How do you know when you have disappointed your parents? I have to say I was good. I went to Mass on Sunday and on the Holy Days of Obligation. I sang in the choir I even learned Latin so I could become an altar boy. I never drank, smoked or dated loose women. So you see I was very good.
Now you are asking. How did you ever disappoint your parents? You were wonderful. You are right I was wonderful, but my father had a dream for me. He wanted me to become a Major League baseball player and I disappointed him.
Let me explain, I love baseball. I still love baseball. I have my baseball glove from when I played in High School 45 years ago in the back of my car and when my kids say to me “Dad, I misplaced my coat, or my hat or my phone. I say to them “See this Glove I have had it 45 years you need to take care of your stuff”. I played ball, in the park, the streets, my backyard, where I broke 12 windows, school, everyplace. I played punch-ball, stickball and whiffle-ball. If it involved a ball and running bases I did it. In fact sometimes I didn’t even have to run bases, it was just sewer cover to sewer cover. You just pitch it and I will hit or catch it. However, the best part was I was good. I played the infield and I could field, throw and make all the plays. I was also a good hitter, not a power hitter, but I was very fast and I knew how to get on base.
All of these things made Dad very happy. He had been a great athlete and won medals in track in New York City. He was the 100 meter High School dash champion and had Olympic aspirations until he played in a College Football Game and broke his leg. He refused to let me play football. But baseball was different; he practiced with me all the time. He would come home from work and throw grounders to me or throw soft toss batting practice. We talked baseball all the time it was wonderful to share this with him. My uncle worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers so of course they became my team. My dream was one day to play second base for the Dodgers. My first game was Pee Wee Reese Night at Ebbest’s Field. I went to the 1955 World Series. I went to Dodgertown Baseball Camp in Vero Beach Florida, for two summers, it was baseball death camp but I loved it. After I finished the camp every year my father got my report, “Great Potential, ready for the next step.” I’m not sure how they could see that in a 10 year old boy. But my father loved it and he was convinced. “See Jim, you have Great Potential now use it”.
My Little League career in Flushing, Long Island was something to behold. My Little League teams “Guido’s Scrap Metal”, and “Broderick’s Diner” won two championships and I was voted MVP of the league. By the time I hit High School I felt ready. I practiced all winter of my freshman year. I have never worked harder.
The competition was better, but so I. My fielding was flawless. I could turn a double play, thank you “Dodgertown Baseball Camp”. However in High School for the first time in my life I had to face the CURVE BALL. Let me explain, a real curve ball comes at you at about 80 miles an hour and it looks like it is going to hit you in the head. However at the last moment the real curve ball breaks down into the strike zone. You are saying, “Do I stand here and try to hit it, get hit in the head or hit the dirt!!” The real curve ball separates the player with Great Potential from the player who can actually play for real. My uncle the one who worked for the Dodgers told me when they sent a scout out to watch a young player from the Negro Leagues. The report came back can do everything but “Can’t hit the curve ball”. So the Dodgers passed on a player named Willie Mays, that scout was fired. So now you can see how important the curve ball can be.
The good news is I made my freshman team. I was the starting second baseman for Holy Cross High School, Freshman Baseball Team and my father could not have been happier. He always sat down the third base line and he told me how proud of me he was. It was a great year I was flawless in the field, hit pretty well, even a few curve balls, and stole bases at a record pace.
At the end of the season we talked about tryouts for varsity. There were things Dad thought I needed to work on. I needed to work on-my speed so I joined the track team. For fielding we practiced every day, and every play. For hitting I went to the batting cages at Kiddy City in Great Neck on the weekend. They had pitching machines that threw the ball up to 70 miles per hour. I could hit the fastball but the curve is different, the machine doesn’t throw a curve. So unless you knew someone who throws one, GOOD LUCK. I hoped maybe nobody could throw a real curve on the varsity but I was wrong. The first day of tryouts for the varsity tryouts I realized I couldn’t hit the curve ball, when it came at my head. Instead of saying to myself I Am Going To Hit You Curve Ball I said to myself “Shit That Curve Ball Is Going To Hit Me In the Head” and I hit the dirt as the ball curved into the strike zone, and the umpire screamed “Strike Three—you’re Out”. This began to affect my fielding. I couldn’t make the most routine plays. I dropped fly balls, groundballs went thru my legs. I began to really suck at baseball. Even though Dad was happy I was not. I finally realized after all the years of practice and playing baseball I had reached my ceiling. I would not be playing second base for the Dodger’s; in fact I would not be playing any base for anyone. I was just not good enough. Walking home from practice I decided I was finished. I was terrified, to give this news to my father. But when I told him I have to say he took it pretty well. He said, “Son I had a feeling you were going to tell me this, you just don’t look happy out there and besides you can’t hit the CURSE BALL”, we both laughed at that. Then he said something I will never forget. “When you reach a time in your life and you find that what you’re doing isn’t making you happy, follow your instinct. You are too young to do something for the rest of your life that you hate”. I of course decided to follow my instincts and became an actor, which I am sure he loved.
As my father grew older we still shared our love of sports. We went to ballgames all the time. The last time I spent any real time with him, I was living in New York doing a show and he came up to visit. He was very sick at the time but we still found an afternoon to take the 7 Train out to Shea Stadium and watch the Mets. I asked him “Dad weren’t you disappointed that I gave up baseball I mean all that time and energy you put in?” He put his arm around me and said “You are my son I wouldn’t have wanted to spend it any other way”. Dad died shortly after, but he showed me his love was unquestioning and I hope to pass that on to my children. They never really disappoint you.