Fifty-three years ago, back in the summer of 1967, our Little League team the Phillies won the league title. That was exciting as I was small for my age, a middle infielder, just turning 12. It was also exciting to learn that I had been selected to help represent Verona Little League in the PAL Championship Series for Northern New Jersey. I was thrilled to be selected to represent Verona and what a great team we had! As underdogs, we were a determined group of ballplayers, and with our excellent coaching staff, won the championship!
But now the story starts....because of our underdog victory, it was a big deal, so the league provided a great evening and award ceremony at the Verona Theater. Small refreshments provided, speeches, introductions and trophies were to be awarded. The theater was packed, and I was there with my parents. The President of the league announced they will be presenting trophies but had a special guest to help with the honors. He introduced the first American League black baseball player Larry Doby to huge applause. My mouth dropped...wow, a real ball player! The President began and eventually our Phillies team was brought up and our names were announced. I will never forget meeting Mr. Doby. He shook my hand with a big smile, gave me my trophy and said..."..you did alright for a little guy." He patted me on the back with that big smile and made me feel smiling like I was ten feet tall. I was floating on air back to my excited parents.
A little later, the President started speaking about our PAL team and went on about what a proud moment it was for the community to lots of applause. Again, our names were called and again, I went up to receive my trophy. Mr. Doby was really excited to see me climb up on stage. His head went back and laughed smiling, making a fist and bent down to give me a big hug and a smile telling me "You're a pretty big guy now!" I remember him shaking my hand again, gave me my trophy nodding with a big smile, lots of applause, giving me a pat on the back as I left the stage.
I still have those trophies...they mean quite a bit to me. Every spring when the new season starts, I can't help but remember those great memories. The great teams I played on and Mr. Doby. I also remembered how our league was filled with coaches and league officials who really cared about their kids and baseball. As I grew up, married and had kids of our own...I was president of our Pony Baseball/Softball league here in California for 5 years. I am proud to say we accomplished great things, like bussing families to ball games at Candlestick and Oakland Stadium, hosting a barbeque fundraiser with the Giants coming to town to talk and eat with the kids. I even was asked by the Giants to represent Pony Baseball at their Little League day speaking at home plate for 15 seconds. It was really fun to give back to the community as Verona gave to me and my buddies.
In closing, it was a very sad day hearing that Mr. Doby passed away some time back and those memories hit hard. Now this year, it is again very special. As Black Lives Matter, those special memories of Mr. Larry Doby and Mr. Jackie Robinson...let us remember them, the pioneers.