Brookline Little League Association
Notable Opinions

Below are some notable excerpts from "One Dan's Opinion" columns featuring
Jimmy Lowen, Ed McGrath, Jim Patterson, Pat Fagan and Frank Rozzo,
along with a few observations that put things in perspective.
by Dan McGibbeny and Clint Burton

Jimmy Lowen

"C'mon Dutch," he implored his coach, "hit me a few of them mile-high pops."

From a distance, this Little Leaguer 'way back in 1951 looked 10 going on 16. Today's girlies would have gurgled "Wotta hunk" in those times.

Anytime Ebenshire Village, one of the four teams which competed the first year Brookline tried the rapidly growing youth program, played at the new Community Center Field, the crowd was in for a real treat.

You know how they scream when one of the modern day basketball kangaroos roars in, leaps and delivers one of those in-your-face dunks. Or the major leagues hold one of those Sunday-pitch home run derbies.

Well those jammed stands at Brookline's CC Field exploded as Dutch Wertz grabbed a fungo bat, stepped to the plate and lofted a sky-high pop.

Chunky Jimmy Lowen (he really was only 11 when you got close enough to notice the boyish face which featured a perpetual grin) almost danced for joy as he settled under the ball. You could hear that customary plop as it landed square in his mitt.

Dutch Wertz generally hit six of seven more of the crowd-pleasers, some carrying almost out to the second base area. But Jimmy was always there waiting for the falling ball.

"This chunky youngster just loved to compete. He handled his area behind the plate and out as though it was his personal turf. Only 11, but what a competitor. It isn't often, you can be sure, a kid has the spark to make it, but my bucks would have been on this one."

"And he could swing a wicked bat."

Fortunately, Dutch and some of the young Lowen's future managers reported his talents, for Jimmy is even evasive about when and where he played during what others who followed him closely describe as a brilliant baseball career.

In 1955, Jimmy was the catcher on what frequently has been described as perhaps Brookline's best youth program team. The traveling PONY team went 28-0 in the South Hills League against the likes of Beechview, South and North Whitehall, Baldwin, Castle Shannon and Mount Oliver. It has been hinted that if Brookline's team had been used as the area all-star entry in the World PONY, it may have won the championship. But the rules required at least one player from each team. Monongahela beat the Brookline area team for the world title.

Jimmy cleared one puzzle in his career:

"After I played here in 1951, we moved to Butler and I played my last Little League year at Chicora. Stayed there for my first PONY season in 1954, then we came back to Brookline and I was lucky to get in with that outstanding squad in 1955."

There are the rare moments when the crinkles in James Charles Lowen's smile track derail and he lapses briefly to emotions ranging from melancholia, sadness, anger (of varying degrees centigrade) and almost anything flirting with the serious side of life.

"Baseball and other sports aren't everything," says the young squire of Beechview. "I still turn to it for mental and physical pleasure, but then there are times I think back to the loyalty of my dad. Don't think he ever missed a game, through Brookline, South Hills High, Jimmy Rawe's Beechview teams and three years in the Greater Pittsburgh League. Dad (friends called him Dutch) would stand on the hill above Brookline LL field or out beyond the fence in left. Same at Beechview's Alton Field."

"When I was in high school, the Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers and Pirates would send out scouts and drive me to Forbes Field to catch batting practice."

"Injuries really nipped my chances of getting a real shot, I believe. As a kid in Brookline, I believe I hit more home runs in 1951 than any other Little Leaguer has since in one season. And I must have averaged one a game during that 28-0 PONY year in 1955."

"Two years in a row I fractured my right shoulder when I got hit by foul tips. Both years I was headed for the Hearst All-Stars competition."

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Excerpt reprinted from The Brookline Journal - March 14, 1985.

Ed McGrath

Soon the head of the family was to earn the sobriquet of Steady Eddie. He was stamped with that handle by an old newspaper geezer some time after he joined the community's Little League program in 1962. Steady Eddie was assigned to J.J. McGaffin's in Senior Little League. He managed successfully for 14 years.

