Full Circle: Here’s the Pitch
Back then, the Phils didn’t have four aces. Or a full house.

I had a dream. From my milkshake moments at Feldman’s to my burger bliss at Big Boy’s, I had a dream. Other kids dreamed of being doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs. I had a different dream, a special dream. I was going to be, without a doubt, the best left-handed pitcher in the history of the Phillies.

In the dead of winter, when the west wind blew northeast, I stood in my backyard, in the driveway, with a pimple ball, a ball I threw hundreds and thousands of times toward a small, chalked box scribbled on our green garage door. That was my strike zone. I pitched it long, and I pitched it hard. So hard, it made my mother scream.

“Are you meshuga?” she said. “The whole house is shaking. Come inside before you catch your death of cold. Why can’t you build model cars like other boys? Why do you waste your time like this?” That last line got me. That’s not something you say to a boy with a dream. I stayed out longer. I threw even harder. I never caught my death of cold.

Winter moved like an old man at a salad bar. Then came April. There were buds on the trees and dew on the daisies. That only meant one thing. Spring was finally here, and baseball, like pollen, was in the air.

We would celebrate, my father and I, by doing what I loved most. We would go to Connie Mack Stadium, where the grass was as green as Easter basket cellophane, where the bases were as white as Bond powdered doughnuts.

We would watch our team. Through the good days and the bad days and the really bad days. Sure, I loved a good triple in the alley like the next kid. But I would go to watch the pitchers. Robin Roberts won games. Curt Simmons lost toes. And then, there was Saul Rogovin.

The Phillies pitching staff then consisted of two aces, one jack and a two of diamonds. We always bought tickets hoping for an ace. We always drew the two. It’s like they called Saul Rogovin at home. “Saul, that Levy kid is coming to the game today. Can you be ready?”

As a professional ballplayer, a trade then ranked only slightly above used car salesman, Rogovin had cups of coffee with the Giants, the Tigers, the Orioles and the White Sox, where he would lose his job when he was caught sleeping in the clubhouse during a critical game against the Yankees.

His long road back would land him with the Phillies, where he played part of three seasons, and was soundly booed for most of them. The thing about Rogovin was not so much his pitching, but his pace. He pitched with all the urgency of a PTC bus on Cottman Avenue. His outings, especially in the heat of the summer, were torturous and costly. Not so much to the team, but to those in the stands who had to buy sodas just to stay awake.

But, like it or not, Saul Rogovin took the ball just about every Sunday. He stood on that mound, strong and tall, mean and lean, and used the limited skills he had to earn a living. Most fans booed. I looked closer. Maybe there was something to this. Do the best you can with what you have. That was the lesson I learned from Saul Rogovin.

For those of us who couldn’t throw a baseball 95 miles an hour, it was a very good lesson. I knew I’d never be Roberts or Simmons. But maybe, just maybe, I could be Saul Rogovin. If I worked real hard and threw all day, maybe I could make the majors. A kid can dream.

April 2011
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