Sunday, January 18, 2015

Baseball Boys Recreates 1950’s Little Baseball Youth of Heritage Hills’ Resident

Baseball Boys Recreates 1950’s Little Baseball Youth of Heritage Hills’ Resident

Little League Baseball was born in 1939. By 1950, it made its way from Pennsylvania to Bruce Fabricant’s hometown of Mt. Vernon. In 1953, he got the call, and on a cold April morning, the Heritage Hills resident tried out. The times didn’t allot for a participation trophy, but finally getting the chance to play on a real field, with adults who could teach the game easily made up for lack of metallic luster and the frostbite. In actuality, what he did get was far more important and is never far from what he is trying to document in Baseball Boys – a self-published novel on 1950’s Little League baseball in Mt. Vernon.

“I got a postcard in the mail, that said, ‘you didn’t cut it son,’” he remembers.

He persevered to make a roster the next time - the life lessons obvious. “You learned how to lose, dealing with adversity and rising to a challenge. That’s what I’m trying to impart in this book,” he says.

He’s not advocating, a la Bill Cosby, that kids go back to walking to school, in the snow, uphill, both ways, or trying out just to play. But when he goes to his granddaughter’s soccer game, and parents aren’t allowed to cheer, because someone might feel bad, child development is the loser.

On the other end, Fabricant sees too many parents transformed into agents. Jockeying managers for marquis exposure, they envision a scholarship before shaving is even a consideration. “Parents get involved with organized sports to a degree that they are overstepping their bounds rather than leaving it up to the kids on the field,” he says in paraphrasing the piece Rick Wolff of Sports Illustrated contributed.

But his dialogue on these societal deficiencies don’t dominate Baseball Boys. Filled with old newspaper clippings, game summaries, boxscores, anecdotes from the players and interviews with Mt. Vernon’s Ralph Branca and Ken Singleton, the book recreates the era and serves as an example not a lecture.

He also just loves his hometown, the lost youth and the part baseball played. As such, Fabricant felt an exploration of these early years of organized play was warranted. 

Beforehand, it was all on the kids. “We played baseball in the streets and so forth, but something was missing,” he remembers.

World War II over and fathers coming home, an interest emerged in organizing and a former major leaguer named Carl Stotz seized upon it. Stotz enlisted a local newspaper editor to publicize the initiative and Ralph Branca endorsed it. “I remember it vividly, so many kids like myself at the first tryout,” says Fabricant of the scant 75 slots that the first few years could support.

Additionally, Stotz made it his mission to provide a contrast to a cultural makeup that mostly had the various ethnicities sticking to their corners of the municipality. “The greatest thing he did was to integrate the league so you played with all the different types of players,” said Fabricant.

He also got out front when an entry fee was initially proposed.  “Carl said no. We won’t do that, and local sponsors put up the tab,” says Fabricant.

The rest was left to the managers. “I heard from many friends about the men in the dugout, and the instrumental part they played in their lives,” he says.

As for his discussion with Ralph Branca, the exchange stuck to the small stuff. “I didn’t talk at all about his major league career,” says Fabricant, and the two had more in common than baseball.

Prompting Branca if he remembered the Fabricant dry cleaning business, the Dodger great was quick with the Brooklyn wit. “Of course I do. I worked at it. I probably made 50 cents an hour because your father was so cheap,” Fabricant relayed the story with a smile.

Ken Singleton, on the other hand, lamented the disarray of the fields he played on as a kid. “A sign of the times,” says Fabricant, “the kids aren’t playing as much.”

But back then, the league expanded along with the demand. In that, he hopes the natural order of things can be restored and rollback the excess. “Just let the kids play,” he concluded.

The book can be found on at "Baseball Boys Rediscovering 1950s Little League Baseball in Mount Vernon, NY"

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