By Ricardo Kaulessar
Many readers of this newspaper can relate to the sentiment that this especially brutal winter cannot end soon enough – and that baseball season cannot come fast enough.
Major league baseball players are already in the midst of spring training in warmer places while locally, boys and girls, young and old, are indoors (or even outdoors as the snow starts to clear away) with bat, ball and glove in hand getting in shape for games to come.
Meanwhile, fans are preparing to watch their favorite teams over the next few months, whether it’s from the bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium or in the living room staring at a plasma screen.
And for some, it is an opportunity to remember the landmarks and individuals from the Hudson/Bergen County area that have a significant place in baseball history.
Hoboken as the site of the first recorded baseball game in 1846 and Jersey City as the location of the legendary Jackie Robinson’s debut in a professional baseball game in 1946, and as the birthplace of those who got to the “big show” including Joe Borowski (Bayonne), Willie Banks (Jersey City) and Johnny Kucks (Hoboken). Several aficionados of America’s pastime shared recently about how they await the start of another year where the worries are more about box scores than snowplows.
Prose for the pros
It may be hard to believe but baseball and poetry can be compatible. Jersey City resident Frank Messina is proof of that as both a fan of the New York Mets since birth and as a writer of numerous poems about the game, a number of which fund their way into his 2009 book “Full Count: The Book of Mets Poetry.”
He started off the interview with two haikus about his favorite activity: Spring Training – “Sun shines on diamond/two birds on a citrus limb/ball meets bat: a “crack!” and Ageless – “Grandpa opens gift/two tickets to the ballgame, a gray-haired child smiles.” Messina then shared about his anticipation for when play starts next month.
“I’m looking forward to this season, especially after a torrential winter. The great thing about being a Mets fan in 2014 is having little or no expectation,” Messina said. “You can simply enjoy the game of promising young players along with watching a few veterans such as David Wright and Bartolo Colon. The same goes for the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. Promising teams, but simply in a time of flux.” He then added, “As for the Yankees, it’ll be a year of saluting Derek Jeter, as it should be. Hopefully, that won’t be a distraction to the Yankees’ bigger mission: to win a championship.”
BasebALL the time
If baseball is your vocation, then it isn’t just for the springtime but it is year-round. Raf Hernandez is testament to that credo as the owner of the Hudson Baseball Center, a baseball training facility in Union City where players of all ages can come to the center not just in the winter but the other three seasons to work out and prepare. Hernandez, a Brooklyn native who resides in Union City, has been involved in all facets of the game for over 20 years going back to his days as a star shortstop for Brooklyn Tech High School. The longtime Yankee fan weighed in on the pros and cons of the upcoming season.
“There is the sentiment about what baseball symbolizes: it’s springtime, the winter is ending, and catchers and pitchers reporting to spring training. And for many fans, it gives them a fresh start,” Hernandez said. “But for me, it is a time when business starts to die off as it gets warmer, when people go outside to play. By the summertime, the center is pretty much dead.” Hernandez continued, “Unfortunately, people prepare for the season like they’re cramming for an exam by coming in a month or two before when training should be done all-year. There’s no off-season.”
Throwback to another age
There was a time when baseball was known by two words. Frank Stingone knows all about that period as someone who runs the Hoboken Nine Vintage Base Ball Club. The team, in its third year of operation, specializes in playing base ball from April to October in compliance with 1864 rules that calls for no gloves, only balls and bats from the era, and classic uniforms. Hoboken resident Stingone said the Mile Square City, while having few available ball fields, is a great place to play for the Hoboken Nine and for visiting teams because of its place in the history of the sport, especially the intersection of 11th and Washington Streets where a monument marks the home plate of the famed Elysian Fields that held the 1846 exhibition. He then pointed out that the cold weather is having an impact on his teammates. “They have been itching to get out and they are excited to start playing,” Stigone said. “They are getting sick of the snow.”
For more information about the Hoboken Nine Vintage Base Ball Club, http://hobokennine.jimdo.com/, the Hudson Baseball Center, http://hudsonbaseballcenter.com/ and Frank Messina, http://www.spokeface.com/.