In a pre-game ceremony prior to Sunday’s 5:00 pm contest against the Oneonta Tigers, the Cyclones paid tribute to the traditions of Sandlot Baseball and to their Brooklyn Dodger heritage by recognizing the achievements and the contributions of a number of individuals whose pedigrees make them terrific role models for the young fans the METS’ Single-A affiliate prizes most. Sandlot standouts like Larry DeVita and Gil Bassetti, St. John’s alum and Archbishop Molloy Head Coach of Baseball Jack Curran, and the guest of honor, Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.
Fans of Lasorda and Curran, the most easily recognizable names (and faces) of those honored, might be surprised to know that for a couple of brief shining moments, the two were among the most highly prized arms in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, a pitching universe that included such bright stars as Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres, and Sandy Koufax. (In fact, it was the ascendancy of Koufax that forced the Dodgers to give him Lasorda’s roster spot in 1955. “And I still think they made a mistake!” said Lasorda with a laugh, to Sunday’s master of ceremonies – WFAN’s Ed Randall.)
Of course, Lasorda went on to make quite a name for himself anyway, eventually managing the Los Angeles Dodgers for 20 seasons, including four NL pennants and two World Series trophies (1981, 1988), thus earning himself a forever place in Cooperstown.
With instant recall that is quite impressive, given that these are the events of some 50-plus years ago – Curran, too, speaks fondly of his Dodger days, and of Lasorda in particular. “He really was a great pitcher. Not a lot of people know it, but Tommy had a fantastic curve ball!”
So did Curran, actually. And after just a year at St. John’s (then located in Brooklyn), he’d already attracted the attention of major league scouts.
“When they first wanted to sign me, though, my mother said ‘You’re not signing anything, you’re finishing school!’” noted the Class of ’52 alum, just 18 at the time.
Like Lasorda, Curran also went on to a life of mentoring young people (an injury curtailed his pitching career), and he’s about to enter his 52nd season coaching for the Briarwood high school. While there doesn’t seem to be even a hint of regret, a great part of Curran’s teaching/coaching involves a continual effort to impart to his students/athletes the notion that opportunities are fleeting, and that nothing is guaranteed.
In fact, on a day tinged with nostalgia, what most got Curran’s Irish eyes smiling this balmy afternoon was the surprise arrival to Section 16 of a young well-wisher named John Duggan. “Do you know John Duggan?” asked Curran, introducing the Molloy teenager around. “He’s a fantastic pitcher. Gonna be a senior.” And at that, Curran and his prized rightie launched into an enthusiastic discussion of the Stanners’ promising Fall schedule, now just a few weeks away.
Because when you’re a baseball lifer like Jack Curran, no matter how many honors come your way, no matter how many opportunities for a reunion present themselves, the season that always seems to mean the most to you – well, it’s the one just around the bend, isn’t it?