By Father Gabe Costa
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For most kids who loved baseball – and who didn’t? – growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey in the late 1950’s meant one thing: you were a Yankees fan.
When the White Sox or the Indians came into the Stadium, The House That Ruth Built resounded with boos for the visitors. That is, except for one player: Johnny (Honey) Romano. Hoboken’s own All-Star catcher was always cheered by people from the Mile Square City!
I’ll never forget the time Romano visited the Little League field in Hoboken. I must have been twelve years old. I didn’t talk to him…and I was too far away to get an autograph…but I remember thinking, “Gee, this guy plays in the Major Leagues…he’s the catcher when Mickey Mantle is hitting…he bats against Whitey Ford…wow!!! A Major League player!”
Well, fifty years later, the feeling hasn’t changed much…at least not for me. A few months ago, former Mets ballplayer, Rico Brogna, graciously agreed to address students taking my course on sabermetrics. When I first met Rico, I was pretty much thinking, “Gee, here’s a guy who played with the likes of Todd Hundley and Bobby Abreu…a Major Leaguer!” (Note that Brogna’s career can be referenced by following this link).
Brogna was born the year I graduated from college, making me twenty-two years older. I found him to be friendly and very interested in the school. As I showed him around the campus, it was clear that he was specifically concerned with the education of the students and indicated that his future goals included being involved in some form of education and/or coaching. I furthermore learned that, as a high school senior, Brogna had been recruited for two sports: baseball and football.
As far as the actual class went, during the 55 minute period, which was also attended by a number of faculty and staff, Brogna was superb! He spoke in a humble, self-effacing way. More than once he mentioned how thankful he was to have been able to play baseball for a living. It was particularly interesting to hear his comments about loving to play doubleheaders and how sad it would be for him as the season drew to a close. This man loved to play baseball!
Brogna’s personable approach made for a comfortable “classroom” atmosphere. He invited any and all types of questions. He shared a story about Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson and how the manager once got so frustrated on the bench during a game that he accidentally nearly drenched himself with water. Brogna also mentioned how Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, would caution retired players never to forget how hard it is to play the game of baseball.
I asked Rico if the current players are aware of the towering figures of the past, like Babe Ruth, and the impact these players had on the game; Brogna assured me that they were.
The class period flew by. All who attended the class were struck not only by what was said but also by who was saying it. Rico hit another home run!
I still keep in touch with Mr. Brogna; from time to time we’ll chat and he has an open invitation anytime he wants to address my sabermetrics class.
By the way, Rico Brogna has become “Coach” Rico Brogna; this coming fall he will be the head football coach at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Notre Dame High School has scored a touchdown!