It makes me desperately want to move back east (something that is being considered). Have been on the West Coast for 11 years and people just don't get it here.
2005-08-05 11:18:27
12.   Nick from Washington Heights
Piper's Quilt is on 231st? I thought it was on 207th. Or did it move since I played in the Inwood little league 15 years ago?
2005-08-05 11:43:44
13.   jedi
Nick, my bad... Piper's Kilt...must have stayed too long at the bar last night. heh
2005-08-05 12:23:42
14.   brockdc
Hate to be a thread-killer but some a-hole named Sheffield is playing the victim again. I don't care how disgruntled you are - you just can't bury your teammates in public like that.
2005-08-05 15:06:27
15.   singledd
I am looking at the AL Stats (Giambi 1st in OBP and OPS, 5th in SLG, and it occurs to me that the 'Giambi Story' is Disneyesque. I mean, a few optimistic souls thought (hoped) he could be a .270/.390/.460 guy, but nobody... NOBODY could have imagined what is now a reality.

This guy was probably the most reviled ballplayer since the Black Sox. Even many Yanks fans wanted him out of the books and out of Baseball. Just 2 months ago, many here on this blog wanted him DFA.

And in interviews he has not been mean or conceited.

It is really a great story. He is not the comeback player of the year but of the last 20 years.

It makes me feel really good. I'm very proud of Jason.

2005-08-05 15:57:50
16.   Cliff Corcoran
Bah, Sheffield thread is on the previous post, keep those bad vibes outta this one, if you don't mind.

Alex, we have to get to the Piper's Kilt. Three pound burgers and baseball chat? Heaven.

Fantastic post, by the way. Rich Lederer got it right: Belth at his best.

2005-08-05 18:07:35
17.   jkay
There are 3 Pipers Kilts. 231st, 207th and Eastchester. The 231st branch was the source of many pre-Stadium meals.
2005-08-09 20:56:39
18.   pipersguy
Glad that people like the Kilt. 40 years and counting.
2005-08-17 08:07:17
19.   Jason Wojciechowski
I just moved into Inwood and one of the first things I noticed was the Piper's Kilt - the claim of "best burgers in New York" or whatever certainly intrigued me. I'm right down the street from the 207th branch, so I'll probably have to head down there at some point.

That 231st St closing annoyed me on my recent trips to Lehman College from here, but I didn't bother walking - just took the train to the end and rode it back down again and got off on the downtown side.

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