The Interesting Career Of Buck Lai
May 15, 2022Posted by james

During this month in many communities, including New York City, we are celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. Current Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa is from Hawaii. He is of Samoan, Hawaiian, Japanese and Caucasian descent. Bet you didn’t know, though, that 100 years earlier another native of Hawaii played locally at shortstop and then third base. He just missed his chance to play in the major leagues before influencing the college game, along with basketball, in our area.

William Tin Lai was born in Hawaii during 1895. Known as Tin Lai or Buck Lai, he was the son of Chinese immigrants who had arrived during the late 1800s. Buck was an exceptional athlete. At age 17, he joined the Hawaiian Chinese University Nine traveling baseball team. From 1912 to 1916, the team barnstormed the U.S. mainland, playing against other college opponents in stadiums around the country. During 1918, Buck was signed to participate in spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies. He never played with the team. He was sent to the Bridgeport Americans, a Phillies minor league affiliate, for more training and experience.

Following several seasons with the Americans, Buck opted to join the semi-pro Brooklyn Bushwicks that played home games at Dexter Park in Woodhaven, Queens. On May 10, 1922, the team moved Buck from shortstop to third base. He would excel at the hot corner, earning raves from teammates, opponents, fans and the press. During his time with the Bushwicks, he played with and against many baseball legends, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Buck was given another opportunity to play with a major league team when he was signed by the New York Giants during 1928. However, he never appeared in a game. Several years later, Buck returned to Hawaii to create his own traveling team. The All Hawaiian Nine, simply known as the Hawaiians, consisted of Hawaiian-American players of Japanese and Chinese ancestry.

Following his playing days, Buck became a scout and instructor for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then he was named athletic director at Long Island University in Brooklyn. He coached baseball and basketball at the college from 1949 until 1960. Buck also penned two books that have become popular with coaches: “Championship Baseball” provides the techniques about teaching the baseball skills developed at the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers’ College of Baseball and “Winning Basketball” features the basics about individual skill and team strategy.

William Tin “Buck” Lai is a treasure of the Hawaiian and New York sports scenes. Let us forever celebrate his special contributions to collegiate and professional baseball and basketball.

K’Andre Is Driven On, Off Ice
May 01, 2022Posted by james

There is so much to like about K’Andre Miller of the New York Rangers. Fans like his play in the defensive zone, especially that long reach, and he has displayed several unique moves on offense, too. K’Andre has matured at the pro level in just a few years and he has the potential to become an outstanding NHL player.

There also is so much more to K’Andre than what he shows us on the ice.

K’Andre is driven by playing at his peak. He has always tried to be the guy that teammates can count on in any situation. He takes pride in his reliability and he tries to use this to influence the play of teammates.

The Rangers blueliner is most proud of all the hard work, sometimes along a rocky road, that he needed to employ to get to the NHL. He uses the ups and downs as motivation. He calls himself a workhorse.

The pressure of the NHL, for K’Andre, is addressed through meditation that includes yoga and finding that peace of mind and calmness. This is getting him to his next on-ice achievement—consistency.

K’Andre gets it! He realizes that he has one of the best jobs in the world and loves it. He understands the Rangers history and that wearing the team sweater is both a blessing and a dream come true.

Then, there is K’Andre’s biggest booster. His mother sacrificed a lot for her son during his formative years. He recalled that he broke a stick when he was about 12 years old prior to a tournament. His mom put in a little extra time at work for the money so he would have a new stick for the games. According to K’Andre, she always tried her best to provide him with the best possible life. He connects with her every day through texting, calling, Facetime, or any other available technology. According to K’Andre, mom is his best friend.

The Ranger defenseman is from Minnesota, so New York City has been a big change from Hopkins (population 18,000). He enjoys the social life of the big city, seeing so many different faces every day and experiencing the culture and the style. He also has many more restaurants to sample his favorite meal of pasta.

Even though K’Andre is only 22 years old, he already knows that he has attained a prominent platform where he can serve as a positive role model and influence the next generation of players or just hockey fans.

Football Teammates Became Wild West Buds
Apr 18, 2022Posted by james

The University of Southern California won its first college football national championship during 1928. The Trojan’s success during previous seasons, partly attributed to the big uglies in the gridiron trenches, helped prep USC for that championship season. ”Uglies” had become a term used with affection. By chance, a couple of those trench teammates, following their college football careers, became Hollywood stars.