"I had a long string of excellent coaches over the years," Ed says with a melancholy touch. "Harry McMurty, John Lubick, Tom Prex, Sam LaCava and Mark Donato."

"We were lucky to get a lot of top players, too, such as Bobby Papariella, Frank Marx, Tomy Fagan, Jimmy Draper, Rich Dimarack, Ricky Kesick, Mark Schumacher, Dan Mezyk, George DelGreco, Dave Healy, Billy Anderson, Don McMurtry and George Kunzman. I know I'm going to hate myself because I'm sure I missed the names of kids who deserve to be on that list."

"Little League gave me a chance to mingle with some fine men. Oh, Walt Evans, Frank Sausto, Bob Schwemmer, Jack Henry, Joe Power, Danny McGibbeny, Bud Auen, Buddy Cambest, Bob Hurley, Ralph Spadafore, Mo Buskirk, Ang Masullo, Bob Sherry, Jack Lombardi, Bud Vietmeier, Tony Colangelo. Again, I know I've overlooked some great guys."

Steady Eddie also recalls his years as coach of the Resurrection Catholic Youth Organization basketball teams.

"That first season," he shudders, "we won only three games and lost 17. The next year we improved to an 11-10 record. But after that, we never again lost more than five games. We made the section playoffs every year and finished in the top four of the Pittsburgh Diocese each season. We were competing with 60 teams, including the McKeesport area.

"Again, I had super coaches, starting with Mo Slinger, who died after a heart attack in 1978. Also got a lot of help from Buddy Cambest, Pat Camarco, Bob Schwemmer, Timmy Zugates, Pete Schmidt, Bobby McNeill, John Boris and Al Tambellini."

Ed and his wife Jeannie were involved in numerous community functions over their 25 years in Brookline. At one time, he was on the board of the community council. He was active in the Brookline Businessmen's League for 10 years and devoted six years to the Resurrection Parish Council.

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Excerpt reprinted from The Brookline Journal - March 20, 1986.

Jim Patterson

Jim was one of the nation's leading soil analysts for 27 years before retiring a few years back. He was with Richardson-Gordon Associates.

Pat, as he was called by his friends, a Little League manager from 1957, when he coached for Lefty Voelker, isn't sure what year he checked out.

"Might have been 1966, but I'm not sure," he says. "They already had named the late Jerry Armento to replace me. I've gone down a few times, shortly after I left the program, to watch games, but not in recent years."

"I had a few very good Little Leaguers, but my teams never won the championship," he recalls. "Had Johnny Haviland and Freddie Truschel, but they were only eleven. Then Tommy Fagan, Bobby Ewing, Bobby Jackonic, Jimmy Savena and Milan Vukelich."

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Excerpt reprinted from The Brookline Journal - November 14, 1985.

Pat Fagan

Pat's thoughts drift back to the days of summers past. He reminisces:

"Those days at Brookline School Field were something else. We'd have pick up games. Angie Capuano, Sam Bryen, Hacky Haskins, Dutch and Chick Wertz, Harry Daven. So many they don't come to mind at a moment's notice."

"We'd have nickel and dime bets, usually promoted by Angie, and we'd have really hot arguments, usually started by Angie."

As his boy Patrick came of age, Pat became active in the Little League, auditing the books. But his best days were as a coach for Walt Evans and the Legion Little Leaguers. He remembers:

"I was with Walt when his Legion team was 20-0 one year and 19-1 the next."

"I'll never forget Sam Bryen's intense desire to get the best for 'my kids,' as he always called them. What a fast operator Sam was in those days. No matter what was needed, you could always depend on Sam to come up with a charity deal."

"One year, O.H. Benintend Construction sent in its heavy equipment and carved a Pony League field out of a hillside. I think it was for free. If not, you can bet Sam connived a clever deal."

"Sam always had experienced craftsmen involved in the LL program. Like Bud Auen, a workhorse; Elmer Rowlands, a carpenter; Jim Patterson, a soil analyst; Mo Buskirk, an electrician and all-round handyman; Ed Motznik and Ralph Spadafore, who used to drag the field, and so many more that it's hard to remember all of them."

