A Very Special Baseball Day

I could write for days and still not scratch the surface of all of the cool things I’ve seen while at the ballpark. And for each of the “things” I get to do, there are those one or two moments that stand out among the rest. But a hot summer day last August in Coney Island will always remain as one of the most memorable, the day I introduced three gentlemen that I have nothing but the utmost respect for.

The first two were no strangers to me personally. One of the nicest men I have ever met was being honored for his work in sandlot baseball, in a ceremony that was going to happen in our pregame. Jack Kaiser has done more in retirement than most of us could hope to do in a lifetime. He spent decades as the baseball coach and director of athletics at St. John’s University. They honored him by naming their baseball stadium after him, and I feel privileged to work there in the spring and see him sitting in the stands for just about every game. Oh yeah, in his spare time he helped to start the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and some basketball thing called the National Invitational Tournament. I’m only scratching the surface here – did I mention that on this particular day he was being honored for his contributions to sandlot baseball?

Tagging along with the Kaiser family was another “Coach” from St. John’s. The other coach, a gentleman named “Carnesecca”, also has a facility named after him at St. John’s, and was quite a baseball player there before he embarked on the career that he is best known for. I happen to know this because Coach Carnesecca (I have NEVER called him “Lou” or “Louie”) has come to visit with me in the pressbox at Jack Kaiser Stadium, and tell me stories about playing at Dexter Park – which was located a few blocks from where I live. When I asked him to help me present Coach Kaiser with his award on the field, he insisted that he was just along for the ride. I was fairly sure Coach Kaiser wanted him to come out on the field, so I very nicely begged. Not wanting to take away from his friend’s day, I told him that I was writing and making the introduction. Yup, no pressure on me – don’t say too much to steal the show, but just enough to pay the man the respect he is due… It worked out fine. And standing next to both men was an honor I won’t forget for a long time.

Except that on THIS day, there was more to come. Only in Brooklyn.

It was now time to introduce our honoree, the legendary Carl Erskine. You can read all about his baseball legacy elsewhere – it represents only a small portion of what he’s accomplished in his life. It would have been really easy for me to just bang out “Oisk’s” baseball stuff to get a great crowd reaction, but on this day it seemed appropriate to mention the rest of his non-major league baseball accomplishments. Like returning to his hometown in Indiana and becoming the baseball coach at Anderson College for over a decade, while working full-time as a bank executive. Like how the challenges he and his wife faced raising a child with Down Syndrome led to decades of work with Special Olympics and other handicapped causes. I knew we would be surprising him by unveiling his name on our ring of honor, but what I didn’t know was how much he personally had been involved in fundraising for the Brooklyn Wall of Rememberance, which honors those who lost their lives in service on September 11, 2001, and is located on the outside wall of KeySpan Park. I found that out about thirty seconds before I had to start speaking, and I was overcome by the emotion of watching the members of the FDNY that out of nowhere had joined us on the field and were thanking him for his efforts for the first time in person. I try to take a moment every day on my way to the park to stop by and touch the plaque of a former St. John’s baseball player and member of the FDNY who was one of the first casulties on that fateful day. I was unprepared to think about it at that moment.

I have the card that I wrote the introduction on, but I don’t remember saying any of it. And afterwards, it appeared that nobody had any idea of how close I was to just crying my eyes out. There was nowhere to hide either, because I was now front-and-center for all of the cameras taking pictures of the reaction from Erskine as he looked up to see his name next to Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, and Don Newcombe. He asked me for the microphone so he could say a few words, but while I was still holding it he thanked me for what he said was, “a completely unexpected introduction”, and one that he very much appreciated. He composed himself, and it seemed like he hadn’t planned on saying anything, but that he now felt he wanted to speak to the crowd for what might be his last visit to Brooklyn.

Once he finished, there was only one thing left to do before I could run back upstairs to the booth where I normally announce from, and that was introduce the National Anthem, being performed on the harmonica by our guest of honor – Carl Erskine. It was at that very moment that I realized there was no microphone stand in sight. All those years I spent in the music business were about to pay off. I was about to become a human microphone stand for a harmonica player. A harmonica player who happens to also be one of the most important men ever to set foot in Brooklyn. And if you think holding the microphone perfectly still at that moment was easy, think again.

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