Marc Maturo’s official sports column
Half –century doesn’t dim memories of aging batboy
Vietnam veteran Pete Barbieri , a Spring Valley resident since June 1990, sits quietly at a table in the back of a county deli, and turns back the clock, to his days as a batboy at the old Yankee Stadium.
Now 71, Barbieri reflects easily on a life that has not been easily led.
Despite a 10 percent service disability and lengthy battle with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a broken engagement and assorted obstacles, Barbieri points to his first big disappointment when he was an 18-year-old still in high school at Benjamin Franklin in East Harlem.
“I was the visiting batboy in 1959 and 1960, but in 1960 I was supposed to move over to the home side, the Yankees side; (visiting clubhouse manager) Mickey Rendine promised he would move me over,” Barbieri relates in a soft voice suited for a studio. “But Fred Bengis, he got the job. He wore a Yankee uniform on the first-base side, and his father attended a lot of games. I wore the visiting uniform on the third-base side. I was very disappointed, and still don’t know what happened to this day. It was my first big disappointment, not going over to the other side, with the Yankees.”
The disappointment did not drive him to dissatisfaction, however.
“I have fond memories of my time there,” Barbieri emphasizes. “I’m satisfied. I got to the 1960 World Series with the (Pittsburgh) Pirates … met (Hall of Fame second baseman, Bill) Mazeroski, (Hall of Fame outfielder , Roberto) Clemente, (Hands of Stone first baseman, Dick) Stuart, (future original Met, Joe) Christopher. They were all good guys, I liked them all. I have no negative memories of any player I dealt with.”
Barbieri actually got his start as a clubhouse assistant and water boy with the football Giants in 1958, helped by a young Frank Prudente, who was also working the Yankees clubhouse at the time.
“He introduced me as his cousin, that got me in, and it carried into baseball,” recalls Barbieri, who began as a ball boy down the third-base line in 1959.
“During that season I became the batboy without knowing what happened,” continued Barbieri. “Richard Petrocelli, he had some words or something with Rendine, and he left and I took over. I still don’t know what happened. I got the job and that was it.”
Prudente, who also attended Benjamin Franklin HS, said he knows Barbieri very well.
“Pete was a good guy, everything about him,” recalls the two-year Army veteran Prudente, still a Bronx resident, who worked a total of six years with the Yankees.
“I started down the foul line, then went to the visiting clubhouse, then became a Yankees ball boy and finally the Yankees bat boy,” said Prudente. “It was work but it was fun. I was with the greatest team ever. I was at home plate the day (Roger) Maris hit his 61st homer.”
Barbieri, an unmarried father of two daughters (Chantei and Monique), left the Yankees for Wall Street in 1961, working as a messenger, and was drafted into the Armed Forces in 1960 – and there’s a story behind that, too.
“I was drafted at 23,” said Barbieri. “What happened is that I lost my wallet, had to get another (draft) card and the next thing I know I’m in Vietnam.”
The toll of war
The Vietnam experience is indelible to Barbieri, who served in an artillery battery.
“I served 11 months and 28 days,” recounts Barbieri with computer-like precision. “My ears are still ringing.”
Engaged at the time, Barbieri also continued a platonic relationship with a woman in the states, writing to her as well as to his then-fiance. This, however, was not root of his problems upon returning home.
“When I came home I was confused, not in a good state of mind,” he says, in a matter-of-fact manner. “It was tough. I was 130 pounds. I battled PTSD for a good 10-15 years. I lost a job in Co-op City as a locksmith helper because of depression, and went on a welfare program.”
Barbieri, who was still able to care for his mother at the time, managed to move forward and finally land a position with the New York City Department of Sanitation, in 1985
“I waited 11 years for that job, that’s how long I was on the list,” said Barbieri. “I got called when I was 42, but was in good shape. I stayed 21 years – 19 active, with two years for military service.”
During that same period, Barbieri was still fighting depression and took a part-time job driving a cab to fill in the time.
“No, it wasn’t easy, but I managed to get through it,” offers Barbieri, easily, without any hint of bitterness, self-pity, or anger of any sort. “I drove a cab just to get my mind going.”
