By Joe Kazmar
For the Record 

Baseball much different when I was a kid


Last updated 3/8/2022 at 6:29pm

Ever since I was able to gurgle the word baseball as a toddler, it has been my first love.

My father was a very good baseball player in high school, but when he was ready to move up to the next level, the Depression hit and he had to find a job to help out his family.

But that didn't stop my father's love for the game. He played baseball on weekends for whoever needed a pitcher, including the Sons of Italy, who merely stuck an "I" at the end of his last name and gave him a uniform.

I got to watch him play when I was very young at the old stadium in Central Park, the same baseball diamond where I played my final game as an amateur a few decades later.

Dad had a catcher's mitt, a glove for me and some nice new baseballs and when he got home from work at Schenectady's General Electric Company at 3:45 p.m.-about the same time I was coming home from the elementary school we called "Stinkin' Lincoln"-and drank his cup of coffee my mother always had ready, he asked me if I wanted to "throw some".

I was out the door with my glove on waiting in the backyard that was converted into a bullpen before he even finished asking that question.

I told my father that I didn't want to be a pitcher because they don't get to play in every game like I wanted to. So, he started hitting hard grounders at me in hopes that the bruises on my shins from bad hops would change my mind.

But it didn't, so he continued working me out as a shortstop, but also had me throw to his catcher's mitt. By the time I was pitching from official Little League distance, he had to find a sponge to put in the mitt.

I made the Little League team as a 10-year-old shortstop and was the All-Star at that position when I was 12.

We had a good team-so good that we won our way to Williamsport, Pa.-and beat a team from Colton, California 7-5 to win the 1954 Little League World Series. I was astounded when the league voted me as the Most Valuable Player for 1954.

When I was a young teenager, a bunch of us would get up early in the morning, have our moms fix a peanut and jelly sandwich, and ride our bikes to a baseball diamond in Central Park, which was the focal point of the city.

We played baseball all morning long, ate lunch and played for another hour or so and wearing our bathing suits under the blue jeans, we swam until it was time to go home for supper.

My Babe Ruth League coach, who was a former teammate of my father's, noticed my strong arm and switched me from shortstop to third base.

I played third base for the three years in that league, Connie Mack League, high school and was fortunate enough to earn a baseball scholarship to McNeese State where I lettered as a third baseman-and also a pitcher-all four years and was voted the Cowboy's MVP in 1963.

There was no major league draft then, so I signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs and played a couple of years in the minor leagues, until making paychecks for only five months forced me to get a "real job" that paid me for 12 months a year so I could support my young family.

I continued to love the game of baseball and was seen in the Houston Astrodome's press box more times than I want to remember.

Although the Houston Astros were lousy in their early years. I followed the game very meticulously and slowly accepted most of the game's changes-expansions to 30 teams, the addition of the designated hitter in the American League, defensive shifts on the infield and multi-millionaire players holding out for more money from the billionaire owners.

And right now, the owners have locked out the players from their lush stadiums for nearly 100 days, the 2022 season has already been shortened, the players won't settle the terms of the new agreement set by the owners, and the America's game of baseball is losing fans by the millions.

If I could turn back the calendar to when I was a kid watching 16 major league teams competing in two eight-team leagues with shorter seasons and with Babe Ruth the home run king, I'd do it in a heartbeat!!!

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