When John Ford was seeking talent for his 1929 football film “Salute” that centered around the Army-Navy rivalry, the director decided to cast some of the “uglies” as Midshipmen. “Get me that one with the ugly face,” Ford reportedly said as he gestured toward one player who was given the role of Midshipman Harold. A teammate and close friend of the handpicked player worked as a prop boy and uncredited extra for the film. The two players remained close friends for life and together they became huge talents on the big and small screens.

Midshipman Harold’s actual name was Ward Bond. His friend the prop guy was Marion Morrison, better known as John Wayne. They worked together with John Ford again on the film “Stagecoach” and often teamed on other western films.

While John would become an icon on the screen, Ward settled into a prosperous career as a stuntman, toughie, baddie, or ugly. He estimated that he played these roles in about 150 films. During the late 1950s, after two decades of sensational supporting work, Ward finally received a leading role in television’s “Wagon Train.”

Ward died suddenly after only a few years starring in the role as the wagon master on that show. His loss impacted everyone in the business, including his former USC teammate. Their friendship was deep. In his will, as a way to tweak John for his masterful handling of guns in all those westerns, Ward left “The Duke” the shotgun that the star had accidently fired during a hunting trip. With that shotgun, John had injured his friend, one of USC’s top Uglies.

Seeing Baseball With Ed Lucas
Apr 01, 2022Posted by james

This is the first baseball season in 82 years without Ed Lucas. The name might, as with a 100 mph fastball, whiz by you. But, if you have followed the New York teams the last handful of decades, you’ve heard about him, watched interviews with him, or read his articles. A close friend was Phil Rizzuto, who frequently mentioned Ed on Yankee broadcasts.

The New York Giants had just won the 1951 pennant when 12-year-old Ed ran from his Jersey City apartment to play baseball with his friends. He didn’t pitch often due to poor vision (he was legally blind), but he took the ball that day when several other boys had left the field. Without his thick glasses, Ed threw and the batter swung at the pitch. The ball struck Ed between the eyes.

The accident detached Ed’s retinas. His vision continued to deteriorate and he became fully blind on December 11, a day he always associated with the retirement of Joe DiMaggio. Surgery was unsuccessful to reattach Ed’s retinas, which had been weakened at birth due to insufficient oxygen. Mom Rosanna tried to raise her son’s spirits by writing letters to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers with the hope that players, coaches and broadcasters from the game Ed loved would offer encouragement.

Giants’ manager Leo Durocher invited Ed to the Polo Grounds. When Rosanna learned that the Yankees shortstop worked during the off-season at a men’s clothing store in Newark, she and her husband took Ed to see him and to buy a suit. This started a five decades friendship.

To continue his education, Ed attended St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City and then the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in the Bronx. His love for the game remained strong though he no longer could see the field or the players. At the Bronx school, he formed a group of baseball fans who invited players to speak to the class. Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle were among several who visited the students.

Ed then attended Seton Hall University, earning a bachelor’s degree in communications and hosting a show on the school’s radio station that featured interviews with baseball personalities. He also wrote part-time about the game for several newspapers, including The Hudson Dispatch and The Journal. Unfortunately, a full-time professional job in the sports business following graduation did not develop for Ed. It’s not an easy profession to crack even for a cub reporter who could see the game.

To earn a living, Ed became an insurance salesman. He later became a public relations director at Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital in Secaucus and served as an ambassador, fund-raiser and board member of the St. Joseph’s School.

Then, during the 1980s, Ed decided to pursue baseball full-time. Assignments included a weekly radio show on WMCA-AM during the baseball seasons. His contributions to the Yankees’ YES Network website earned him a 2009 New York Emmy Award. The majority of his work was conducted at Yankee Stadium, surrounded by many players, coaches, managers and executives. One of them was Joe DiMaggio, who sat next to him in the press box on opening day of the 1976 season. Joe told Ed to turn off his transistor radio and remove the headset that he always used to follow the games. The Yankee Clipper delivered a personal play-by-play.

From Basketball To The Hollywood Spotlight
Mar 15, 2022Posted by james

Krekor Ohanian, Jr., was from California. His parents were Armenian, with his father an attorney who represented many from the home country who had little money and barely spoke English.

Krekor became an avid basketball fan. He was a good player in high school. Teammates called him “Touch,” because he always liked to touch the ball. Upon graduation, Krekor enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Following the war, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles on the G.I. Bill and a basketball scholarship. He played for legendary coach John Wooden.

Though he had decided to attend law school and follow his farther into the profession, a basketball game caused him to change direction. Eventually, he landed in the Hollywood spotlight. Following one of UCLA’s games, Krekor was introduced to William A. Wellman. The film director liked the young man’s voice and his expressive face as he played the game. He encouraged Krekor to consider an acting career.

