Boys of (Late) Summer

Play ball!

That's a lifelong cry of baseball delight and a clarion call of sports to most of the men of the Sports Club at the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham.

And what better time to celebrate than now, with the Phils in the playoffs?

The club's members — a dozen or so sports-minded guys in their 80s and 90s — have fond to vivid memories of baseball as it was once played in their youth, while the club affords opportunities for the creation of today's memories of the "Game," as baseball is known.

And it obviously helps keep them young.

"Baseball is still the greatest game, even with all the changes over the years in the way it's played and with certain players today like (Barry) Bonds, who I think is a junkie because of the steroids he takes," said 90-year-old Hank Bregman, who played sandlot ball in South Philadelphia when he was 18.

"I was a strong pitcher and hard hitter," stated Bregman, who related he styled his game after home-run hitting baseball Hall of Fame first baseman/outfielder "Hammerin' Hank" Greenberg, who played for the Detroit Tigers from 1930 to 1947, before ending his stellar career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947.

The Sports Club was begun by Abramson resident Marvin Friedman, a former high school basketball standout at West Philadelphia High School. Now 81, the 5-foot-7-inch Friedman played point guard for the team and served as its co-captain in the early 1940s. The Speedboys — as all of the school's athletic teams are known — won often in those years, he said.

Friedman was also an ace pitcher in the Cobbs Creek League, commenting, "I had a curveball that none of the kids my age — I was 15 — could hit."

Of baseball today and with a quiet laugh, he said, "It's still great; hey, more men are ballplayers than scientists."

Friedman started the Sports Club about a year-and-a-half ago with the help of Abramson volunteer director Mona Gold and director of social services Karen Alizzi because he's always had an interest in "both the physical and mental aspects of sports, and as a good way for the men to pass the time, bring back some memories and make us feel good about sports in Philadelphia again. We haven't had much to cheer about lately."

Until now, that is — with the Phillies on the road to the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

Many of the sports club's members attended a Phillies home game this year against the San Francisco Giants on June 4. Although the Phils lost 8-1, the guys said they enjoyed the experience of being at Citizens Bank Park, and that they'd happily return for another game or two.

"It was a good outing, and the Phillies are a young team that's going to win and lose, but I still think they'll make the playoffs this year," said Friedman (prophetically at the time).

Karnac the Magnificent, meet Marvin the Medium. You were correct, sir! "It's been 14 years. I'd like to see them get in the World Series."

Destiny calling? Can you hear him now? "I'm glad someone listened!"

Joe Rothman, 80, added that he enjoyed the game, but didn't think the Phillies would make it to the postseason "because they don't have the pitching." (Not so prophetic!)

Now that the Phillies have won, where you going, Joe? To the nearest TV set! "I never thought it would happen. It's crazy," he said the day after the clinch.

But don't print those '64 — uh, 2007 — Series tickets yet, says the been there-seen the collapses fan. "They'll still have a problem in the playoffs.

"We'll see what happens."

Rothman was a baseball player, who once played for the famous team the House of David, known for the full-length beards — some fake — each player wore.

"I played the outfield for the team one summer all over Canada and wore a fake beard," he said with a smile.

He pitched two no-hitters for Dobbins High School in 1944, and played baseball for Temple University as a freshman and sophomore.

Also at the game that day was Lou Roth, 95, who confessed it didn't bother him that the Phils lost because "our group had great seats, and the whole day was enjoyable."

Roth played baseball, basketball and football for Northeast and Gratz high schools, respectively, more than 75 years ago.

Other members of the club are Larry Barnett, 80; Paul Calesnick, 89; Charles Kane, 84; Bernard Race, 93; Arthur Shaines, 89; Nathan Shavitz, 86; Louis Singer, 87; Isadore Treatman, 84; and Jerome Wolf, 90, who can recite in very rapid order the starting lineup for the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics, better known simply as the A's.

Of his baseball-playing days, Treatman, who grew up in Wynnefield, said that his favorite memory was getting the game-winning hit in a big game in the Fairmount Park League for his team, the Wynnefield Comets, in 1940.

"I was a first baseman and a better fielder than hitter, but accidentally hit a curveball. You know, I can still feel that hit, how the ball felt on the bat," he remembered.

"Did you think I was always only a ladies man?"

"I lived in Strawberry Mansion," said Bernard Race, "and when I was 13 or 14 we used to walk down to Shibe Park, when the A's played there, and if somebody was going in to the grandstand, they could take a child in for free, so we would ask people to take us in. We saw quite a few games that way, but not too many people knew about that. It was around the time of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig."

The Sports Club meets each Thursday afternoon at Abramson. During this past summer, club sessions/discussions on the current events of sports were led "with great enthusiasm and knowledge," noted the men, by Jarrod Cohen, a 14-year-old volunteer, who used to come to Abramson to visit his great-grandmother Sylvia Weiner, a resident there until her death. He became associated with Abramson officially through his grandmother, Gloria Shaw, vice president of the center's volunteer auxiliary.

In addition to going to the Phillies game, another highlight of the Sports Club this year was a visit to the Abramson center by the previously mentioned former major-league pitcher — and one-time Phillie and A's — Bobby Shantz. Once a neighbor of Friedman's in Ambler, Shantz spent an afternoon with the men and brought each of them an autographed baseball.

Shantz, who just turned 82, and plays golf weekly, won 24 games for the A's in 1952 and was the American League MVP that season. He also won the Golden Glove Award the first eight years it was offered, 1957-64.

Did someone say '64? How ironic that had the Mets just defeated the Cardinals one game during their weekend series at the end of the season in 1964, the Phillies, back to winning after a 10-game skid, would have tied the Cards for the pennant.

But, no, the Mets couldn't beat the Cards once. Not once. And, hence, a 43-year-old nightmare that lives still like a frightening Phantom in Phillies fans' hearts.

But given what happened to the Metropolitans these past two weeks, it's a nightmare with some light at the end of the dugout.

Health editor Michael Elkin, a longtime Phillies fan — yes, he was there in '64 (Can you spell Chico Ruiz? The late Gene Mauch could) — contributed to this report from his first-row seat behind the Phanatic.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here