Results tagged ‘ St. Petersburg Cardinals ’

We Will Miss You Macho (Baseball) Man

He was known World-wide for his flamboyant neon-colored clothing and cowboy hats. His trademark sunglasses and speech patterns that made him seem more constipated than ferocious, but that was the “business side” of Randy “Macho Man” Savage that most of the public got to see in and around his second home, the wrestling ring.

When I heard on the radio today that Savage had been involved in a 1-car accident and had been pronounced deceased at a local hospital, immediately I went back to a day almost 30 years ago when I met Savage for the first time.

I had grown up hanging around and working with some of the Florida wrestling hierarchy’s kids like Gordon Solie’s son and had attended Dixie Hollins with Bruce Woyan who would become Buzz Sawyer. It was Woyan who took me backstage one night and I got to meet Macho Man sans the bravado and brightly colored clothing.

Even back in the 80’s I always seemed to be sporting a baseball cap upon my head. During this day it was a cap which had the St. Petersburg Cardinals logo and Savage immediately began to smile and began to tell me about his former baseball career. I could see a slight twinkle in his eye remembering his minor leagues days while I was stuck in the classrooms at Dixie during the double shifts of school.

But I was entranced with his story and could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice. Sometimes you just wonder what could have been if……. It was a long stretch of time between our meetings when I saw him again at a Rays game wearing all black including a black head scarf but with the trademark facial hair and bold bravado.

We had both aged kind of gracefully, but you could tell wrestling took its toll on Savage over the years. I told a person sitting next to him a bit about Savage’s minor league career and he gave me a small grin. Funny, I had seen him in the ring for what seemed like hundreds of times either in person or on television, and my thoughts always came back to if I heckled him as a St. Pete Cardinals fans in the early 70’s.

If I had not worn that Cardinals cap, I possibly would have never known that Savage, who at that moment made a living throwing himself off turnbuckles towards concrete floors could hit the round ball. I would never have found out that this mega-star wrestler was once a 2-time All State baseball player back in Ohio who held his alma mater’s baseball record after sporting a .524 batting average.

Way before the lovely Miss Elizabeth, his space-age sunglasses and even snapping into a Slim Jim, Savage was known simply as Randy Poffo, who was a young Outfielder/Catcher First Baseman that wandered around the bus circuit leagues with teams like the Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox.

Who besides his childhood friends and family would have been able to imagine his hidden passion for the little white roundball. Just goes to show you that an athlete is an athlete no matter the sport.

Even though Savage/Poffo never got above the Class A level in the sport, he did spend time in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orangeburg South Carolina. In his 4 years in the minors, Savage hit 16 Home Runs and also managed 16 triples. Goes to show you he had a little abundance of power to go along with a good base running speed.

His best minor league stop might have been his last with the Tampa Tarpons (class A/ Reds) during the 1974 season. With the Tarpons he appeared in 113 games stepping to the plate 521 times and sported a .622 OPS along with 66 RBIs and 19 doubles. He once played with former Cardinal OF Tito Landrum on the 1973 Orangeburg Cardinals Western Carolina League squad.

Always get to me when someone I met, even for a brief moment is taken from us. It is also at moments like this that you find out small hidden gems about a person you wish the World had known all along.

Savage had a passion for the game of baseball, I can easily envision Savage standing in line at the pearly gates possibly bending the ear of recently parted Twins great Harmon Killebrew speaking enthusiastically about the game. Possibly Savage can again relive some of his baseball glory. Just remember Macho Man, there is no rushing the mound in Heaven. Godspeed Randy Mario Poffo.

Hey Dad, Wanna have Catch?

How can you not think of this clip when the notion of Father’s Day comes up every year in baseball. It is one of the classic baseball movies of all time, and this scene in particular makes it all worthwhile to watch again and again every year. How many of us, as young boys got that same opportunity with our fathers to enjoy a simple game of catch on a cool spring night, or a balmy summers eve. It was a basic bonding moment that was forever etched in your mind and memories for all the right reasons.

It is one of the most cherished moment of my younger life. My father was a boxer in the Navy before and during World War II. He also dabbled playing semi-professional baseball with my uncle Johnny, who did get to play a bit with the New York Giants in their Philadelphia neighborhood before my father  joined the Merchant Marines in 1941, right before the United States involvement in the world conflict.

He always loved the game of baseball and settled in St. Petersburg, Florida after the war just for the purpose of raising a family and watching summer minor league baseball in the warm balmy Southern nights under the swaying palm trees. That same love for the game was instilled in my blood early in life as each Christmas and birthday baseball goods were the first thing I usually opened either at the table or under the tree.

I had the same bug he had, I loved baseball with a such a  forgiving passion, my glove  slept right next to me on the bedpost every night. I was always playing some sort of sandlot baseball before dinner on the vacant lot right next to our house on Central Avenue. And you could always see me at the mini golf batting cages in South Pasadena across from the hospital from the time I was 8 years old.

While my mom and sister did their 18 holes of golf, my dad and I would take turns in the cages with him giving me instruction and fine tuning my young swing into a more precision stroke. It was a special time for us, that bonding moment where you knew the two of you enjoyed something with the same passion and the same love for this simple game.

