Sports columnist Marc Maturo’s official column
BASEBALL LIFER KEEPS HIS HAND AND MIND IN THE GAME
John Verwoert of New City, a self-described “baseball lifer,” is not just blowing smoke into the wind.
The retired New York City policeman, who was the assistant baseball coach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for 22 years, has now been running the Pearl River Salty Dogs for more than 20 years in the North Jersey Amateur Baseball League (NJABL).
“My wife (Alice) keeps asking me that question: when am I going to quit. I’ll quit when I die, I guess,” offers Verwoert. “Actually, she’s stopping asking. She is – what is it they call it? — a long-suffering baseball wife. It was either visit her relatives or baseball. I chose baseball.”
Verwoert is 83 years old.
“I love it,” said the energetic octogenarian, whose roster includes his grandson, Brian Verwoert, a left-handed hitter and thrower who plays the outfield and first base.
“I enjoy teaching, helping the young kids move on, go to college, but I don’t like managing that much,” he continues. “Everybody complains they don’t play enough. We have 25 (players) on the roster, and can only play 10 with the designated hitter. Baseball players as a group are selfish, but that’s what makes the great ones great.”
Like a lot of youngsters Verwoert, who went on to earn a masters degree at Baruch College, once held dreams of playing big-league baseball. He settled for competing as a semi-pro in Bronx leagues.
“I wanted to play baseball … but time runs out,” Verwoert added, a bit wistfully. “This (managing) keeps me young I guess.”
The Salty Dogs, who play their home games at Rockland Community College in Suffern, are not doing that well in the won-loss column, but not to worry.
“We’re 3-7, not doing so good,” a still-optimistic skipper said earlier in the week. “But we’re developing some young ballplayers. That’s all part of it; making progress, learning the game.”
Verwoert, however, has some veteran presence on the club, led by a 32-year-old pitcher/center fielder – the Dominican College alum Henry Villegas of Haverstraw, who is currently working as a barber.
“He’s out special player, the best player on the team and has been for a number of years,” noted Verwoert. “He never played in the minor leagues, and it always surprised me that no one picked him up.”
Another outfielder is Ben Behlke of Springfield (Mass.) College, who also can be found on the mound.
The Salty Dogs have young talent, too, spearheaded by a new group out of Nanuet High School. Besides his grandson, the manager/teacher hopes to develop right-hand pitcher Brandon Strathy, who is considered a prospect and is bound for Westchester Community College in Valhalla; and outfielder/third baseman Cody Fitzgerald.
“It’s a hard job, but once you get committed, it doesn’t want to let you go,” Verwoert observes. “If I don’t do it, who will do it?”
Good question, and in this case, no answer is necessary.
Dates to watch: June 28-30, annual Crotty/Konkowski Memorial tournament. This event, in its seventh year, will be held at Suffern HS and Suffern Recreation Park to benefit local foundations honoring two Suffern athletes who lost their lives tragically. For more information on the NJAB L, including team schedules, access: http://www.leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp?url=njbaseball
METS, METS AND MORE METS
FATHER’S DAY was especially rewarding for one-time Mets matinee center fielder Lee Mazzilli and his son LJ, who celebrated early at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ MCU Park in Coney Island during a special media day. Mazzilli’s son, a second baseman, was recently selected by the Mets out of UConn in the fourth round of the first-year player draft. The Cyclones, the Mets’ minor-league affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League, are managed by Rich Donnelly, who was a coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986 when Lee played there. Later that season the Pirates released Mazzilli, who then rejoined the Mets for their championship run. Unlike his dad, Mazzilli the Younger is not a switch-hitter. The Cyclones are home June 20-22 for three games against the Aberdeen IronBirds, and for one game on June 23 against the Hudson Valley Renegades. For a complete schedule access: http://www.brooklyncyclones.com/tickets/schedule/?act[v]=graphical&frm[d]=2013-06-01&frm[e]=492 … One-time Mets backstop John Stearns is managing in Class AAA with the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate in Tacoma, WA. The Rainiers’ hitting instructor is another former Mets standout, Howard Johnson, who served 11 seasons as a coach in the organization including one season as manager of the Cyclones. The switch-hitting Johnson had a 14-year big-league career with the Tigers, Mets, Rockies and Cubs. … Suffern HS alum Walt Weiss and Rockland County Hall of Fame member has been waving a magic wand with the Colorado Rockies, who were unheralded coming into the season but continue to wage a heated battle with the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West. The Mets and Rockies will play a makeup game in Colorado on June 27, but Weiss & Co. will be at Citi Field August 6-8, with the game on August 8 set at 12:10 p.m. for those fans who still yearn for the days of afternoon baseball. … Lenny Dykstra, the troubled ex-Mets and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, was expected to be released from a California prison, 15 months into a three-year term. Dykstra, 50, pleaded no contest in October 2011 to three grand theft auto charges and one count of filing a false financial report.
