Oct 01 2019

Where Young Patients Can “Just Be Kids Again”

Tim Tebow made a splash on the college football field but he has not enjoyed the same success on the professional football and baseball levels. His good and open heart continues to beat strong, however, and this includes his work with ill children.

Earlier this year, the Tim Tebow Foundation opened its 10th Timmy’s Playroom. This new playroom is located at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, a children’s hospital in Florida. The space allows kids to escape from their medical conditions and enjoy life. Tim gives children in hospitals a chance to “just be kids again.”

“Hopefully, it can bring a brighter day for so many in their darkest hour of need,” Tim said in a video posted by AdventHealth. “That is our goal, to encourage and uplift people, especially when they’re going through such a tough time…”

The playrooms include a football field floor, specialized lockers for seating, tables for arts and crafts, flat-screen televisions, video games, toys, interactive games and other activities. The playrooms also display Tim’s favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

The foundation’s mission delivers faith, hope and love to pediatric patients and their families. The playrooms are “creating a space where children can heal in a very unique way,” according to the foundation. Timmy’s Playrooms can be found at other hospitals in Florida and at hospitals in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and the Philippines.

Each playroom has been recorded as a huge touchdown in all the scorebooks. Tim Tebow certainly is a star off the field!

Aug 01 2019

The Seawolf Who Became a Met

The New York Mets bullpen has been a huge problem, one of several, the last few seasons. No matter which pitcher is brought into a game, players, coaches, the manager and fans have held their collective breaths and crossed their fingers, hoping to salvage a win.

Daniel Zamora has spent some time in the Mets bullpen. He throws sliders. He continues to work to control his fastball. To start his major league career, he won several battles against the game’s premier players, including Bryce Harper.

Daniel grew up in California, but he didn’t have many opportunities to play for a top-tier college team. Drafted out of high school by Toronto in the 27th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft, Daniel opted for college through a connection between his high school coach and then-Stony Brook University pitching coach Mike Marron.

While playing Division I ball at Stony Brook, Daniel was drafted by Pittsburgh in the 40th round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft. The organization didn’t move him through the system, so he was traded to the Mets. Within less than a year, he got the call to the big club, becoming the first Stony Brook Seawolf to play in Flushing.

Daniel’s trip to the big club was a proud moment for Stony Brook. The university’s director of athletics, Shawn Heilborn, said Daniel’s journey proves that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.

Over the last two seasons, Daniel has made a few round trips between the Syracuse Mets, the organization’s top minor league squad, and Queens. Right now, he is toeing the rubber in northern New York. Daniel hopes to receive another call-up soon, stating that the most exciting moment is when the phone rings and your name is called to join the big club.

May 01 2019

The Athletic Talent Of “A Little Fat Man”

He was athletic during his boyhood years, playing sandlot baseball and basketball. Then, during his late teens, he got into the ring under the promotional name of “Lou King.”

It is not known if the young man would have continued to pursue a successful boxing career. The plan unraveled soon after his Uncle Pete brought the boxer’s father to see “this new kid in the ring.” The next morning, the father waited for his son to arrive at the breakfast table. Then, he lowered his newspaper and greeted his son with “Good Morning, LOU KING!”

So, the young man concentrated on basketball. He loved the game and played on a semi-pro team in Paterson, New Jersey. During an exhibition game against the Boston Celtics, Lou defended against Nate Holman, later a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He held Nate to a few points and outscored him.

Though he was small in size compared to the other players, many teammates recalled that Lou was fast on his feet and performed foot and basket-throwing maneuvers similar to players for the Harlem Globetrotters. He even won a 1926 shooting contest with 24 baskets out of 25 shots.

Years later, after he had moved away from sports to build a successful career in the entertainment field, Lou’s athletic talent was featured in hit films such as “Buck Privates,” “Here Come the Co-eds” and others. He was so skilled that the directors never substituted a stuntman for his boxing and basketball scenes. But, for “Co-eds,” Universal Studios did hire a renowned basketball star to stage a game for the cameras. This star also “coached” the gifted athlete in a condescending manner. The entertainer played along, asking, “How do I hold the ball?” and “Can’t I throw the ball from here?” The basketball star just smiled indulgently, then stared unbelievingly as the actor tossed a perfect shot into the basket!