Placing law school on the bench for at least a while, Krekor explored the suggestion and found himself taking various roles in films and television programs. Eventually, he would star in a television series of his own, relying on his athletic ability to perform his own stunts despite breaking a wrist and dislocating a shoulder in the pilot episode. His character, “Joe,” was depicted as an Armenian-American. Krekor occasionally spoke Armenian in several episodes and sometimes he quoted Armenian proverbs.

By this time, he wasn’t Krekor Ohanian, Jr., the basketball player or future lawyer. Hollywood fans now knew him as Mike Connors, the star of the television program “Mannix.”

Dad Was Watching Over Queens Hockey Player
Mar 01, 2022Posted by james

We might not see Anthony Greco in a New York Rangers uniform again, but he already has achieved one of his life goals. He pulled on the red, white and blue jersey a few weeks ago in San Jose for his first game with the team he rooted for as a child. He inherited his passion for the Rangers from parents Paul and Mary Jane.

Anthony’s mom and an aunt watched the game from Mary Jane’s Massapequa Park home. Everyone said that Paul watched from above. A firefighter for the Fire Department of New York, he died during May 2020 from illnesses caused by breathing toxic air at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mary Jane was overwhelmed to watch her son fulfill his childhood dream after enduring such hardship. But she never expected to feel her late husband’s presence as much as she did. After the first 20 minutes of the game, Anthony had logged 3:43 of ice time. On September 11, 2001, 343 firefighters died at the World Trade Center.

Anthony signed with the Rangers as a free agent during October 2020. His father knew all about it before he succumbed to his illnesses. As with most hockey parents, Paul and Mary Jane had invested significantly in their son’s hockey career. Paul drove Anthony to games and practices at all hours, and then he moved the family to Minnesota for a while to allow Anthony to attend a prominent school with a hockey tradition. Paul still was an active firefighter at the time, driving back and forth for hours between Minnesota and New York for his assigned shifts with the FDNY.

Except for the one game against San Jose, Anthony has spent his Rangers days with the team’s AHL affiliate. His time in the Rangers spotlight was created by roster fluctuations to address the National Hockey League’s coronavirus protocol. Anthony is the first Queens native to play for the Rangers.

Anthony’s future is unknown with the Rangers and in the NHL. However, he always will have and cherish January 13, 2022, the night played for his beloved Rangers with many members of his family and the FDNY family rooting for him. Plus one more fan—a special husband and father from above.

An Italian Cyclist Who Saved Lives
Feb 15, 2022Posted by james

The world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of January. For more than 75 years, many stories have emerged about the heroes who risked their lives by defying the Nazis to save their countries and to save the lives of persecuted men, women and children. One story that I did not know until recently involved an Italian athlete.

Cyclist Gino Bartali was from Ponte a Ema. It’s a town near Florence. A son of modest farmers, he began working in a bicycle shop when he was only 13 years old. Racing bicycles became a passion. By the age of 21, he was competing professionally. A year later, 1936, Gino won the Giro d’Italia, an annual multiple-stage bicycle race.  He won this race three times along with many other race stages, including the Tour de France. Gino’s cycling achievements on the Alps and Pyrenees were legendary, earning him the nickname “Giant of the Mountains.”

A star on the bicycle, Gino also became revered for his actions during World War II. He hid a Jewish family from Nazi occupiers in his cellar, placing himself and his family at great risk. Gino also became a bicycle courier for the Italian Resistance.

Gino became so popular with the Italian people that neither the Fascist nor the German troops dared to act on their suspicions about him. They did not arrest him for fear of violent backlash from the Italian people. Pretending to train on rides that were over thousands of miles long, Gino saved numerous Jews by hiding them or alerting them about raids on safehouses. He later assisted in helping Jews escape from Italy and into Switzerland by cycling with an attached wagon that contained a secret compartment to hide people. Whenever he was stopped by authorities, he simply stated that the wagon was part of his training.

Gino Bartali’s courage saved hundreds of lives. But, he never spoke about any of it. Upon Gino’s passing during 2000, his son recounted that when people called Gino a hero, he would say, “No, no - I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements. Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I’m just a cyclist.”

We need to listen closely to Gino’s words, because too often many of us, consciously or unconsciously, bestow “hero worship” upon athletes. In this instance, however, during a critical time for the world, just imagine all the people Gino helped with his bicycle. He provided them with the opportunities to live long and enjoy prosperous lives.

