BERLIN LEGION BASEBALL: From The Desk Of Coach Manzo

Friday, April 15
From The Desk Of Coach Manzo

Good Morning,

A hearty congratulations to Post 68 alumnus Joe Dellaquila.  Joe was recently awarded the 2010-2011 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete Award.  This award is given annually by the Northern Connecticut chapter of the NFF to high school football players who are high achievers in the classroom and on the field.  Joe will be attending Marist College to play football in the fall.  From everyone in the Post 68 family, Way To Go, Joe!

Regards,

Coach Manzo 



Thursday, April 21
From The Desk Of Coach Manzo

Good Morning, 

One of the best of all time...heard him speak at the World Series in 2009...awesome stuff
Bob Feller and American Legion Baseball

 -Coach Manzo

 

How a shy youngster started on the road to major league greatness
By Bob Feller - December 16, 2010


Editor's note: This column, penned by Bob Feller, originally ran in a 1963 issue of The American Legion Magazine. It has been reproduced here in its entirety in recognition of Feller, who passed away Dec. 15 at the age of 92.

The Major League Baseball season opened in April, but for me the real call of "Play Ball" comes just around this time of year. June, the "bust-in’ out all over" month for American Legion Baseball, is the time when countless thousands of youngsters put on their uniforms and prepare for some of the most exciting, enjoyable experiences of their lives.

I know. I cut my baseball eyeteeth on American Legion Junior baseball 32 years ago. Today, at 44, I’m still in the program, more engrossed than ever. As a member of the board of directors of the Cleveland Baseball Federation, I’m chairman of the American Legion division and take pride in the fact that we have 120 teams, each composed of 15 boys, 18 years old and under. Currently, we’re getting ready for another big year.

A member of Variety Post 313, I asked for the job and enjoy traveling from field to field, watching the games. Now and then I stop to pitch batting practice, and I treat the boys as big leaguers, mixing curves with fast balls – well, a 44-year-old Feller fast ball. If the boys get a kick out of this, the feeling is mutual.

All of them will be better citizens because of their American Legion Baseball experiences. Some of them will become big leaguers. Study the rosters of the present major league teams. They’re loaded with American Legion Baseball graduates.

In the 1962 baseball season, 286 of the 500 major league ballplayers came out of American Legion Baseball.
I have a trophy in my den, prominently displayed, that reads:
"Presented to
Bob Feller
The First
American Legion Baseball
Graduate
Enshrined in Baseball’s Hall of Fame
Cooperstown, N.Y.
July 23, 1962"

It was given to me by the American Legion National Americanism Commission when I appeared at its annual finals in Bismarck, N.D., last year. I’m extremely proud of the trophy. I may have been the first Legion Baseball graduate in the Hall of Fame, but I won’t be the last. When American Legion grad Yogi Berra becomes eligible, he’ll get in. So will many, many others.

Truthfully, I feel I should have given the plaque to The American Legion, rather than receiving one from it. Baseball has been extremely good to me and it was the Legion program that gave me the opportunity to play organized ball. I have been trying to repay the Legion in my own way ever since – by running the program in Cleveland, by making speeches, by helping in any manner I can. Just for the record, I asked permission of this magazine to write – without a fee – of my experiences in American Legion Baseball. I did so in gratitude. I mention this because if any of the thoughts and phrases sound corny, it’s just the Iowa farm boy in me coming out. All of this is sincere and from the heart. Even for offers of large sums of money I never endorsed anything I didn’t believe in, or use.
The mind is funny. Often we see movies in which the story is told in flashbacks. You know, the hero looks at a picture and suddenly it reminds him of an incident in his past. The scene fades out and the memory becomes alive.

Frequently this happens to me. The memories of boyhood are the most vivid and they come soaring back to me easily. In Cooperstown, when I was installed in the Hall of Fame, George Rulon was at the ceremonies. He’s The American Legion’s assistant director of the Americanism Division under which the baseball program falls. As I stood there awaiting the induction proceedings, his presence suddenly sent me back to those wonderful days in American Legion ball. The same things happened to me many times in the majors. Often I pitched before stands crowded with Legionnaires who were attending American Legion conventions in Chicago, New York, Washington, Philadelphia – almost every city in the American League circuit. I’d see the Legion caps all around and immediately I’d find myself thinking back to the days when men wearing those same caps were building my baseball foundations.