According to “Co-Eds” writer Edmund Hartmann, “a little fat man is the last guy in the world you’d expect to be an athlete.”

That little fat man was comedian Lou Costello, who, by the way, made it all the way to Cooperstown with partner Bud Abbott and their hilarious routine about baseball.

Dec 02 2018

Let’s Go Mets! - An All-Star Hospital Visit

Michael Conforto, the young Mets all-star outfielder, always prefers to lead by example. He does this on and off the field.

Michael completed the first from the time he started to play baseball. His leadership has continued during his first several years in the major leagues. Now, he is expanding the second by extending his relationship with the Mets community.

This past season, Michael visited The Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital and its Children’s Medical Center in Mineola. “Conforto Cares” is Michael’s program that raises awareness about pediatric cancer and the challenges faced by its young patients.

For a while, “Conforto Cares” regularly had hosted young patients and their families at the Mets Citi Field home. Michael, however, decided that he also wanted to visit the youngsters at their temporary home where they receive their daily treatments. This past summer, during the first of many visits, Michael distributed Mets t-shirts to the patients and family members. He also provided pop-up replicas of the Mets home-run apple. Autographs and photos, of course, were a popular feature with the kids.

Back at the ballpark, whenever the children and their families visit, Michael and the Mets string together a series of hits for a memorable day. Their guests receive a tour of the stadium and the Mets clubhouse. They learn about scoreboard operations, and this includes seeing the magic button that raises the authentic home-run apple in centerfield. The children also practice their swings in the batting practice cages. Then, it is time for lunch with Michael.

Michael’s goal is to help these children forget about the rigors of their treatments and just enjoy themselves as kids. “Conforto Cares” is a grand slam!

Oct 01 2018

An Autograph And A Cherished Memory

The boy was 12 years old when his father took him to Columbia, South Carolina, to watch an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. The father was a Cardinals fan, because throughout the south during the 1940s the games were heard loud and clear on KMOX out of St. Louis.

The son was excited to see “Stan the Man” Musial. After the game, as Stan was boarding the team bus, the boy asked and received the outfielder’s signature, the only autograph he ever had requested from a baseball player.

The talented young infielder eventually played professionally with his favorite team (the Yankees, not the Cardinals). For a few years, he was the teammate of another Cardinals star, Enos “Country” Slaughter, when the outfielder was traded to New York.

When Enos died 16 years ago, the Slaughter family asked his former Yankees teammate to participate in the memorial service. Stan was there, too. They had become acquainted over the years from their participation in Old Timers’ Games. Following the service, the younger “old timer” mentioned the chance meeting so many years earlier in Columbia. He added that the brief moment and the autograph meant a lot to a youngster yearning to play in the big leagues. Stan was surprised to hear the story, adding that he sure was glad that he had not disappointed his now fellow “old timer.”

When the boy had become a major leaguer, he regularly recalled that special day in Columbia. He signed as many autographs as possible. To this day, his autographs showcase his best penmanship, allowing for his name to be completely readable unlike contemporary players who mostly, he said, write a letter or two followed by a squiggle. He understands that a simple signature and a brief moment with a professional athlete is a fantastic memory, especially for a young boy with major league dreams.

If you were a Yankees fan during the 1950s and 1960s, you will recognize the name of the all-star infielder. He left the game too early but did so to return to South Carolina to raise his family. That young boy, that Yankees infielder, that family man and now “old timer” is Bobby Richardson.

Sep 02 2018

Slugger Finds His Fields Of Dreams

Carlos Cruz was the leading slugger on his Queens College baseball team. He then played professional ball in England. Though he never made the leap to the major leagues, Carlos found a way to remain involved in the game.

When Carlos was at college, he sold one of his gloves to a teammate for $100. With that money, he purchased additional gloves. He customized the gloves by adding extra padding and other features, and then he sold these gloves to friends. Carlos landed a human resources position at a large Long Island company when he returned from England. At the same time, he built his small baseball glove business through word of mouth. He created his own brand and sold uniforms along with the gloves. Soon after, he added wooden bats.