"We never had money problems with Sam swinging his fast sales pitch. What a conniver!"

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Excerpt reprinted from The Brookline Journal - August 29, 1985.

Frank Rozzo

Franks Place! How did the name come about? Rose Marie Motznik, who coordinates the gals who "woman" the concession stand, has the answer.

"Frank is such a hyper and super guy," she depicts him. "He's at the stand by 5 every afternoon, setting up the candy displays, filling the cooler with pop, mixing the Slush, arranging pizza, with a helping hand from Dale Cuda, our all-around worker who does just about everything involving Little League or Senior League."

"Frank and Dale are peas in a pod, made of the same cloth when it comes to doing the things that keep our youth programs in a success pattern."

Randy Richards, who manages one of our Senior LL girls softball teams (Ott Construction), made the wooden sign (Frank's Place) that is suspended from the ceiling of our concessions building. Tony Murgi, another Senior LL girls manager (Carpet Discount), made the cardboard sign at our candy counter."

"Frank doesn't leave the stand until almost midnight. He hoses down the floor and outside the stand, puts away all the stuff we sell, then finally locks up after counting the money."

It is said that Frank, at times, may put in more time at "his concession stand" than he does tooling his newspaper truck over the multitude of routes he covers. He's hooked on kids and Little League.

"I love the time I spend with the best group of guys and dolls I've ever known," Frank enthuses. "I'm so appreciative of how good they are to my little buddy Gregory."

"I first got into Brookline sports by helping Chuck Senft with his 'Charlies Angels' boxers for three years. Then I got into Little League in 1975, about the time Barb and I were blessed with Greg's arrival on June 29."

"I was a coach for Bill Wiseman, then Tony Murgi and Jim Spratt. In 1980, I was elected vice-president. It's a real honor to work under a guy like Ed Motznik, a president who seems to come up with the answers to any problem we may have. He's a great guy of vision and really has turned this youth program into something out of this world."

Rozzo stressed help he gets from the gals as the main reason the concession stand is making "moola" that contributes most of the financial aid to run such a vast program.

"Rose Marie Motznik, the prez' wife, and Pat Cambest, her aide and wife of umpire Buddy, really do a terrific job of recruiting help so we can assign two gals each night the stand is open."

"I'm thankful to Mary Ellen Murphy, Sis Walsh, Carmella Matts, Sally Karabinos, Gina Kobistek, Bobbie Belback, Julie Jedlick, Karen Crooks, Lorraine Young, Sandy Musysmski, Nancy Wright, Marlene McDonough, Babe Malkovich and last, but certainly far from least, my Barb. They do any outstanding job of successfully operating the stand, I couldn't do it without them."

"They free me up to do a few things such as umpiring, selling 50-50 tickets and taking a breather to watch my son pitch for Milt Griffin's Boulevard Men's Shop."

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Excerpt reprinted from The Brookline Journal - August 8, 1985.

"They're Just Kids"

He stands at the plate with his heart pounding fast.
The bases are loaded; the die has been cast.
Mom and Dad can not help him. He stands all alone.
A hit at this moment would send the team home.
The ball meets the plate. He swings and he misses.
There's a groan from the crowd. Some boos and some hisses.
A thoughtless voice cries, "Strike out the Bum."
Tears fill his eyes; the game's no longer fun.
So open your heart and give him a break.
For it's moments like this, a man you can make.
Keep this in mind when you hear someone forget.
He's just a little boy...and not a man...yet.

-Author Unknown

Youth baseball is a competitive sport and it is easy for us coaches and parents to get caught up in the excitement of the game. Sometimes we forget that we're dealing with children and that it's the examples we set as adults that help shape a child's future. We ask that everyone remember that it's just a game.

Umpires Need A Little Understanding, Too

The following article was brought to my attention by one of our BLLA managers and a fine friend who has been a player, coach and umpire during his time with our league. It is a good example of some of the lessons that we as coaches and parents, and especially our children should heed. The bottom line is that umpires have a hard job to do and they do it to the best of their ability. Children also have a hard job to do as players, and it is up to us as parents to ensure that they do it to the best of their ability, both physically and mentally. Many of life's lessons can be learned on a baseball field, and below is a touching story of how these lessons should be learned, by both parents and children. Without further ado I present the story of Donald Jenson, a Little League baseball umpire.

