Our sports writers have asked for readers to recall their favorite game or memorable event. I was not particularly athletic, but I enjoy most sports and look forward to reading about what was special to you.
I tried to think of an unforgettable game or race; apparently they were forgettable. I have been to three major league baseball parks, watched Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres games, attended car races at Watkins Glen and horse races at Finger Lakes (Gaming and Racetrack). Nothing really comes to mind.
What I do remember vividly was an era — the opening years of the Geneva Redlegs in the New York-Penn League. I was a young teen in what I call my “coming of age” years — able to know what I liked and allowed to do some things on my own.
I loved professional baseball at Shuron Park. It was Class D entry-level teams that began play in April. This was not short-season baseball, and many nights were very cold. Hot dogs and hot chocolate got me through the game. Norm Jollow would sit at field level, and he and my dad would trade stories. I would sit with groundskeeper John Sotone and usually have several baseballs.
It was 1958. Our team came from Hornell and became a Cincinnati farm club. Dave Bristol came with them as a player-manager. He was the best hitter on the team which finished in second place.
This is the same Dave Bristol who, at age 33, became the youngest major league manager. He laid the groundwork for the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s, and also managed the Brewers, Braves and Giants.
The star of the 1958 team was Cuban shortstop Chico Ruiz. He was flashy and fun, and that description followed him throughout his eight-year major league career, mostly with the Reds.
We watched Bob Risenhoover win 20 games while losing only eight. The big lefty spent five more years in minor league ball and never made it to the majors. Hank Maly was a 50K bonus baby and was pitching in 1958 and ’59 in Geneva. After three more years in the minors, he called it a career.
Outfielder Harry Panaro spent these same two years in Geneva and batted .291 both years, hitting 14 home runs in 1959. Bright future ahead? He played one more season and quit the game.
In 1959, Venezuela gave us shortstop Gus Gil, who could not hit at any level but spent four years in the majors and 16 in the minors.
Venezuelan Cesar Tovar hit .252 with Geneva in 1959 and .338 with us in 1961. The infielder took his bat to the Twins in 1965 and stayed until 1972. In 1961, he led the league in games played (164) and was an MVP candidate. He was the hits leader in 1971 and led in triples and doubles in 1970. Too many of us have overlooked Cesar Tovar’s 12-year major league career.
Pitcher Stan Jones went 19-4 for us, and played 11 more years in the minors. Ken Tuccori went 12-4 and had a future. He only played one more year.
Then there was 1960. We had both Tony Perez and Pete Rose. Two great ballplayers — one a Hall of Famer and one a Hall of Shamer. Art Shamsky was Rose’s roommate in Geneva. He was with the 1969 Amazin’ Mets and hit .300 with 14 home runs. Shamsky has often acknowledged his pro start in Geneva; Rose and Perez never have.
These were special years for a teenager who spent those summers at the ballpark.