August 7, 2011

Moriah celebrates Johnny Podres Day


PORT HENRY — Johnny Podres was once called a "Yankee killer" — the pitcher defeated the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series.

That didn't stop Yankees fans from visiting the Lee House on Saturday to celebrate the local legend.

"I saw a lot of Yankee hats here (Saturday)," said Pat Salerno, Jr., who helped organize the first Johnny Podres Day and plans to make it an annual event.

He displayed his extensive collection of memorabilia from the career of the Witherbee-born Podres, who played Major League Baseball for 15 years, debuting with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953. Podres later served as a pitching coach for several clubs, including the Philadelphia Phillies. Podres kept close ties to the Moriah area until his death in 2008.

Podres' widow, Joni, was on hand Saturday, wearing her Phillies World Series ring and a pendant from a Dodgers' championship.

"We had so many from the community and all over the place that came in to see the memorabilia and the celebration of the town," Joni Podres said. "That's one thing that I always wanted the town to remember is Johnny Podres. So many people came today. It was wonderful."

Salerno said he met people from Brooklyn who were in the area and had heard about Johnny Podres Day.

The collection includes multiple jerseys, shoes that Podres wore, baseball cards and magazines with him on the cover, and many of the items are autographed. The items are usually spread between Salerno's house, his brother Tim's house and their parents' house.

Salerno has been accumulating memorabilia for decades, with the help of Podres. While Salerno was living in the Los Angeles area, Podres, then coaching, would give Salerno game tickets, take him in the clubhouse and introduce him to players.

"So I got to thinking, 'Johnny's so nice to me, I'm going to start collecting,' " Salerno said. "So I started collecting like 30 years ago, and my collection just kept getting bigger and bigger.

"Johnny helped me with my collection because he wanted this stuff to stay in this area. So he would help me with some of this stuff that I would never have access to."

One of Salerno's favorites is a 1950 yearbook from Mineville High School. Podres autographed the cover, and inside he appears along with one of his nicknames, "Honey." Another highlight is a DVD the Phillies recently sent the Salerno brothers that includes footage of Podres interacting with some of the pitchers he coached.

Salerno was pleased with the turnout Saturday.

"At times it was shoulder-to-shoulder here," he said. "That's why my brother and I brought this collection out on Johnny Podres Day — so everyone could come here and enjoy it.

"There's a lot of memorabilia that you really wouldn't see unless you came here. It's like a mini-Cooperstown here today."

Salerno hopes to continue building the collection. He said he searches the internet and even gets tips from people who know he collects, including former players like Curt Schilling. His most coveted item is Podres' jersey from his rookie year with Brooklyn.

Saturday, Salerno sold baseball cards and accepted donations to raise money for a 4 feet by 6 feet sign he wants to have posted at the south end of Port Henry so everyone driving through will know that the area was Podres' home.

Podres loved the region even after he moved away, and his wife said he always remembered everyone's name when he came back.

Joni said the Moriah area was where he felt comfortable.

"I think with all the things he went through on the road and with his popularity being a major leaguer, coming from a very small town like this, it's really hard to get into that — being interviewed all the time, going to banquets and everything," she said. "When he got back here, he felt so relaxed."

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