A New Fan is Born

Yesterday at 8:48 am, a new member (19 1/2 “, 7#, 2 oz) of my personal branch of the always expanding Rays Republic took his first breathe of cool Florida air. It is still way too early to know what the future has in store for myself and my only grandson Mason Gregory Cuonzo, but if this Tampa Bay Rays die-hard grandfather has anything to do with it, he will someday pass on the love of baseball to his own children.

Oh how I wish I could find a tricked-out De Lorean and go forward to your adventurous 8-10 years and teach you early on the tricks of the game I learned on the clay fields of North West Little League. I want to make his eyes widen with baseball tales of no tee-ball back then, but full contact hitting, fielding and running like a deer, sliding into a base and loving every minute of it.

I want to teach Mason all three arm slot positions so he can decide his own style of throwing from overhand, ¾ or maybe even side-arm. I want to now commit to throwing the white sphere with him until my arm falls off. To hitting infinite fungos to him either deep out in the grassy knolls or on the hardened clay until the bucket of balls becomes tattered and as orange as the clay.

I will not interfere and make him hit or throw from the left-side. As I toss in balls for him to deposit in the outfield or beyond the fence, I promise to not direct which side of the plate he stands, but  I will teach him footwork, leverage and the art of the check-swing.

That his grandfather is willing and able to commit that I will be there in rain, Sun and even blustery windy days watching him play, cheering him and his teammates on, because that is what proud grandparents do.

I will teach him of our families ties to baseball. How John Carl ” Hans” Wittig tossed the rock for the New York Giants from 1938-39, 1941 and 1943. I might forget to tell him he also played in his last MLB game on June 22,1949 for those dastardly Red Sox. I want him to know baseball is in his blood because all the men in my family tree has played some form of the game.

My father played on diamonds measured out on the coral beaches of the South Pacific. How before my birth my father’s love for the game was evident as he went to countless games at Waterfront Park and then Al Lang Field when he settled in St. Petersburg, Florida.

How he taught me the game, bringing its brilliance into my life making sure there was a television at his Union 76 station so I could watch the Nationally televised Saturday afternoon contests. After these games we both would grab gloves and go out into the alley behind the shop and throw the ball while he showed me baseball grips.

Unfortunately my father did not get to see me play past Pony League as his life ended before he could call out “that’s my son” and beam a smile from ear-to-ear. I played baseball with passion and joy until my Junior year in college then forsaken it for a sport where money flowed while baseball players still needed part-time jobs to survive. I would find out 4 years later that it was the worst move of my young life.

I never lost the feeling of the grand game, sneaking off to watch games in many MLB cities on my NFL treks. How I returned home and becoming an avid fan of the St. Petersburg Class-A Cardinals, even catching my first baseball on a sliding catch down the grassy berm in Rightfield.

I have so many thing to show you. So many extraordinary things to teach you. So many things about the heartbeat of baseball that will both enlighten and take your breathe away in the same moment.

But you are only two days old now, much too young for a heart-to-heart or your first glove. But I will start you out right and get you a Rays creeper so the game can grow with you. I have got to get you hook on this game while you still think grandpa is cool and baseball is awesome.

But sleep tight for now young Mason, because I know when I take you to your first baseball game, you will be hooked. The love for this game definitely runs deep in our family. Hope my daughter agrees with me here. Then again, she is a football fan.


Congratulations, Cliff! He is an absolutely beautiful little boy! Oh the fun you two will have together when he’s a little older – and he is as lucky to have you for a grandpa as you are to have him.
— Kristen

Congrats!!! Kids are the best. I learned my love of baseball from my grandpa, and have passed it on to my kids. My dad loves taking them to games, too. Have fun!

Thank you for that, but I got a feeling I will get a few “comebackers” at me and wish I had a granddaughter……Just kidding. I do not know what the future has in store, but if he wants to know this game, I will have books, memories and trinkets that will have his eye glazing over with excitement. That’s what grandparents do.

Unfortunately my grandparents on both sides of the family were gone by the time I got a true essence of baseball. Still my father did what he could, and introduced me to players even before I knew they were stars or shining examples in the game. I want to try and do the right thing and let Mason know this game from A-to-Z without bias, but that will be hard since I have a deep love for the Rays and Mariners and only hope he follows some of that path.

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