More Than Just Another Insurance Guy
Jul 03, 2014Posted by james

Ed Petrazzolo never attended Notre Dame University. But, a few months ago, he was overjoyed to meet Brian Kelly, the head coach of the Irish, during the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island’s 25th anniversary celebration.

That night, Kelly and many others honored Ed for his commitment to his family, his faith, his country and his community. The club presented its highest honor to the 90-year-old one-time athlete and war veteran for “devotion to the ideals and spirit” of the university and for a life that “clearly reflects the values and mission of Our Lady’s University.”

Instead of attending college, Brooklyn-raised Ed fought his way across Europe during World War II as part of the 371st Ordinance Battalion of the First Army. He landed at Utah Beach a few days after D-Day, participated in the liberation of France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River and helped liberate survivors at the Nordhausen concentration camp.

Before the war, Ed had been a pretty good and promising baseball player. He was a lefty pitcher who signed with the rival Yankees, but his sports career, as with so many at the time, was placed on hold for the war. So were his plans for higher education. When he returned from Europe, he made it to the AAA Newark Bears. But, with a first child on the way soon after, baseball at that time would not have been the best career choice to support his family.

So, Ed became a proofreader and he worked with the New York Journal-American for 25 years. Then, he switched careers to enter, of all things, the insurance business. By then, Ed and his wife had moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island. He became active immediately in that borough’s community affairs, supporting veterans groups, youth baseball camps and activities at his local church. Somewhere during all of this he became involved with the Notre Dame Club.

One of Ed’s fondest memories is not of baseball, his newspaper work, or even his success in insurance. Instead, he remembered a chance meeting with a young Belgian student during the war. The student had been deported for civil unrest and then liberated from a camp. Ed assisted him with clothes and a pistol for protection as the student had to walk miles upon miles to his home.
“I went back again 60 years later in 2005,” Ed told a local newspaper, “and located him and spent some time discussing things. He said he had me always in his mind.”

During his travels through baseball, war, the newspaper business and insurance, a commitment to support others became deeply imbedded within the soul of Ed Petrazzalo. It is fitting that such an institution as Notre Dame has recognized Ed for his life-long contributions to so many people.

Jim

Lady Coaches Reach Milestone Wins
Jun 16, 2014Posted by james

You don’t see them on ESPN, nor hear about them on sports talk radio. The newspapers cover their games, but the focus is on the outcomes, the wins and losses, rather than on the coaches. Earlier this year, though, coaches Gina Maher and Jane Morris did make headlines.

Gina coaches girls’ basketball at Irvington High School in Westchester County. On January 31, the 58-29 win against Rye Neck was her 600th career win as a Section 1 basketball coach. No other coach—for the boys or girls—ever reached this milestone.

Though the victory brought a smile to her face, she was humble in the achievement. She quickly turned the focus onto everyone else—to the crowd, to her family, to the team. She claimed she never scored a point and she never grabbed a rebound, but that she was just blessed with longevity and a staff to help build the program. Bottom line, she said it’s always about the kids.

Not too far away in distance or time, Jane reached a personal milestone in The Bronx on February 11. She has been the Cardinal Spellman High School girls’ varsity basketball coach for 40 years and, with a 61-52 win over Preston High School on her home court, she achieved her 700th victory.

Jane, too, reacted in a similar way. She said all the victories meant a lot to the girls and that they all had fun over the years. She regularly meets many of her older players again, and some of them now introduce their grandchildren to her.

Jane has done so much more than coach the girls at Spellman. She was a player for the school and later on, along with two other women, founded the girls’ division of the Catholic High School Athletic Association. Through her work, huge positive changes have come to girls’ athletics since the late 1970s.

It is so wonderful that, over the last four decades, we have seen so many advancements in women’s athletics on all levels. Let’s remember that we still have so much more to accomplish both in sports and in that portion of life after sports known as business.

Jim

Unorthodox Style Can Be Effective
Jun 02, 2014Posted by james

Not much about Abby Squirrell’s game stands out to a spectator. A six-foot one-inch junior forward for Ossining High School’s basketball team in Westchester County, she is a solid rebounder and puts points on the board.

But, when Abby stands at the free-throw line, everyone in the stands notices her. She uses only one hand for her routine—bouncing the ball, putting it in position and then taking the shot. She certainly has one of the most unorthodox foul shooting techniques anywhere in the game. She also is second on the team in free-throw percentage, making seven out of 10 shots.