THE SUFFER HIGH SCHOOL girls 1,600 sprint medley relay team and individuals from Pearl River and Suffern earned all-America recognition at the New Balance Nationals at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, NC. The Suffern relay team, consisting of Imani Solan, Kyra Greenbaum, Soraya Theard and Kamryn McIntosh, turned in a runner-up finish with a clocking of 4 minutes, 2.35 seconds. That effort set a Rockland County record and is second-best in Section 1 history. Brian Cook of Pearl River was fourth in the 2,000 steeplechase and Kate Zendell of Suffern ran fifth, both gaining all-America status. Cook broke his school record with 5:56.49, representing the second-best time in Rockland history, and third-best in the section. Zendell was timed in 6:55.16.
NANCY LARKIN of Valley Cottage, Michael Mullin of Congers, Nataliehe Fay of New City and Bobby Gaudio of Pomona were among those honored at the U.S. Bowling Congress Rockland County annual Awards and Hall of Fame Banquet at the Italian American Social Club in West Haverstraw. Inducted into the Hall was 2000 Rockland County Bowling Association bowler of the year Scott Cirigliano of Ridgefield Park, N.J. Larkin received the Lifetime Achievement Award for 25 years of service to the bowlers of Rockland County; Mullin was tabbed Bowler of the Year; Fay was named Senior Woman Bowler of the Year; and Gaudio received the Sportsman award. In addition, Anthony Maresca of New City was named Junior Bowler of the Year.
THIS & THAT
MILLER TIME: Long-time scholastic track and field writer Bill Miller of Pearl River, who turned 90 this week, was honored at a get-together of track scribes at Coogan’s Restaurant in upper Manhattan, adjacent to the Armory Track & Field Center.
RRR KEEPS ROLLING: Summer workouts, conducted by the Rockland Road Runners, continue each Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Pearl River HS. The sessions are geared for all fitness levels, and overseen by an experienced staff that will answer individual training questions before, during and after workouts. The workouts will continue until August 28, but please note that two off-site workouts scheduled this year — at Bear Mountain on June 25 and Rockland Lake on July 23 — will be held on Tuesdays rather than Wednesdays to avoid conflicts with other events at those locations.
JUNIOR GOLFERS have an opportunity to receive a combination of two or three instructional days with local pros, as well as independent play with a parent counselor at several county golf courses, through a program offered by the Piermont PAL. A mandatory information meeting is scheduled June 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the Goswick Pavilion on Ferry Road in Piermont. Cost of the program is $50 per child.
REGISTRATION IS OPEN for Rockland FC, a countywide youth soccer organization for boys and girls U8 through U16. Teams compete in the Westchester Youth Soccer League, reported to be the second-largest in the state. Rockland FC is a local club for local players, and the 2013-14 season includes fall, winter and spring schedules. For more information access www.rocklandfc.com, or call 845-821-7311.
THE RECREATION AND PARKS department in the Town of Clarkstown provides a bevy of youth and adult leagues. For information access http://www.town.clarkstown.ny.us/html/recreation_parks_sports.html.
SPORTS MARKETING CLASSES: National Sports Marketing Network (NSMN) – the trade association for sports business – is offering classes in New York City on June 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bob Cramer, Vice President, Sports Marketing and Partnership Management, Coca-Cola North America, is the guest speaker. For more info and to register call 212-227-1300.