Though I am not a writer by any means I do dabble as one as a hobby. Like a weekend golfer, at best I am a "duffer" as a literary person. Still I have scribbled many half finished stories over the years and not a few have been about Warwick. Some of you have proposed sharing your stories so I thought I would risk starting the ball rolling. Please send any and all, long or short.
Below is a story from Millie Sudman about Greenwood Lake and one I wrote about Monk Crover that I have kept for years.
More to come.
At the Movies
Poley and Augie
Salisbury Mills Vs. Warwick, circa 1954
The central elements of this story about a baseball game, as best I can remember, are factual. Still there are many parts, that while not actually a part of the day that I have described, were an integral part of how we played our games – unsupervised - in and about the various fields in the village of Warwick.
Those around my age will remember a young boy named Monk Crover. He was a resident of Bellvale, a winsome lad as I recall, with a kind disposition and a passion for baseball. Those traits plus a trusting smile made him a friend to all.
He moved away from Warwick , to Salisbury Mills, just at the onset of his teen years, circa 1954. A few months later we heard from him again when someone said that Monk had a town baseball team in Salisbury Mills and he wanted to play Warwick . This is the story of that game which was played on a summer Saturday at Memorial Park, in Warwick.
We didn’t think that Monk’s Salisbury Mills team would be much good because the town was so small. There was nothing there but the mill and a few houses and some fields. There were no stores that we were aware of, nor was there a high school. Regardless, they showed up and they had a team, which not all towns had, and that was to their credit or, more likely, to the credit of Monk and his mother.
Our team was waiting at the field for a good while when we noticed a lone car far down the road, headed toward us. We figured it was Monk’s team as we watched it pull up behind the home plate backstop. It idled there for a minute, then shut off and a woman got out. It had to be Monk’s mom. She let the door stay open and walked to the front of the car where she leaned back against the fender, her one foot on the ground and the other propped up on the bumper. She didn’t say anything to us, just stayed there with her arms crossed and looking out at the field and for the longest while no one else got out of the car.
We continued playing catch, a bit more self conscious, but careful not to stare. I started to think that maybe it was only Monk’s mom in the car, but then suddenly, one by one, kids started spilling out onto the ground. In the middle of the pile Monk himself jumped up and immediately ran toward the visitors bench yelling “Let’s go Tigers, Let’s go Tigers.”
It appeared as if the Salisbury Mills kids never heard the name “Tigers” before because none of them shouted it out like Monk did. They appeared especially aimless standing in front of their bench, no pepper games and nobody even playing catch, and once in the field, it was clear that they didn’t know much about baseball. Every time Monk said “Ok, around the horn,” they just threw the ball back to the pitcher. Also the outfielders didn’t seem to know where to stand, and Monk had to show them at the start of every inning.
Our team was different. We knew everything about how to act like ballplayers. Even though we didn’t have uniforms, some of us fixed our pants so they looked like the real thing by stuffing our trouser legs into our socks. And most of us had baseball caps. Plus sometimes our fielders left their gloves out in the outfield grass between innings the way big leaguers did. We swung two or three bats around and rubbed dirt on our hands before we batted and when we did bat we copied our favorite player’s batting stance. I had a stance like Stan Musial. We were as good as major leaguers when it came to acting like baseball players.
We got an umpire for this game. His name was Dave Lasky. He was a big kid and we liked him as umpire because he took the job so seriously. Sometimes we laughed at how serious he was, but we never did this in front of Lasky. Lasky was almost 18 years old and he was big and husky and we thought he looked like a real umpire. Before the game started he stood at home plate and said, “Let’s have the captains out here, ” so Doty Faulls went out for our team and Monk came out for the Tigers. Lasky proceeded to go over the ground rules, which, to be honest, was something we had never done before. First thing he said was, “One base on an overthrow. OK? ”
The captains nodded.
Lasky continued, “And I’m calling infield fly rule”.
Again, heads nodded.
Then he said, “And tie goes to the runner,” and he looked at each of us with his lips pressed tight together and his chin sticking out.
The captains said O.K.
Finally he said, “Any questions?”
“Nope” Doty said.
Monk had a question. “What happens if someone hits a ball in the woods?” Lasky looked at the woods, which were so far out past right field that it could have been in the next town. I was thinking that if anyone ever hit a ball there – and believe me, Stan Musial would have had difficulty - he could run the bases three times. This didn’t faze Lasky. He thought for a couple of seconds while he looked in the direction of the woods, “Ground rule double,” he said. Then he yelled real loud, “Play ball!” and our team ran out to the field, looking just like the Dodgers.
The first three Tiger batters struck out and looked especially helpless doing it. We got eleven runs in our half of the inning and might have had more but Lasky called one of our batters out for picking up a foul tip from the ground and throwing it back to the pitcher. “That ball’s in play,” he yelled. “Batter’s out.”
We didn’t protest because we were ahead eleven to zero and if you ever argued with Lasky he kicked you out of the game. Something that he loved doing.