Abby’s coach explains that the basketball is supposed to be shot with one hand. The other hand serves as the guide. She just took it one step farther. It works for her and as they say, “no harm, no foul.”

But, what would happen, if during a huge regular season or playoff game, the margin of victory came down to an Abby Squirrell foul shot? A lot of people—teammates, the coach, the fans—would cringe, right?

The coach does not give it any thought. She is the team’s second-best foul shooter. They want her at the line.

Just as with sports, a person always can try something a little different, or unorthodox, in business. Others first may look on with puzzlement. But if successful, they will soon mimic or adapt it.

Do you have an idea or tactic that is a little unorthodox? Give it a try. You never know where it may lead.

Oh, and one more thing—I knew I liked Abby when I first heard about her foul shooting. She also happens to be one of her school’s best lacrosse players!

Jim

A Study In Determination
May 16, 2014Posted by james

Last year, Willie Gabay’s season seemed, finally, to get back on track. Then, boom! Bad fortune struck again.

He had just been promoted to the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short season minor league team of the Tampa Bay Rays that plays in Dutchess County, when he was struck in the face with a ball during batting practice.

This was minor setback for Willie. A few years earlier, he had been cut from his high school team. When asked about it now, he just shrugs it off, feeling the high school experience helped to shape his character and make him a better player. After all, now he is playing professional ball.

Willie did play for his community college team. He pitched well enough to get selected in the 15th round (482nd overall) in the 2012 major League Baseball amateur draft. He throws 90+ miles per hour.

The first season in pro ball on the Rays’ rookie team did not go well. Command issues, especially with off-speed pitches, led to an ERA over seven. Willie worked on his mechanics at an instructional league, where he found a familiar face. A fellow graduate from his high school was a top pitching prospect in the Rays organization. He frequently offered Willie encouragement.

As Willie mastered his pitching mechanics, he improved the command of his pitches. Then, he developed a rotator-cuff injury that slowed his progress. Once that was addressed, he debuted in the Gulf Coast League and quickly was promoted to the Single-A Renegades.

During his first outing, after pitching three strong innings, a circulation problem in his throwing arm sidelined him. Right after that, the ball broke his nose. A little later, some good news came his way—the tests on his arm came back negative.

As we get into shape for another baseball season, I haven’t heard anything more about Willie Gabay. I just hope his 2014 spring training and regular season go smoothly. He sure has the determination to succeed.

Jim

Wrestling With Confidence Makes Difference
May 02, 2014Posted by james

Confidence can be a funny thing. When you have it, you can “will” the body and mind to do things never considered possible. When you don’t have it, bad results quickly can snowball.

Rockland County high school student-athlete John Hartnett lacked confidence when he was bounced last year from a state tournament. He lost the first two matches.

“At states…I got knocked right out—like a one-two punch,” he said at the time. “Wrestling definitely showed me that I can compete with these guys—I just have to keep going to a level higher.”

He rebounded earlier this year, upsetting the second and third seeds on his surprise run to the state finals. Though he lost the last match, he realized that training and commitment got him to the finals. It also increased his confidence. He wasn’t done just yet.

“At one point, I was depressed for like three days,” said Hartnett. “I couldn’t talk to anyone in my house, and the only name that kept popping in my head was [that of the wrestler who defeated him].”

In recognition of his overall accomplishments during the wrestling season, Hartnett received a second wrestling life this year when he was selected as a wild-card entry for the New York State Wrestling Championships. He used the invite as an opportunity to redeem himself.

Hartnett and the wrestler who beat him a few weeks earlier, that name that kept popping into his head, each won their first-round matches. This set up a rematch in the 220-pound Division 1 quarterfinals. Hartnett regained his confidence and came away with a 6-4 decision.

The high was short-lived, though, as Harnett lost in the next round. But, he learned two things about himself. He was able to compete at a higher level, and he needed to continue to work hard to hone his athletic talent.

Confidence in sports, and in business, can be fragile at a young age and even when you are a seasoned pro. What you decide to do after you are knocked down determines if you will regain your swagger to compete at the next higher level.

Jim

Reputation Remains When Playing Days Are Over
Apr 15, 2014Posted by james

It was the spring of 1993 when Cal Ripken Jr. was introduced to a skinny 17-year-old kid. The teen would become the overall top pick in that summer’s draft and he had asked to meet with his boyhood idol. They had a brief and cordial meeting. They stayed in touch through the years.

Much has happened since.