It's How You Play The Game That Counts

Donald Jenson was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a Little League game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He continued to work the game, but later that evening was placed in the hospital by a doctor. While being kept overnight for observation, Jenson wrote the following letter:

Dear Parent of a Little Leaguer:

I am an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but on Saturdays and Sundays for fun.

I've played the game, coached it and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring. Maybe it's because I feel that deep down I'm providing a fair chance for all kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments.

With all the fun I've had, there is still something that bothers me about my job ... some of you folks don't understand why I'm there. Some of you think I'm there to exert authority over your son or daughter. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son or daughter to say things that hurt my feelings.

How many of you really understand that I try to be perfect. I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your child to feel he got a bad deal from an umpire.

Yet no matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect. I made a six-inning game today. The total number of decisions, whether on balls and strikes or safes and outs was 146.

I tried my best to get them all right, but I'm sure I missed some. When I figure out my percentage on paper, I could have missed eight calls today and still got about 95 percent of the calls right ... In most occupations that percentage would be considered excellent. If I were in school, that grade would receive an "A" for sure.

But your demands are higher than that. Let me tell you about my game today.

There was one real close call that ended the game ... a runner for the home team was trying to steal the plate on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag, and I called the runner out.

As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parent's comments; "It's too bad the kids have to lose because of rotten umpires, that was one of the lousiest calls I've ever seen."

Later at the concession stand, a couple of kids were telling their friends; "Boy, the umpires were lousy today. They lost the game for us."

The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball skills to young people. Obviously, a team that does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame that loss on an umpire for a call or two, is being given the chance to take all responsibility for the loss from its shoulders.

A parent or an adult leader who permits the younger player to blame his or her failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of that umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster ... rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude is fostering an improper outlook towards the ideals of the game itself. The irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.

As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon. I wanted to quit umpiring. But, fortunately, my wife reminded of another incident that occurred last week.

I was behind the plate, umpiring for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any call on a borderline pitch that was not in his team's favor. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along, and that I was a black-hearted villain who was working against him.

The kid continued in this vein for two innings ... while at the same time yelling at his own players who dared to make a mistake. For two innings his manager watched this. When the kid returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside. In a loud enough voice that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this:

"Listen, Son, it's time you make a decision.  You can be an umpire, or an actor, or a pitcher. But you can only be one at a time when you're playing for me. Right now it is your job to pitch, and you are basically doing a lousy job. Leave the acting to the actors, the umpiring to the umpires, or you won't do any pitching here. Now what is it going to be?"

Needless to say, the kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back the tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said he had learned a lesson that he would not forget.

I can't help but wonder ... how many fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ballplayers because their parents encourage them to spend time umpiring, rather than working harder to play the game as it should be played.

Sincerely ... Donald Jenson, Umpire

The following morning, Donald Jenson died of a brain concussion.

Let's give all of our umpires a break this season and instruct our children that it's how they play the game that counts. Let's teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and also to take life's ups and downs with the inner character that we hope they display in their adult years.

Too Important???

Last but not least, I offer a quote from John Lee. John is a distinguished graduate of the Brookline Little League program, who as a pitcher went by the moniker "Spider." After 16 years as a high school basketball coach, "Spider" Lee retired after the 2002 season. He offered this quote upon retirement:

"Sports has become way too important to way too many people, and for all the wrong reasons. For those who understand, nothing more needs to be said. For those who don't, nothing can."

Having coached baseball and basketball myself for the past several years, I was astounded by Mr. Lee's clarity of vision. There is a dark side to youth sports, and there are a lot of people out there who have to take a good long look at their actions and behavior at youth sports venues. Remember that it's about the kids, and that's it. For those who understand, nothing more needs to be said. For those who don't, nothing can.

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