Lazzari’s Archives: Some Sports Memories of Yesteryear

* Having a baseball catch with my Dad: He would use his Red Schoendienst glove (not much bigger than his hand) and I’d use my new Vada Pinson model. I was surprised how well he could catch the ball after he turned 40–coming to the conclusion that he must have played a lot of ball in his younger days. I remember concentrating on ACCURACY a lot as I didn’t want a guy “his age” having to go retrieve any bad throws.
* Neighborhood basketball games: Playing next door with 5-6 of the local boys–big wooden backboard, chain net, driveway that was NOT flat–which would send many errant balls into the street on a regular basis. Played for hours–almost DAILY–during basketball season. Truly learned how to make a bank shot and shoot free throws on that shoddy–albeit wonderful–“court.” Sometimes I’d play at a friend’s house a block away–different set of kids–where we’d all call out who we would “be” that day. I’d be “Pistol Pete” or George McGinnis for the afternoon; Jay always called out “Clyde.” Game was over when the first kid was called by a parent for dinner.
* Summer fly ball shagging: Some of the same local boys carrying balls and bats (and maybe a 64-ounce bottle of Pepsi) down to the dusty high school field at the end of the street. We’d take turns hitting fly balls for HOURS until the blisters came–then we’d rotate. I remember the delightful feeling when it reached the point where I could judge/run down almost any fly ball hit in my direction. Yeah, and to this day, I still believe repetition is vastly underrated.
* Farm League/Little League baseball: Still very clear in my mind–maybe due to being surrounded by great people. I recall my first coach, Les, buying me a hot dog and soda if I pitched a good game–maybe a bag of chips, too. Then the Little League days; ah, that fence looked SO far away–until I was able to hit one over it. Broken bats? We’d simply take them home, put screws in the handles, apply mechanical tape, and use them again until they’d splinter near the barrel. We never knew what aluminum bats WERE back in those days–and I’m kinda glad we didn’t.
* Football in the snow: No building snowmen for us–just pigskin time–and we always pretended we were in Minnesota. The more snow, the better–providing better cushioning while being tackled. It was even MORE fun when a pass was beyond one’s fingertips–allowing that person to subsequently dive and slide into an area of untouched snow. Funny, we never felt the cold in those days–only the “warmth” of good times.
* Volleyball–before school: That’s right–a bunch of us 8th graders who lived next to the school were allowed to play in the gymnasium from about 7:30-8:00 AM. It was co-ed, and I remember how easy it was to set-up Carol–a 6-footer who was very athletic. I remember volleyball teaching us kids the concepts of teamwork, cooperation, and responsibility–which helped me in all other sports. Loved playing it at the beach, too, when I became a bit older.
* Driveway hockey: Yeah, same driveway as the aforementioned, next-door basketball venue. We used a beat-up tennis ball as our puck and put tape on our sticks just like the pros did. The “goal” was a 4’X6′ raised/rectangular design on the neighbor’s garage door. Funny, the homeowners (parents of one of the ‘hood kids) never seemed to complain despite constant shots caroming off that door–ones that sometimes came close to WINDOWS, too.
* Road football: Yes, out in the street–one with an uphill grade. It was like playing on artificial turf compared to our “snow football wars.” Goal posts were telephone poles about 50 yards apart; ‘out of bounds’ was classified as any part of a resident’s lawn. I can still remember the agreed-upon, collective yell of “CAR!!” when an approaching automobile was within sight of our “field.” Always easier running a fly pattern going DOWNHILL.
* Schoolyard stickball: Played with the proverbial broom handle and a tennis ball at a grammar school; sometimes, we’d pool our money to get a new can of balls when some older ones had become too soft. Painted strike zones were on the walls that graced both the front AND rear of the building; we’d play in the rear most of the time unless it was being used as an event parking lot. Very competitive, too, as I remember John and I opposing a duo from the other side of town shortly after high school–$100 winner-take-all. Word got out and a decent crowd showed up; John and I later put the $100 winnings to great use at a local restaurant.
* Backyard wiffle ball: At the “stadium”–my next-door neighbor’s fenced-in backyard. Played almost every night after dinner during the summer–probably after having shagged fly balls during the day. Curve balls, screwballs, knuckle balls–ah, the things one could do with that weird-looking ball that was manufactured in nearby Shelton. Nothing like clearing the wooden fence with a home run, either–which only a few of us could do. Loved catching batted fly balls, too; if you could catch a wiffle ball on a windy day, you could catch ANYTHING.
* Nerf basketball indoors: That’s right–NERF; I remember receiving a Nerf ball/hoop set as a gift in the early 70’s–and hung it on the dining room door which led to the basement. What a feeling being able to SLAM DUNK like Wilt; it was especially cool when you ‘swished’ a shot from the side–resulting in having to go rearrange the net manually. And I remember bouncing that ball off lamps, walls, tables, etc.–and my Mom really not minding too much because I was sharpening my basketball skills. Yeah, I miss you, Mom.
* Schoolyard basketball: Didn’t even need a net; if the pole was standing fairly straight and a ball could fit through the rim, we’d use it. 3-on-3, sometimes 4-on-4–mostly half-court games. I remember the backboards being small–making it more difficult to convert bank shots. I also remember a participant showing up one day wearing shades, jewelry, and sunglasses–probably trying to impress a nearby gal who was jumping rope. My friend Bob’s question to him at the time: “Who are you–TRAVOLTA?”

Bathe yourself in similar past experiences, folks; they’ll surely make you smile.

About the Author

Bob Lazzari

Bob Lazzari is an award-winning sports columnist for both Connecticut's Valley Times and NY Sports Day--where his "Sports Roundup" column is featured weekly. He is a member of the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance and host of "Monday Night Sports Talk" --a cable television show on CTV/Channel14 in Connecticut. A Fordham grad, Bob is a regular contributor to ESPN Radio's "Inside Yankee Baseball"; he can also be heard weekly every Tuesday morning on WXLM/104.7 FM in New London, CT. He has a popular blog where many of his past columns have been archived.

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