Ripken continued to redefine the position of shortstop, proving that big guys could handle it defensively and also hit home runs. He became a celebrated baseball icon and a first ballot Hall of Famer. His dedication to preparation and a vigilant work ethic still are referenced more than 10 years after he retired.

Ripken took pride in representing the Orioles. He stressed that the focus always should be on his team. The many programs and charities that he supported as a young player remain important to the Ripken family legacy.

As predicted, that teenager who idolized Ripken did make it to the big leagues. He became a tremendous player with natural talent, but he also became alienated from many fans and fellow players.

Plenty of scouts said that he was the best young player they ever saw. But, maybe the budding star thought otherwise. Maybe he lacked confidence. Or, maybe he wanted to be greater than great, the greatest of all time, and he thought the only way to accomplish this was to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Alex Rodriguez had the right idea when he idolized Cal Ripken, but his train derailed badly along the way. Rather than following Ripken on the right track to success, A-Rod attempted to cheat the game for his personal gain. He also hurt future players, sending a message to athletes with considerably less natural talent in the minor leagues, on college and high school teams, and playing for fun in little league somewhere that they could grab an advantage by cheating.

A-Rod may still be a productive player when he returns, if he returns, for the 2015 season. He also will collect more money than just about any other ballplayer ever will see. But there is nothing he can do that will repair the self-inflicted damage to his reputation. Maybe he doesn’t care now, but in sports as in business reputation stays with you and your family long after your playing days are over.

Jim

Silver Still Should Shine Bright For Local Hockey Gal
Apr 01, 2014Posted by james

They had a two-goal lead with four minutes remaining in the game. A long shot, actually a zone clearing attempt, clanged off the post of an empty net. Two questionable penalties in overtime set up the winning gold medal goal for the opposing team.

Josephine Pucci and her teammates figured this would be the year to defeat Canada for the Olympic hockey gold. The U.S. team proclaimed that silver would not be a consolation. Unfortunately, sometimes situations do not work out as planned.

Pucci knew that since 2012, when she suffered a severe concussion during a game against Canada. She needed a year to recover. The injury cost Pucci her senior year at Harvard and it forced her to take a long break away from the U.S. national team. The odds were against her to make the Team USA women’s hockey squad.

But, she did it, and the Olympic experience made it all worthwhile.

“It’s been unbelievable,” she said before the gold medal game. “Living in the village is great. It’s cool meeting other athletes from Team USA. So many languages, backgrounds, everybody in one dining hall. It’s pretty cool.”

The journey did not end with the desired gold medal for Pucci and her teammates, but she personally triumphed.

She will not get back that lost year on the ice. She can’t recapture her senior year at Harvard. She still needs to be careful about her health and future head injuries. But, Josephine Pucci made it all the way back against difficult odds to represent her country in an Olympic gold medal game.

That’s someone I want on my team!

Jim

“Bullet Bob” Became “Super Insurance Guy”
Mar 17, 2014Posted by james

I didn’t see Bob Turley pitch in the major leagues. He played from 1951 until 1963. He was with the Yankees from 1955 until 1962, earning his nickname of “Bullet Bob” and winning the 1958 Cy Young Award with a 21-7 record.

Turley won that award when only one pitcher in all of major league baseball was presented with the honor. That same year, he also won the prestigious Hickok Belt that is awarded to the top athlete in all of sports.

Bob’s roots were in sports. So are mine. But not until he passed away a year ago this month did I realize how much we had in common on the business side of life.

After his playing career ended following a season split between the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox, Turley became successful in the insurance industry. He joined with Arthur L. Williams, Jr. and five others to found A. L. Williams & Associates. They advised clients to purchase short-term rather than long-term life insurance and invest the savings in mutual funds. The company became Primerica Financial Services and it later was purchased by Citigroup.

Turley earned considerably more money in financial services than he did as a professional baseball player. He also invested in real estate, purchasing and selling homes on Florida’s Marco Island and in Naples.

At an Old Timers’ Day gathering at Yankee Stadium during the 2010 season, Turley half-jokingly stated that he probably was better in business than baseball.

“It takes a little while when you get out of baseball,” he said, “but all the principles of baseball carry over into business. So, I was highly successful.”

I would add that all the principles of football, basketball, hockey and lacrosse, along with all other competitive sports, carry over into business and into every aspect of life.