Monk was the first batter for the Tigers in the second inning. As captain, he apparently assigned himself the cleanup spot. The first three pitches were not close to being over and, rightfully so, Lasky called them balls. Then he called two straight strikes. Monk didn’t swing at anything. We were all pulling for Monk to get a hit on the last pitch but he was clearly looking for a walk. He didn’t swing at it, but then again it was over his head and he couldn’t have hit it anyway. Lasky, however, called it a strike. Monk protested almost to the point of having a convulsion. We were on Monk’s side with this one, mainly because we were afraid he would burst a vein in his neck, he was so upset. Regardless, we couldn’t change Lasky’s mind. He insisted that Monk had ducked under the pitch. Monk finally sat down, but he threw his bat real hard toward the ground as he walked away. Lasky stared at him with his hands on his hips when he did that. Anyway the next two Tigers struck out, swinging at horrible pitches.
After the inning Monk called a time out and he and his mother had a conference and tried to explain to the Tigers that they shouldn’t swing at any more bad pitches. “This guy can’t get it over,” Monk said “he’ll walk everyone.” Monk’s mom came over to the Tiger bench for this pep talk and stood beside Monk. She talked too I think, because she waved her arms a lot. Then she went back to her seat, on the car fender.
I guess the Tigers tried their best, but we all yelled “Swing batter,” on every pitch and they seemed to listen to our advice more than to Monk and his mother who were yelling, “No bad pitches, make it be a good one.” Also, Lasky called a lot of pitches strikes that weren’t strikes. I think Lasky liked saying the word “Strike” which he pronounced real loud and drawn out like this: “Steeeee… rike.”
Monk managed to get a walk the next time he came up. He trotted to first pumping his elbows fast as he always did. Once he got on base he started jumping in the air and yelling “Hey pitcher, Hey pitcher, Hey pitcher,” as if he was going to steal second. To me it was pretty clear that he wasn’t going to steal, because he hardly had any leadoff at all. He was only about one step from the base but he jumped around and screamed so much that Melvin Langlitz, our pitcher, threw over to first and tried to pick him off. Melvin’s pick off attempt hit Monk right in the middle of his back. Frank Fotino, the first baseman, jumped back with both hands in the air and Monk let out a little yell like he was stabbed to death, then immediately fell face down into the dirt. As he dropped, his right hand reached out and landed flat on first base. He stayed like that, still and on his stomach with his hand on first, until finally everyone, including his mother and Lasky, and our whole team rushed over to see if he was O.K. We all hovered over him and Monk just lay there with his nose smack in the dirt, not even turned to the side. He didn’t move but we could see that he was breathing and also that he wasn’t crying so we thought he was probably OK.
Lasky turned into paramedic here and yelled at us, “Back off, give him air.” So we all stepped backed a little, believing that standing too close to Monk risked his suffocation. Throughout all of this, the Tigers stayed on their bench. I thought that maybe they were kind of shy, but I also got the idea that they didn’t really know Monk that well.
After a long time flat on the ground for, Monk got up. He was covered with dust which was caked from the sweat on his forehead. He stood up with both feet on first. Laskey yelled, “Play ball,” and Monk continued yelling “Hey pitcher” but he took no lead at all now, so Melvin didn’t throw to first again. Regardless, the Tigers kept swinging away and for the most part, they missed everything, so Monk never got home.
By the fourth inning we must have had over thirty runs and the Tigers still had none. I could see that they were beginning to get mad. They started yelling at us in a very un-baseball like manner. Of course Monk had been shouting for his team to “Talk it up”, ever since the first pitch, but no Tiger took his advice. He “talked it up” but mostly alone, and he kept doing it despite the score and the hopeless situation. When we were up, he shouted at us over and over: “No batter” and “Swing batter.” With every pitch that Lasky called a ball Monk said, “Looked good ump.”
Also he told the Tiger outfielders where to play constantly. He knew our players so he shouted “Lay out!” when good hitters were up and “Lay in!” for the bad hitters. When the Tigers were up he yelled relentlessly at our pitcher “Hey pitcher, hey pitcher” and “Wild man, watch it wild man.” This was all regular baseball talk, but the other Tigers, became more frustrated, started swearing and called us dumb names like “Moron”, “Cow manure”, Nincompoop,” and worst of all “Horse Shit”. Monk continued his own chatter but it was a losing battle trying to get the Tigers to follow along. He also kept telling the Tigers how and where to play which they no longer seemed to appreciate.
Along about the fifth inning, everything exploded. The Tigers were at bat and Monk was shouting, “Take the first strike” at their batter and “wild man on the mound” at our pitcher. The Tigers struck out regardless, despite Monk yelling, “Take the first strike - wild man on the mound.” Finally after one Tiger struck out, he dejectedly walked back to the bench and shouted at Monk, “You’re a Nincompoop”. Monk pretended he didn’t hear this and kept repeating his advice for the next batter, “Make it a good one, don’t help him out, walk’s as good as a hit.”
