Archived Story

Batters up in N.Y. and N.C.

Published 8:15pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

By Frank Roberts

My parents were raised in an orphanage in Baltimore, getting hitched soon after “graduation.” Momma was the oldest of 12, eventually putting some of them through school.

Daddy, David, was the quietest of men. He enjoyed listening to classical music on the radio while waving his cigar as if it were a smoky, smelly baton. Momma, Sophia, a nurse in Queens General-Triboro in Jamaica on Long Island, was a free-spirited soul, driving around in her black Hudson Terraplane.

Meanwhile, back at the orphanage, there was a baseball team whose opponents were other orphanages. Commonality. Poppa managed the team. (He claimed to have played against Babe Ruth’s orphanage team).

Anyway, he got hooked on baseball and, the only time he took me out was to visit the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. The trip to the Giants home was a fair-sized subway ride. My aunt Lillian lived across the street from Yankee Stadium, but Poppa and I were Giants fans, so we took a shuttle two stops away to the Polo Grounds.

I continued my loyalty to the team coached by colorful, mouth-y Leo Durocher, even subscribing to the monthly newsletter published by his actress wife, Laraine Day.

The Giants’ banner year for the banner was 1951, the season that ended with the unabashedly partial broadcaster Russ Hodges screaming: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

A killer home run by Bobby Thompson had provided a thrilling ending to what had been, mostly, a dismal year.

Here is something only true Giants fans would know. They were originally known as the New York Mutuals. The Dodgers’ name change was, admittedly, more colorful.

In 1889, before ‘dem bums’ were tagged as the Dodgers, they were called the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, ‘on account of because’ (Brooklynese) four of their players got married in quick succession.

Jump ahead beaucoup years to when my team was the Perquimans County (N.C.) Pirates. I had the pleasure of broadcasting the Hertford, N.C., high school football and baseball games and even got the opportunity to present a trophy to one of the players — Jimmy “Catfish” Hunter — who, of course, went on to great recognition nationally.

He was always a fine human being. His widow, Helen, still a close family friend, was a cheerleader for his teams. When I got bored with the game, I would call some of the girls, including my niece, Ann, to the broadcast booth for inspirational interviews.

Later, while working for The Virginian-Pilot, I covered Jimmy’s entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Therein lies a discouraging note. One of my giant Giants heroes, Willie Mays, was there at the time, snubbing almost anyone that wanted to talk to him.

Jimmy, of course, eventually signed for a ton of money, hardly a dent compared to today’s sports salaries. In 1941, Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto signed for — honestly — a bologna sandwich and a glass of milk.

Nowadays, athletes make as many headlines for their scandals as they do for their sports, but there is zilch new under the sun, as evidenced by the infamous Black Sox scandal of many moons ago.

Finally, true confessions. I knew plenty about baseball, but little or nothing about football. I ‘bulled’ my way through four seasons with the help of my good play-by-play buddy, the late Frances “Panky” Nixon.

I was dumb, but I had fun.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.

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