Carlos is from Panama City. When he arrived in Queens at 13, he was a good player and starred as a catcher for Newtown High School in Elmhurst. Now, he is starring in his business that is located in a Bronx industrial building.

From the start, Carlos understood that he could not compete with the marketing and production of larger companies. His plan was to make inroads locally through solid customer service. To accomplish this, he has relied on family. His sister helps with the bats. His wife designs uniforms. His nephews help with deliveries.

The seed for this success and for family support was planted years ago. Carlos’ mother struggled financially but she found $39.99 to purchase a glove for him at a Caldor store so he could play the game he loved. Back then as a player and now as a business owner, Carlos found his two fields of dreams.

Jul 15 2018

Sports Opened His Door To The World Of Art

Mort Kunstler lives on Long Island’s north shore. He’s made his professional mark in life as an artist of American history.

Mort began drawing before the age of three. He has sketched cowboys and other characters of the Wild West. He then painted book jackets and cover art for men’s adventure magazines before moving into an advertising career to create movie posters that included The Hindenburg, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and The Poseidon Adventure. Mort also painted historical scenes for National Geographic and other magazines before he emerged as one of the most prominent painters of American history.

A few years ago, Mort decided to retire. He was 89 at that time. But, one more project required his touch. It was a Civil War scene. The image combined the war with sports, specifically baseball, which has been a significant part of Mort’s life since childhood.

Mort grew up in Brooklyn and his uncle often brought him to Ebbets Field. He painted images of the players from the 1940-1942 teams, and the players signed his creations. At about this same time, sports began to open the doors of opportunity for this artist.

Mort first attended Brooklyn College, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and running track in the spring. He also was a regional star in the hurdles and javelin while also a diver on the swim team. He was the first four-letter man in the school’s history. Mort then attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship but he returned to New York before graduation after his father became ill. When he could not enter Pratt Institute due to poor high school grades, Mort’s Brooklyn College basketball coach spoke with the Pratt coach. Mort was admitted to study art.

While Mort played many different sports, he always truly loved baseball. He always wished that he had played it more often than just in pickup games during his younger days in Brooklyn. He did find a way, though, to memorialize his affection for the game in his final work of art.

Mort completed The National Game: White House, November 1862 more than a year ago. He initially thought that the setting for the Civil War-era baseball game should be a Union prison camp with Confederate prisoners playing against their Yankee guards. But, as he began the extensive research that he has incorporated into each of his historical paintings, Mort discovered a book that described soldiers who were bivouacked in Washington and played the game on the White House lawn. In his painting, with the White House in the distance, Mort features pretty women in beautiful gowns and kids who are enjoying the game. The scene suggests a life of normalcy during a hectic and cruel time in our country’s history.

No doubt that Mort probably placed himself within the historical context of the painting. Maybe he is one of the players, or maybe he is the young boy enjoying the game he has always loved.

May 15 2018

A Coach’s Advice Leads To Medical Career

Nicholas Testa was a professional baseball player but the name won’t be familiar to you. He played just one inning of one game on the major league level with the San Francisco Giants during 1958. He never came to bat. Nicholas then played one season in Japan.

Jeff Gilbert remembers Nick. Not as a player but as a college coach. The greatest game of Jeff’s baseball career occurred on April 1, 1969. He was the starting pitcher for the Lehman College freshman baseball team. The opposing team was from C.W. Post.

Jeff got through the first inning, giving up a hit and walk. In the second inning, Post knocked seven consecutive line drive hits off him. That’s when Lehman’s coach, Nick Testa, walked to the mound.

“Son,” said Nick, “what is your index? Jeff answered 3.9. Nick then asked another question. “What is your ERA?” Jeff answered about nine. Nick responded: “When your index is near four and your ERA is more than double your index, it is best that you go home and stick to your studies.”

Jeff never pitched again. Instead, he studied and became a doctor. Then, he reconnected with his coach 10 years later.