Suddenly I heard someone say, “Shut up Nincompoop” and from here things escalated pretty much into a full-scale shouting match: Monk against the rest of the Tigers. Since it was eight against one, Monk eventually had to shut up. Technically we were still playing, but in reality everyone was mainly occupied watching the argument on the Tiger bench. We could see what was coming next. As the fight escalated, Monk’s face got redder and the corners of his mouth started to turn down. He looked over at his mother, then at us and finally he broke down and cried. He cried so loud that the game just stopped completely and no one knew what to do next. Frank Fotino walked from first toward the Tiger bench and said, “Monk, take it easy,” but Monk just cried more and flailed his arms. “Get away,” he said.
Lasky, wanting to assert control, stepped in front of home plate, waved his arms above his head and said “Time out!” Then he turned around toward the stands and said: “Announcement! Announcement! -This game will be forfeited and Warwick wins 1 – 0, unless the riot in the dugout stops.” There was no one in the stands, just two little brothers sitting on the ground underneath the bleachers playing Mumbly Peg. They looked up momentarily when Lasky said “Announcement,” then resumed playing Mumbly Peg.
Honestly it would be like a moral victory for the Tigers if they only lost 1-0, but nobody said anything about that. Truthfully, I was mainly worried about how this situation could ever end, at this point.
Then suddenly Monk stood up and screamed at Lasky, “Announcement! Announcement!” He paused, caught a breath and then shouted at the sky, “ I’m switching teams!” With that he walked directly from his bench over to ours, right past Lasky. You could see that Lasky was a split hair away from throwing up his arms again and yelling “Forfeit!” but he seemed to reconsider and as Monk passed behind him he turned his attention back to the field and shouted, “Play ball!”
Everybody was dumbfounded. Our team, in the field, was pretty much speechless, just looking at Monk. Monk was sitting all alone in the middle of our bench. His arms were hanging down in front of him with his elbows between his knees and his hands clasping his baseball glove. Every so often his shoulders shrugged like a big hiccup. Only eight Tigers were left on the bench and they all huddled together like in solidarity. There was nobody up at bat. Lasky shouted “Play Ball”, but no one moved. Finally Lasky walked over to the Tiger bench and said “OK who’s up?” No one knew. One kid stood up and asked “Who made last out, who made last out?” It didn’t seem like anyone knew. Monk’s mother was still sitting on the fender of her car, with her arms folded in front of her. The only thing I noticed was that I thought she had changed fenders. It could have been my imagination, but she was now on the fender that was closer to our bench. Finally one of the Tigers came up to the plate with a bat and Lasky shouted, “Play ball!” again.
In the last inning Monk got up to bat for our team. This started the fighting all over again and the Tigers began yelling their favorite swear words. We yelled back, just as loud, and with a few swear words of our own. In the middle of all of this, at the plate, was Monk, determined, glaring and scowling at the Tiger pitcher, gritting his teeth, spitting on his hands, and doing everything he could to be way overly dramatic. When the first pitch hit the dirt about two feet in front of home plate Monk dove backwards onto the ground as if it were a beanball. The Tigers yelled “Scaredy Cat” and we all yelled back “No sweat Monk, make it be a good one”. The next three pitches were not good ones, and Lasky said, “Take your base.” Lasky said this with the emphasis real loud on the word “base”. You could hardly hear the first two words. It sounded like “kyur BASE!” Monk raced down to first, like he was the potential winning run for the World Series, them immediately started to razz the Tiger pitcher. I wanted to tell him to calm down because I was thinking, like everyone else, what about the ride home with all of these guys?
I don’t remember exactly how the game ended. My last recollection was of Monk dancing off of first base and then when the game was over, all of us standing around patting him on the back saying “Nice game” and stuff. He stood with us for a while as the Tigers piled into his mom’s car. Finally his mom called out “Charles, come along.” Monk bid farewell and walked toward the car. We watched him as he got in and waited anxiously. He climbed into the front seat without a word and after a moment the door shut and then the car started. We stood frozen like fence posts, next to our bikes and holding the handlebars; watching and listening as Mrs. Crover’s Chevy started to roll away. Then we hopped on our bikes and raced after them. We peddled furiously, some with fingers gripping bats that lay across the handlebars. Others had baseballs wedged between the crossbars, and all with gloves dangled off the handlebars. A couple of kids lagged behind because they carried double, a little brother on the crossbar or the back fender.
Halfway down the road Monk’s car stopped. I thought that maybe they forgot something or they were waiting for us, to say a last goodbye? We started to catch up but then they started going again and though we kept peddling it wasn’t long before they were out to the main road and then almost out of sight. Finally we all slowed up and waved and shouted, “So long Monk” and someone said “See you next year”. Even though we really thought that we might see Monk again, maybe next year even, none of us ever did. But we talked about him from time to time throughout our school years and always wondered how he was doing and nobody ever forgot the day we played Salisbury Mills in baseball, when Monk switched teams.
________________________________ The End _______________________