July 15, 2013

It's like old times for CVBL alumni


---- — The stories were flowing faster and with more flavor than the refreshments at the Lyon Mountain American Legion home last Tuesday.

The occasion was a gathering of more than 30 Champlain Valley baseball alums eager to replay some of the highs — and lows — of the game from the 1930s to the 1980s, a period often referred to as the Golden Age of Baseball in the North Country.

Star athlete-turned-author Bob Garrow was on hand to update the diamond diehards on the history of the game. Ves Pivetta and Ev Ezero shared emcee duties and then went around the horn with attendees sharing some memorable moments in local baseball history.

Timmy Snow led off, recalling how once in Cadyville he touched up Muggsy Favro for 3 tape-measure home runs, with the longest travelling just over 250 feet. Timmy never passed up a chance to torment the good-natured Muggs until one day Favro had had enough of the AuSable agitator.

“Timmy, you can put your home runs together end to end and they still don’t come close to matching the one George Kurz hit off me that day,” Favro shot back. Kurz’s clout was said to have cleared the yawning elms in deep center before landing in the next county, some 490 feet away.

Speaking of orbital shots, someone asked Carly Rounds if he remembered his longest home run. “I don’t know,” the Miner mauler quipped. “It hasn’t landed yet.”

For sure there was a lot of country hard ball and blarney served up last week and just the mention of the late Terry Brunell brought to mind some magnificent memories. The former player-coach of the Altona Hornets was in the twilight of his career and had not been playing much. But he had seen enough of his team’s futility this day to swing into action.

“Geez-- to Geez--, give me the damn bat,” huffed Terry as strode to the plate in casual dress and street shoes. He promptly whacked the horsehide into the gap in left center and sped to first before giving way to a pinch runner. “There you guys, that’s the way to do it,” chided Brunell.

Families always have been a great part of town-team baseball and the clans were well-represented last Tuesday — the Kowalowskis, the Dupreys, the Rocks …

“With all the Dupreys around, I don’t know how I ever managed to start for Peru,” joked Gary Barber, who starred for Peru in the seventies and the AuSable Forks Spirits in the eighties.

Shock and Awe

Barber, known for his power, pulled off one of the most amazing feats, stepping to the plate in Peru with the title on the line and the winning run on third. The Lyon Mountain Miners had their backs to the fence, for sure.

But, lo and behold, the big fellow lays down a perfect bunt and is quickly on his toes digging to first before the dazed Miners. It went down as the first walk-off bunt.

“It was the only time I ever bunted in the CVBL and the only one who knew beforehand was (teammate) Mike St. Louis,” revealed Barber.

Touching all bases

Fuzzy Fesette, who confessed to not being much of a ballplayer, but who was regarded as a darn good umpire, let everyone in on one of the worst-kept secrets — how St. John’s Academy for years mined the considerable baseball talent in Lyon Mountain. Recruiting was right up there with spitballs, spike wounds and the like, but little could be done to stop the stream of arms and legs out of the hills...

Mike Perry, who toiled briefly for Saranac before going on to a distinguished career with the U.S. Marines, recalled a valuable lesson he learned from Bob Garrow. Perry related how he had once whiffed PHS star Jeff Burns with 3 fastballs. The two would meet again in Mineville that summer and Perry, up 0-2 in the count, figured he would go with a curve, which the soon-to-be Minnesota Twins prospect promptly deposited in Port Henry. Burns had barely left the batter’s box when Garrow charged the mound, going chest to chest with his pitcher, Perry. “How many times have I told you to go with your best,” yelled Garrow.

The lesson apparently was not lost on the hard-throwing Perry.

“Years later, I faced a similar situation against a guy from the Air Force in the service playoffs and I didn’t forget what Bob had said. I came back with a fast ball and struck him out.”... 

No reunion would be complete without a Tom Kowalowski story. The Lyon Mountain legend of the early sixties made it to Class AA ball with the Yankees at a time when there were six classes of minor-league baseball (AAA to D). however, a twist of fate and injuries intervened to cut short Tommy’s path to the big show.

He was still a force to be reckoned with in the mid-seventies. There was too much talent and not enough openings in Lyon Mountain at the time, prompting the formation of a second entry — aptly named the Lions — with Ves Pivetta and Bill Durnin in charge of the upstarts. The two teams were to meet for the first time when eagle-eye Pivetta spotted Tommy K arriving at the ballpark early. Ves plied Tommy with a couple of beverages and a dish of his infamous Pivetta pasta, hoping to compromise Kowalowski for the main event.

Later, Ves was still taking his bows when up steps Kowalowski in a pinch-hitter’s role. Tommy did get the last laugh, hammering a long home run, just as Pivetta’s idol, Mickey Mantle, would do a few times in his storied career.

As the afternoon wound down last week, Pivetta called on everyone to take note of a road sign a few miles out of the town, stating simply: Dannemora 8 Lyon Mountain 3.

“There should be a line attached to it,” insisted Pivetta, “saying ‘This is not a baseball score. Dannemora never beat Lyon Mountain in baseball.’’’

The attendees

Everett Ezero, Bill Durnin, Sr., Bob Way, Bob Garrow, Earl Couture, Wayne LaBarge, Harlin Rock, Jim Kowalowski, Rollie McGee, Elmer Duprey, George F. Kurz, Lee Yaeger, Fuzzy Fesette, David Benjamin, Tom O’Neill, Barry Ano, Buck Badger, Harry Duprey, Dave Drown, Richard Chase, Richie Daul, Pete Keenan, John Zerrahn, Don Duprey, John Rock, Ves Pivetta, Bernie Stewart, Mike Perry, Don Nichols, Jim Shutts, Ronnie Chase, Gary Barber, Tim Snow, Doug Rombach, Gary Butler, David Duprey and Tom Kowalowski.