So, after more than half a century, Barbieri was asked to name a favorite player or two, chose a top memory or two.
“Rocky Colavito (Indians and Tigers chiefly, brief spell with the Yankees) was one of the nicest players,” he recalls. “He treated me so well, but I never had any problem with any player. The Yankees were all nice to me. I have no qualms about any of them. I have no negative memories of any player I dealt with.”
Among his fond memories are warming up legendary center fielder Mickey Mantle in front of the Yankees dugout, and having his photo taken with another legendary center fielder, Willie Mays, at the 1960 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
“Mays was great to me, I have the autographed photo,” said Barbieri. “And Mantle had a good knuckleball! I had to break in a trapeze glove, and Mantle helped me, right by the dugout. But you know, I think Mays was the better player.”
Mays also signed a photo for Barbieri at the 1994 Old-Timers Game at the stadium,, a simple task that Mantle refused while former Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford also agreed to sign.
“He (Ford) said ‘Sure Pete, give me the photo. Mantle refused. You know, from that day on whenever anyone has something (bad) to say about Mantle, I go along with it.”
Besides the long-ago regret of not making it “to the other side, with the Yankees,” Barbieri regrets his failed attempts to attend a game with his old friend Prudente.
“We haven’t seen each other in 50 years. We were supposed to attend a game this year,” said Barbieri. “I think I’m going to have to call him a lot more.”
For his part, Prudente would also like to reconnect.
“Maybe this year will be the year. Maybe we can make it,” he said.
Several Rockland County athletes are helping the cause this winter at SUNY Oneonta, led by high-scoring basketball standout Zach Mager of New City.
Mager, a junior guard out of Clarkstown South HS, leads the team with 23.6 points per game and his eight steals rank third. Mager, who is also pulling down four rebounds a game, hopes to continue his hot touch on January 7 at Dewar Arena against visiting Oswego State at 8 p.m.
On the women’s basketball team, senior guard Kelly Mulligan of Pearl River is averaging 22 minutes a game with 16 assists, tied for second-best.
Tappan Zee HS graduate Charles Garcia of Sparkill is competing at 141 pounds on the Red Dragons’ wrestling team, which competes in the North/South Duals on January 11 at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., 25 miles from City Center Philadelphia.
Senior Danielle Kennedy of Stony Point, North Rockland HS alumna Carrie Small, a freshman, Brittany Cocchieri of Airmont, and Chelsey Christonikos of New City are members of the women’s track and field team.
The men’s track and field team includes Mykel Roche of Spring Valley, and J.D. Roth of Pearl River.
The track and field teams return to action on January 18, with split squads at the Class of ’82 Invitational at Colgate University in Hamilton (11:30 a.m. start), and the NCAA Indoor Select Meet at the New Balance Track and Field Center in upper Manhattan (noon).
QUICK HITTERS: Junior guard Greg Torchon of Spring Valley, a tri-captain on the SUNY Potsdam men’s basketball team, remains sidelined with a stress fracture in his right leg. “They thought it was shin splints at first,” noted Coach Sherry Dobbs. “Hopefully he will be back soon.” The Bears host Manhattanville College on January 17 at 7 p.m. at Jerry Welsh Gymnasium. Charles Nardone of Stony Point is a freshman guard for the Valiants. … The once-beaten Dominican College men’s basketball team and sophomore guard Joe Clinton of Pearl River hosts the eighth James Clancy Memorial Tournament January 3-4 at the Hennessy Center in Orangeburg. The Chargers meet Bentley College at 7:30 p.m. on January 3, and then challenge equally once-beaten Southern Connecticut State College at 6 p.m. on January 4 in the tournament’s marquee matchup. The Owls are sparked by junior guard Luke Houston of Pearl River, a former teammate of Clinton’s at Pearl River HS. Robert Tutein of Nanuet is averaging 6.4 points per game on the men’s basketball team at Utica College. The Pioneers meet Stevens Institute of Technology at 6 p.m. on January 3 in Hoboken, N.J., and stay on the road to meet Hartwick College at 3 p.m. on January 4 in Oneonta.