Peekskill Old Timers Baseball Celebration recap – 7/22/2012

SABR member Bob Mayer recently sponsored an Old Timers Baseball Celebration on July 22, 2012, in Peekskill, New York. The activities were arranged, to both recognize and honor Minor League ballplayers who contributed to the popularity of our National Pastime in the years immediately following World War II, and to educate the public about baseball along the Hudson River, and Peekskill’s contribution to the game in the 1940s.

The three day celebration kicked off with a reception for the players here at the historic Peekskill Museum on Friday, July 20 at 3:00 PM. On hand to welcome these men and their families were: George Oros, Chief of Staff for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Westchester County Legislator John Testa, Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster, and City Council members Kathleen Talbot and Don Bennett, and Peekskill Museum Treasurer Bob Mayer.

Bob led off with introductions and a short overview of the role these men played. Ms. Foster welcomed the players to Peekskill with a upbeat talk on baseball’s popularity. Mr. Testa spoke about the efforts to erect a state of the art adult baseball stadium in Peekskill when he was Mayor, and generously donated a signed baseball bat and ball from the stadium’s opening day. Mr. Oros then presented us with a framed Westchester County Proclamation for this historic event. A reception followed which included a fancy and wonderful fruit salad which was created by both Margaret Bryan, a member of our Programs Committee and the Division Street Grill. The players got their first chances to re-connect after 65 years!

Following the reception, the players and their guests had an informal dinner at the Westchester Diner on Albany Post Road. The diner was formerly known as the Bypass Diner and was across the street from the old Peekskill Stadium on Welcher Avenue, home of the Peekskill Highlanders 1946-49. That area is now the A&P shopping center, and McDonald’s was built just about on home plate. We all ate dinner in a private enclosed section of the diner and had a lovely meal.

Players and their guests were able to hunt around town the following morning. At least two families decided to tour the facilities at West Point. The planned day’s activities started at the Harbor Restaurant (formerly Crystal Bay and The Cove) at 1:00 PM with a check-in for both players and the invited general public. A fantastic fifteen foot banner was on display which covered baseball along the Hudson River showing photographs of early teams from towns along the river. The banner was created by the art students at Peekskill High School. Additionally, there were baseball artifacts highlighting some of the local teams and players.

Joe DeToia, Dan Dondero, George Passabet, Larry Cauvel, Fran ChesnickBob Mayer, the first speaker of the day did a presentation on the roots of baseball, and how it moved up the Hudson River from New York City during the 1850s. He discussed some of the early attempts at professional baseball in the Hudson Valley, all the way to the North Atlantic and Colonial Leagues of the 1940s.

There was a nice crowd estimated at over 200 during the afternoon. There was about an hour for the public to meet the players and get their autographs. On hand also were copies of SABR member Marty Appel’s new book Pinstripe Empire: A Definitive History of the New York Yankees. Marty, former NY Yankee Public Relations Director, was our afternoon guest speaker, also signed copies of his book for the purchasers. In his talk, Marty kept the audience totally delighted with his anecdotes, and was one of the highlights of the day.

Following Marty’s fascinating talk about the Yankees, SABR member John Vorperian moderated a Player Panel Discussion with five of our guest players: Joe DeToia, Dan Dondero, George Passabet, Larry Cauvel, and Fran Chesnick. John’s insightful questions had the players giving insights into their time in the minor leagues. John is host of a cable TV sports interview program “Beyond the Game” which is broadcast on the White Plains Community station. He has had a long history of interviewing many of the nation’s top sports celebrities.

Once the panel discussion was complete, it was now time to head to the dining room for our sit down dinner. One of the first things to catch your eye upon entering the catering area was a fantastic baseball themed cake created by Peekskill’s own Homestyle Bakery run by Rose Sanca. Rose also provides cakes for Yankee Old Timer events. The donated cake had a baseball field with three large outfield billboards featuring team photos of the Peekskill Highlanders and Kingston Colonials and one of the Carbondale Pioneers traveling bus. Along all four sides of the cake were iced baseball cards of players from the North Atlantic and Colonial Leagues who made it to the Major League.

Joe DeToia, Peter Mancuso, Dan Dondero, Carming DeRenzoNearly one hundred guests attended the dinner in the catering hall overlooking the Hudson. The highlight of the evening was our keynote speaker, former New York Yankee pitcher and author of the controversial 1970 book Ball Four, Jim Bouton. Jim entertained all with his stories from his time in the major and minor leagues, and in particular his stories about some of the Yankee legends that he played with in the 1960s: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Casey Stengel etc.

On Sunday, July 22, the Peekskill Tides, our entry into the Westchester-Rockland Collegiate Wood Bat League played host to the former minor league players and guests. Pre-game ceremonies included introduction (with short bios) of the players over the public address system, while they took to the infield grass near the mound. Mayor Foster was on hand to join the players on the field. Doug Ferony, whose father Alfred (deceased) had played with the Peekskill Highlanders and then with the Dodger organization, sang the National Anthem. My big thrill was being able to throw out the first ball.

The game against the New Rochelle Dirtbags was scheduled to start at 1:00 PM. Our only let down of the weekend was that the umpires were 45 minutes late as they had also booked a game in Newburgh. The good news is that all the Tides games are televised, and so several of us got interviewed by the voice of the Tides, Eric Newland. There was time for interviews of former players Dan Dondero and Carmine DeRenzo (age 90) plus former batboy (1947-48) Manny Scivoletto (came in from Reno, NV), Peter Mancuso, Chairman of the 19th Century Committee of SABR and Bob Mayer, baseball historian.

The Tides provided a tent for the players, plenty of food for all of us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the game which was won by the Tides. The winning run was scored in the bottom of the last inning.

The entire weekend was a great success, and we continue to hear from players, their families, and other attendees about what a wonderful time they had.

— Bob Mayer