Gino was an excellent award-winning cyclist. He also was much more—Gino Bartali Was A Hero!

A Snow Of Support
Feb 01, 2022Posted by james

Maybe you heard about this story from January as wintry weather passed through the northeast. A high school football coach followed a school tradition. His players learned about the importance of “giving back” and the school’s bonds with the community were strengthened through their acts of kindness.

The weather in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, forced cancellation of the team’s scheduled weight lifting practice. But, the team still got together to shovel, for free, the snow from driveways and walkways of neighbors who required some assistance.

In a tweet posted on January 16, Bethel Park High School Head Football Coach Brian DeLallo wrote: “Due to expected severe weather, Monday’s weightlifting workout has been canceled.  Find an elderly or disabled neighbor and shovel their driveway.  Don’t accept any money – that’s our Monday workout.”

A previous coach, Jeff Metheny, started the community activity more 20 years ago. Brian just was following the trail blazed by Jeff. No doubt that the new players, under his guidance and the support of older teammates, quickly learned that there is more to life than football.

Student-athletes David Shelpman, 16, and Aidan Campbell, 17, were among the 40 teammates who moved snow for neighbors. David shoveled for about seven hours and Campbell toiled for about five hours. When he put his shovel aside, David and his mom volunteered to serve a spaghetti dinner for homeless veterans.

Helping his neighbors “makes me feel like a part of something bigger than myself,” said David. “I definitely always do feel good about being able to help others out.”

As the players cleared snow, they enjoyed many opportunities to interact with their neighbors. Education and sports are important to Bethel Park, and Mother Nature’s winter blankets showcases the kindness of its young residents.

Wheelchair Tennis Anyone?
Jan 15, 2022Posted by james

Popularity continues to rise for recreational and competitive sports that engage youth and adults with disabilities. Their training and skillsets are rising, too.

One of the oldest adaptive sports is wheelchair tennis. It has been on the court for more than 40 years.

Dana Mathewson is a top-ranking American wheelchair tennis player. She competes at the U.S. Open. She has represented the country on World Cup teams and she has won a gold medal in doubles and a bronze medal in singles at the Pan-American Games. Dana had been a soccer player, but, at age 10, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease. One day she was running on the field and then, suddenly, she was paralyzed from the waist down. Anyone with a disability or other hardship who plays a sport is, according to Dana, a very resilient person. She sees that resilience and the competitive spirit in many men, women and youth who play basketball, race or ski from a wheelchair, or participate in hockey from a sled.

The rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as for the conventional game. The one exception is that two bounces of the ball are permitted if players require additional time to maneuver on the court. When using the chair, a move to the left or right requires the player to turn the chair and push forward. A player isn’t able to side-step or cross-step.

Players hit tough shots. When on the receiving side, they must quickly steer their chair, often moving in a figure eight, so they can track the ball and position themselves to return a shot. Some of the most talented tennis stars, such as Novak Djokovic and Frances Tiafoe, have tried the adaptive version of tennis and discovered that the game is difficult to play from a wheelchair.

Besides all the routine daily challenges off the court, tennis players with disabilities also face an additional challenge that the rest of us who play tennis, or attempt to play, never experience on the court. A player can blow a tire. When this mechanical mishap occurs at a tournament, players rely on a wheelchair repair technician who is available at courtside.

Mike Zangari is one of the more well-known technicians. He is a wheelchair tennis pioneer. He played for 35 years and he also played wheelchair basketball. At the major tennis events, Mike repairs the lightweight, high-end titanium chairs that cost thousands of dollars. For years, he has joined with young stars such as Dana to showcase the sport and create competitive opportunities for adults and children around the world.

A Child’s Baseball Hero
Jan 01, 2022Posted by james

The following was written a long time ago. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. I also don’t know the name of the child in the story. But, we all know “The Babe.” He was magical. I wish that I had seen him play.

This story about kindness has not been edited.

_______

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last full major league games. It was the Braves vs. the Reds in Cincinnati. But the great Bambino was no longer as agile as he had been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone his errors were responsible for most of the five runs scored by Cincinnati.

As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout after the third out, a crescendo of yelling and booing reached his ears. Just then a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero.

Ruth didn’t hesitate for a second. He picked up the boy, hugged him and set him down on his feet, patting his head gently. The noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. In those brief moments, the fans saw two heroes: Ruth, who, in spite of his dismal day on the field, could still care about a little boy; and the small lad, who cared about the feelings of another human being. Both had melted the hearts of the crowd.

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