I found that I wasn’t the only one who was stirred. One day I came back to the Cleveland Indians’ bench and mentioned to catcher Jim Hegan, "All these men remind me of the days I played Legion ball. I can shut my eyes and see myself the first time I walked into the Legion hall." Hegan, now a coach with the N.Y. Yankees, chuckled. "You’re not along, Bob," he said. He explained that his mind was doing flashbacks, too, and later he told me about the days he played for Lynn, Mass., on a team that went on to the National Championship.
It would not be true to say I received my first real baseball education in the Legion program. It seems I had been crazy about baseball ever since I began to walk, and my dad encouraged me. After the chores were done, we played catch on our farm in Van Meter, Iowa. When it got too dark, we’d move inside the barn, where Dad had strung up lights. Later Dad plowed up a section of land, leveled it off and made a ball field. The adults in the neighborhood would come around and eventually Dad put a team together to play nearby communities on our farm. I carried a glove, ball and bat everywhere I went, even to Bible school, in a Bemus-A grain sack.

I love to play shortstop, going deep for grounders, grabbing them backhand and firing to first. But all my play was confined to the schoolyard or the farm. Nothing organized.
In 1931, when I was 12, my dad said, "Son, I’ve been talking with Les Chance. Both of us think you’re ready to play American Legion ball."

Mr. Chance was the rural mail carrier. He would chug up to our farm in his Model-T Ford and deposit the mail in our box. I can shut my eyes and see him now, a stocky man, just a little on the plump side, with a friendly grin. He had a fine sense of humor and laughed easily. Whenever I think of American Legion ball, I think of Lester Chance. A World War I veteran, he organized and coached the American Legion team at Adel, Iowa. I still can hear his pleasant laugh. Whenever he rode up to our farm with the mail, Mr. Chance and Dad would talk baseball, and apparently they did some talking about me.

At first I rebelled at enrolling in the Legion program. I was terribly shy, and unaccustomed to meeting strangers. I said to my dad, "Let’s wait until next year."
He smiled tolerantly and said, "Son, you’ll have lots of fun playing for Mr. Chance. And besides, I’m going to help him with the team."

Adel is about 10 miles from Van Meter. It’s the Dallas County seat and at that time had a population of about 1,100. The road was all gravel, winding along the Raccoon River, the same river that ran through our farm. Those 10 miles contain exactly 23 turns. I counted them that day, trying to take my mind off facing so many strange people.

The American Legion hall was upstairs over the firehouse at Adel. I clutched my dad’s hand tightly and tried to pull back. I recall it all so clearly. He talked softly, encouragingly and somehow he got me to the top of the stairs. I was prepared to turn and run back, but I saw Mr. Chance’s beaming smile of welcome and my immediately fears melted.

Lester Chance, the father of three daughters, had a warm, winning way with boys. He knew baseball, but he knew more about us. I signed up and he announced immediately, "We’ll meet at the park in the cool of the evening for our first workout."

"Fine," I thought. On the field I would feel more at home. It was a good diamond, carefully kept, and I was placed at third base because my arm was one of the few strong enough to make the throw to first. In that first workout, I had five thumbs on each hand. But Mr. Chance had infinite patience. I slowly began to blossom.

We had just an ordinary team that year, in fact we lost more than we won. I played third, short and second. I didn’t figure as a pitcher. But it was here that I did my baseball growing up. If it wasn’t for Legion ball, I don’t know where I would have learned the fundamentals. My dad’s farm team was made up chiefly of adults, and they came around to play the game, not to teach it.

I began to lose my shyness in the Legion league. Competitive sports are an ideal way to bring a boy out of his shell; they break down barriers, and provide the groundwork for lasting friendships. Several of my teammates on that first Legion team became my lifelong friends.