Saturday, June 26, 2010

Baseball is losing a Hero

For Pop...

My grandfather, Joe Scigliano, or Pop to his family, is losing the battle for his life today. Pop was a baseball man, and he, along with my father, was responsible for my love of the game. My earliest memories include going with him to his 55 and over softball games in Daytona, Florida and playing catch with him in the front yard of our house in Deltona.

Pop played the game of baseball until he was 45 years old, playing short stop, second base, and third in the Queen’s Alliance League in New York City. The QAL was an independent league during his era, and it served as a farm system for several Major League organizations. Pop was a perennial star in the QAL, being named to numerous All-Star and All-League teams. In addition, he was a member of several championship teams, and saw his greatest success against the most worthy of opponents. One of the great things about my grandfather was that he kept a scrapbook of literally every write up for every game he ever played. One of those write ups includes the story of how he went 3-4 with a homer and a triple off (then) future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. The papers called him “Scooter” because he reminded them so much of the Yankee great Phil Rizzuto with his superlative defensive skills and lightning speed. He also held a career average of well over .300, failing to bat .300 or better only once during more than 25 years with teams such as the Greenpoint Gems, the Greenpoint Greys, the Milita Club, and Question-A, a dream team of all the best young players in New York.

Prior to being drafted into the Korean War, Pop was offered a contract to play in the Cleveland Indians’ organization. Upon his return from the war, he signed a contract to play in the St. Louis Browns organization. His affiliated professional aspirations were never fully realized, as he could not retain his day job during the playing season, and he made the decision to forgo his baseball career in order to support his family. That’s the kind of man he was, always placing his family before himself.

If his baseball career wasn’t amazing enough, Pop played competitive softball until he was 80 years old. Yeah, that’s what I said, 80. During his 50’s and 60’s he played on nationally competitive senior tournament teams, and played A level recreational softball on 18 and over teams with my father, uncle, and myself until he was 68. I remember being a junior in high school playing short stop on my father’s softball team… I played short, my dad played third, my uncle played 1st, and my grandfather “Nintendo Joe”, as the seniors called him, played second base. How many people can say they turned double plays with their grandfather? I guarantee you if there were guys left to play with, even at his final age of 82, he would have been out there grinding it out. During his senior softball days he was awarded uncountable MVP awards and wore a lot of “C’s” on his jerseys. At 75 years old, he carried a batting average over .650 for the season and was named “man of the year” by Hobgood Park’s softball committee. He lived the game, breathed it, and he taught it to me every day of my life.

Off the field, he was a perfect role model. I tell people all the time that I’ve never had a sip of alcohol or a puff off a cigarette, and most don’t believe me. The ones that do always ask me how I’ve done it and why. Joe Scigliano is a big part of that answer. In his 82 years, he never took his first drink or smoke. From the time I could speak, he taught me that I didn’t need those vices to have a good time, be cool, or more importantly, to be myself. I grew up wanting to live a life that would make him proud of who he’d helped raise and who I’d become. As far as family goes, I’ve been blessed to have the best.

I will miss seeing him on the ballfield. I will miss talking the game. I will miss seeing him smile, and more than anything, I will miss him in my life. Baseball is losing one of its greats, even if only a few of us got to know his name.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Dan. We're all better people for having known him.


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