By Linda J. Bottjer
Like the song of cicadas and an ice cream truck’s tune, the crack of a bat connecting to a baseball is an undeniable sound of summer.
In Peekskill, starting on July 20, a three-day Old Timers Baseball Celebration will honor the rich legacy of minor leagues in Westchester County, the Hudson Valley, and neighboring regions. Focusing on the period from the mid 1940s to the early 50s, former players of the Peekskill Highlanders and other Class D North Atlantic and Colonial League teams will receive special tribute. Past members, on and off the field, of the New York Yankees – Marty Appel and Jim Bouton – and others will also be present.
Activities kick off with a free welcoming ceremony on Friday afternoon at the Peekskill Museum lead by the city’s mayor, Mary Foster. Memories of the returning players, ranging in age from 83-89 year-old, are sure to spark by the memorabilia donated by baseball enthusiast, event organizer, and part-time detective – Bob Mayer.
“I began hunting down former players of the Peekskill Highlanders,” he said, “to correct and find missing names and stats on team rosters.”
A resident of Putnam Valley, the retired banker’s passion developed into a collection spanning back to the 19th century. As a member of the Society of American Baseball Research, he regularly shares his findings and expertise with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and local historical societies, museums and libraries.
Mayer noted how minor leagues’ rosters swelled with returning World War II veterans and young hopefuls. The dream of “making it to the show” as ascension to the major leagues is called, burned bright with all. Early, televised games of major league baseball soon sounded the minor leagues’ death knolls as fans chose staying at home over paying to see a live game.
On Saturday afternoon, the celebration continues at Peekskill’s Cove Restaurant where John Vorperian, host of the local cable show “Beyond the Game,” will moderate a free player/panel discussion. One panelist will be Marty Appel.
Now, president of his own Manhattan-based public relations firm, Appel’s Yankee affiliation began as a teenager answering fan mail. Eventually, he rose to the position of Director of Public Relations. Seeing the faces of old men recalling their glory days will be a highlight of the event, he said via email.
Following the discussions, the public can remain for the dinner, with its keynote speaker, former Yankee pitcher – Jim Bouton.
A certain fondness crept into his voice as he described minor league’s once colorful characters.
“These were young guys, many with barely a high school education, who arrived very unworldly or sophisticated,”
Today, college baseball programs, deliver in Bouton’s words “homogenized” players to the minors.
“No more do we see a talent like Mickey Mantle come straight out of Commerce, Oklahoma,” he said.
Mantle and Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Joe Pepitone, and Roger Maris were among the 1962 Bronx Bombers when Bouton’s major league career began as a pitcher. While his two decades of play included other teams, like the Houston Astros troubles with his throwing arm sent him several times back to the minors starting in 1968. Driven by the need to overcome adversity, lead him to a short, but successful, run with the Atlanta Braves in 1978.
Bouton’s writing skills also caught the attention of baseball with his 1969 memoir- Ball Four. His behind the scenes look at pro baseball, upset many with its honest revelations while others hailed its unflinching candidness. The book is now available on Kindle. Bouton continues pitching baseballs mainly through the Vintage Base Ball Federation where polite, gentleman-like conduct is a rule, and not an exception.
On Sunday afternoon, baseball’s past will meet present Peekskill Tides’ players and local Little Leaguers teams at a Tides’ game held at Peekskill Stadium overlooking the Hudson River on Louisa Street.
Time spent with these any or all of these boys of summer will thrill any baseball fan -regardless of their years.
Where: Peekskill, locations vary
When: July 20, 21 and 22
Time: Times vary – see Peekskill Museum website
Price: All events free except for Saturday dinner.
Dinner: Adults, $45; Children under 13, $10 (Advance tickets through the museum receive a $5.00 discount)