Jeff was 27 when he became friends with Mickey Rivers of the New York Yankees. Mickey invited Jeff into the clubhouse one day during the 1979 season. Despite all the noise in the crowded locker room, a familiar voice filtered through to Jeff’s ears. About 15 feet away was Nick Testa. He was working for the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher.

Jeff approached Nick as he was pulling on his socks and offered to shake his hand, calling him Mr. Testa and indicating they had not seen each other in years. Nick asked, “Do I know you?”

Jeff reminded him of the mound conversation a decade earlier. Nick quickly recalled the discussion and then wanted to know why he was in the Yankees clubhouse. At first, Jeff tweaked his old coach a bit by telling him that he had been called up from the minors to pitch that night’s game. Then, he quickly added that he was joking, that he was a physician and a friend of the team’s centerfielder.

For the next 34 years, Nick always claimed credit for Jeff’s career as a doctor. In a way, according to Jeff, Nick was right.

Apr 15 2018

Hall Of Famer Cheers On Vets

Entering a hall of fame is a wonderful achievement and honor. I have had the pleasure on several occasions. The honor—for sports, for business, for community service, or for other achievements—is the acknowledgement from peers that your preparation, your training, your work ethic and your commitment will remain in the spotlight for others to emulate.

The Westchester Sports Hall of Fame inducted a new class of athletes, coaches, officials and broadcasters late last year. One of the inductees was recognized for his sports career and also for his commitment to help others.

Paul Natale coached baseball, football and soccer at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose. His baseball teams won Section 1 titles during 1976 and 2000 and he recorded 500 wins. His soccer team reached the state final for the 1988 season. The football program’s success peaked during 1999 but lost to the eventual state champion that season. During a 42-year career as a coach and teacher at Hen Hud, Paul achieved a lot on the field. He accomplished a lot more for the many students who passed through his classroom.

Paul has been retired for several years. His sports and teaching assets presently cheer for handicapped veterans and former soldiers battling post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. Paul is a volunteer adaptive physical education coach at several Veterans Affairs hospitals. Coaching veterans in anything from softball to basketball to touch football has allowed Paul the opportunity to take a different view of his life.

Before Paul’s coaching and teaching days, he was a Vietnam War draftee. He served two years but was never in a fight. Paul often recalls his college fraternity brothers who never came home. He believes that his commitment to today’s soldiers is a proper salute to his college friends.

This is a life that others surely will want to emulate.

Sep 17 2017

No Names (Of Course) Until Now

Baseball purists have battled with the changing times and the changing rules for decades. Early on, the game classified a walk with nine balls, then six balls, to five balls and then to the present four balls. During more recent times, the purists have fumed over artificial turf, domed stadiums and the designated hitter rule in the American League. This season, many have said that baseball should not have changed the intentional walk rule.

Another contemporary, albeit temporary, change occurred on the weekend of August 25-27. It was a change that certainly did upset some of the purists who happen to be Yankee fans. For 115 years, the backs of the home pinstripe and road gray jerseys worn by the New York Yankees either were blank or showcased only a number. The last names of players never were added across the shoulders—until now!

On this specific summer weekend, Major League Baseball promoted its “Players Weekend.” The players were invited to replace their last names on jerseys with their nicknames so “personalities shine through.” All the team uniforms also featured unique colors and designs.

For this event, the Yankees ventured into uncharted territory. The franchise for the first time placed player names, the nicknames, on the backs of its jerseys. After the weekend, all the jerseys from each MLB team were donated with 100 percent of the proceeds supporting baseball’s Youth Development Foundation. The organization focuses on improving the caliber, effectiveness and availability of amateur baseball and softball programs across the United States and Canada.

Here are some of the nicknames that Yankee players placed on their jerseys:

· Aaron Judge: All Rise

· Aroldis Chapman: The Missile

· Dellin Betances: D-Dawg

· David Robertson: D-Rob

· Chad Green: Greeny

· Sonny Gray: Pickles

Having a little fun and raising money for a worthy cause in any line of work is all good. In the baseball world, even many Yankee purists enjoyed the promotion. But, they also were glad when the traditional team uniforms returned for the game against Cleveland on August 28.