Dave's love of baseball began at an early age. The trips to Belle Isle, with his maternal grandmother, Grandma Lucy, included excursions fishing together while listening to Tigers games on the radio. He remembers sitting with his mother in the kitchen, his mother carving a juicy summer watermelon, while the Tigers played as well. He also would lay down at night, transistor radio by his ear, to be lulled to sleep by the soothing voice of Ernie Harwell, those nights when the Tigers played late. I suspect these happy memories, and the people who shared them with him, have as much to do with his love of the game as the game itself.
Dave started playing softball as a member of the Green Briars, at about the age of seven. They played on the gravel at Trix Elementary School in Detroit, and aspired to one day prove their mettle and advance to the real diamonds adjacent to Trix on Wishegan Field, as well as on Hielmann field and later Bessie. The ultimate goal was fast pitch hardball and somewhere along the way, Dave's potential as a pitcher was noticed and he began to work hard to live up to it.
Dave would spend hours practicing his pitching on a strike zone he had created on the side of the pagoda that rested in the middle of Wishegan field; rain or shine he spent many an hour there, throwing the ball over and over, honing his skills. He would also be invited to play pickup games with his older brothers, but so fierce was the competitive spirit of this 10 year old that he would become unhinged at any mistakes made by the older players and would scream and chastise them for their errors. Eventually, his brothers' friends suggested that the irritating younger brother no longer be invited to play, as they found it extremely annoying to be coached by someone's younger sibling; a memory that still causes me to chuckle, whenever it comes to mind. He received guidance from many fathers too, who generously devoted their off hours to coaching, and the impact they had on his life and his skills, still lingers with him to this day. The names come to mind easily... their importance in his life that great: his own father, Mr. Carlone, Mr. Cofield, Mr. Masnick, Mr. Vizzaccero and Mr. Haner. I am sure there were others, as well, and I sincerely hope that they realized the importance of all the contributions that they made during those days. So many children, on so many teams, learned lessons from these men that would remain with them with for a lifetime; validating the fact that the time they spent coaching was truly, time well spent.
Perhaps the man that had the biggest impact on him though, was his coach Mr. Pilarski. Mr. Pilarski was the principal at St. Raymond's Elementary school in Detroit, but also found the time to coach baseball, as well. He, himself, had played in the Minor Leagues, and had not only valuable insights to share about Dave's pitching, but also the ability to motivate and encourage him to reach his full potential during the one year that he coached him when Dave was in the eighth grade. It was for the CYO League, and every year since 1965 Assumption Grotto had won the CYO League Championship. There were ten games played that season and Dave pitched for every game but one. After his first victory that season, Mr. Pilarski pulled Dave aside and handed him the game ball from the win. He told him that it belonged to him, and that he knew that at the end of the season he could have all of them, because he was that good a pitcher. His prediction proved correct, and after the final out that year, Dave had the game ball from all nine games that he pitched in; their only loss that season was the game that he missed due to an ear infection. St. Raymond's won the CYO League Championship that year, in 1972, and the victory is still sweet, even in his memory as a man of 54.
This past summer we attended an Osborn High School reunion and I listened as Dave chatted with a man with whom he had played ball with in those days. Their reminiscences were wonderful to listen to, and it was clear to me that those days spent playing ball and practicing, left an indelible mark on both of them. It happened again the other day, when Dave and I ran into another player from those days who had played for Assumption Grotto. He greeted Dave and me by asking me if I knew how great a pitcher Dave had been Once again, the names of those they had played with, and the fathers that spent time coaching them, came to mind easily as they shared their memories of those very special times. It is clear that Dave was not the only young man whose life was impacted by the game, and by those with whom they interacted. Those days are imprinted in their memories and their reflections on them still bring them great joy.
Dave still loves baseball and follows the Tigers. He can recite the names of all the players from every season they won the World Series in, and the statistics and important plays relating to each game. He still rants and raves at the television, not unlike the 10 year old boy who chastised his older brothers and their friends so many years ago, whenever someone commits any error or perceived mistake during the game. The love of the game still exists within him, as well the competitive spirit that is always needed to be a winner.
As I, once again, fold up the tattered shirt, a gift from his daughter Jamie, bearing the statement BASEBALL IS LIFE...the rest is just details, I recognize the reason why he never wants to part with it. Baseball had a great impact on Dave's life when he was young; helping to mold him into the man he would later, grow to become. It strengthened his love of family, taught him the value of discipline and a good work ethic, and the importance an individual can have on the life of a youngster anytime he or she is willing to give of their time. So I guess we will hold on to that shirt until it literally falls apart at the seams, because as with so many men of Dave's generation who grew up on the eastside of Detroit, its words ring true; BASEBALL IS LIFE...and the rest is just details.