Jim

Legendary Broadcaster Recalls His Schoolboy Days
Mar 03, 2014Posted by james

“Although this sounds corny, it’s true: I was born in the Bronx, and my mother actually wheeled me in a carriage on the campus [of Fordham University]. “That was years ago. Little did I know, or she, that God would be so kind as to allow me to get into the Prep.”

Vin Scully, legendary broadcaster for the Brooklyn and now Los Angeles Dodgers, uttered these words a few months ago when he was honored by his alma mater for his achievements in his professional field and for the many years of support for his school.

Following graduation from Fordham Preparatory School, Scully served in the U.S. Navy. When he returned home, he quickly enrolled at the university and he became involved in the beginning stages of FM radio in New York. At the school’s radio station, Scully honed his broadcasting style by calling Fordham baseball, basketball and football games. A month before his 1949 graduation, he landed a job with a CBS Radio station in Washington, D.C. Soon after, he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When he was a student, Scully also played two seasons on the university baseball team. He was Fordham’s center fielder in one game against Yale. The first baseman during that game was George Herbert Walker Bush. Fordham lost and both Bush and Scully went hitless.

“Years later,” Scully said at the award presentation, “I’m playing golf with the president, and we eventually got to talking about the game. I said to him, ‘Mr. President, as long as you’re in office, you can say anything you want about your baseball career (he was captain of the team). But remember, the day you walk out of the White House, we both went 0 for 3.’”

Only Vin Scully could say that to a president of the United States! I would have enjoyed playing in that foursome to hear Scully’s lyrical delivery of that line, gauge the president’s reaction and then enjoy what no doubt had to be a hardy laugh. I wouldn’t be surprised if President Bush often repeats that story. After all, he received a personalized oral box score report from a baseball broadcasting legend.

While Scully has met the cream of the crop in sports, broadcasting, politics and entertainment since he left Fordham, one story that he told at the Fordham gathering tells us so much more about the man—the kid in the stroller, the high school and college student at Fordham, the service veteran and the friendly professional broadcaster. His story began by remembering a day at the prep school when he sat in the auditorium next to classmate Larry Miggins.

“We were talking about what we hoped to do when we finished school,” said Scully. “Larry said I’d love to be a major league ballplayer, and I said I’d love to be a major league broadcaster. And we both kind of chuckled.”

Years later, on May 13, 1952, Scully was behind the microphone in the broadcast booth at Ebbets Field. Miggins approached the plate to bat for the Cardinals.

“It was so hard to speak. The Dodgers had a left-handed pitcher named Preacher Roe from Ash Flat, Arkansas. Preacher Roe was going to face my buddy Larry Miggins, and I’m going to describe whatever happens,” added Scully. “And Larry Miggins hit a home run!

“You can imagine what an emotional moment it was. First, the shock that the ball was going to go so far, then the realization that it’s a home run and I have to talk about him running around, and it hits me—that back row in the auditorium at Fordham Prep. Somehow it all came to pass.”

Jim

A Young Athlete Who Aims High
Feb 14, 2014Posted by james

When Ming Davis was young, his parents placed him in a soccer program. He didn’t like it, but their reasoning made perfect sense. Their new son, adopted from China, was born with a birth defect. He didn’t have a left arm. Soccer, of course, did not require hands.

Ironically, as he began to play, Ming wanted to become a goalie. The goalie is the only player permitted to use hands to handle the ball. Ming was not going to be deterred. He became a goalie.

Now, at 14, Ming can do just about anything he chooses, and some things he does very well. He has medaled when he hurls the javelin and he also participates in the shot put and runs track.

His handicap is not the missing arm. The handicap was eight years in a Chinese orphanage along with emotional and physical neglect.

Ming was in the orphanage with two older brothers. They often escaped, with Ming living under a bridge. He learned to panhandle, drink, smoke, cheat at cards and steal. His early years taught him to fight for every advantage and to overcome every obstacle.

Today, Ming is the acknowledged leader of every youth team on which he participates. He competes hard, but he also works harder during practice than his teammates. He cheers his teammates’ successes with infectious enthusiasm. He also helps coach younger players.

“Sometimes I just think other kids are one step ahead of me,” Ming stated in a newspaper article, “so I have to work twice as hard. I just want to push myself to be the best I can be. I never knew I would be an athlete. I was always the smallest kid. One thing I don’t want to do is give up. I want to keep my grades up so I have a great future. Sports is secondary. Sports is something you do for fun.”

I am not surprised to hear about Ming’s many accomplishments and I know he will have many more in sports and in life. He just knows how to overcome any obstacle.

Jim