When business was slow at my dad’s gas station at Pasadena Avenue and Central during the weekends, we would pop out the back door and throw in the alley behind the station for hours. He tinkering with my throws to try and develop some sort of new pitch that would set me apart from the other kids in the Little League.

That pitch never came, but my dad always taught me to strive harder and dig deeper if you really want it, and that instilled a hearty appetite for always wanting to be the best. I used to sit in the station when I was working for him oiling up my mitt and even brought a bat to work to practice my swing and even improve by hitting a tennis ball dangling off one of the car lifts.

We had a concrete block storage shed on the side of the station that I painted a strikezone and I would always spend at least an hour a day, mostly during my lunch time throwing towards it dreaming of that ninth inning save, or striking out Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. And we both looked forward to going down to Al Lang Field and watch the Florida State League St. Petersburg Cardinals play every summer.

Loved watching some of the games future stars play on this simple stage amongst the twilight of a Florida summers eve. It was poetry in motion to watch these guys doing their orchestrated baseball ballet, and I learned the essence of the game watching players like a young Tito Landrum and Gary Templeton play while the team won 88 games in 1975.  And even seeing a young prospect named  Cam Bonifay play back in 1974 as a 22-year old before his days in the suites as an executive in baseball.

But those times before  my own baseball games, or the ones down by the St. Petersburg waterfront, we always took a few minutes to throw to each other before I ever headed to the field to warm-up with my team, or go to our seats in the stadium. It was my time to put the emphasis on our bond, to throw a few with the old man and try and mess him up with a quirky slider or curveball.

But he never seemed to miss the ball on purpose, but a few times did it to show his vulnerability to me. He passed away trying to get to one of my High School baseball games at a friend’s gas station getting ready to head over to the  Dixie Hollins field to watch me play.

I  knew the minute he was not there something was wrong, but a friend of the family came over the threw with me on the side of the dugout to keep with my superstitious nature. But  about 5 minutes into the game without anyone telling me, I want to say there was a warm calming feeling going through me, but it was more of a stark reality that I would never throw with him again.

On Father’s Day I always say a prayer to that great man. Not because he threw a ball with me or taught me to truly love this game, but because moments like that are not just for movies and dramatic television. I was truly one of those things in my young life that made me who I am today. I have tried to pass that same tradition on to my daughter’s, but they are not  at all into the game.

I will credit my daughter Tracey with throwing with me for a few years, but she did not have that passion for the game my father and I shared.  She was the cheerleader type, and not the jockette. But she has gone to games with me  and actually enjoys watching the Rays play baseball. But she is not hooked on it, or even mildly interested like her Old Man.

So on days like today it hurts a bit. Not because he did not see me after my 16th birthday flourish, or even see my first college game, but because I miss those solitary moments of throwing with him.  Most people tend to bawl like babies when Bambi is killed in the Disney movie. For me it is that scene of Ray and his dad finally throwing on that Field of Dreams.

I miss you Dad. Every time I throw the ball. Every time I sit and watch the Rays. But mostly I miss you loving the game with me. I know where you are they have a helluva baseball team, but we do too. And it is a true shame I can not enjoy it with you every game.

George Kissell Passes Away From Auto Injuries


The joy of playoff baseball in October took a blow Tuesday as one of the game’s enduring figures died from injuries he sustained in a car crash in Pinellas Park.

George Kissell, a longtime instructor and minor league manager with the St. Louis Cardinals, was injured in the crash about 7:45 p.m. Monday on U.S. 19.

Mr. Kissell, 88, was taken to Northside Hospital, then on Tuesday morning was transferred to Tampa General Hospital, where he died, hospital spokesman John Dunn said.

Mr. Kissell, who lived in the Mainlands in Pinellas Park, may not have been a household name to the general public, but he was well known to baseball insiders and die-hard fans.

He had worked for the Cardinals organization since the 1940s, which is believed to be the longest current affiliation a person has had with a single club.

Although he never played in the major leagues, he held almost every other on-the-field job in baseball. He has mentored players from Joe Torre, now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols.

A 1997 profile about Mr. Kissell in the St. Petersburg Times said “the word that describes him best is teacher,” earning him the nickname “the Professor.”

“Anybody in baseball knows George … from owners to clubhouse kids,” Brian Bartow, a Cardinals spokesman, said Tuesday before news of Kissell’s death had reached St. Louis. “We’re saying our prayers.”

Mr. Kissell was injured when the 2002 Chevrolet in which he was a passenger collided with a 2005 Pontiac at U.S. 19 N and 110th Avenue N.

The Chevrolet, which was traveling west on 110th, was driven by Mr. Kissell’s daughter, Karolyn K. Kidwell of Pinellas Park. Mr. Kissell was in the left rear passenger seat behind her.

The Pontiac, driven by Stacy L. Lehart of St. Petersburg, was going about 40-45 mph, said Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth.

Both doors on the left side of the Chevrolet were crushed. Firefighters spent 15 minutes cutting off the doors to get Mr. Kissell out. His heart stopped at one point, but paramedics revived him.

Kidwell, 58, also was injured and was taken to Bayfront Hospital. She has since been released.

Lehart, 27, was injured but was not taken to a hospital.

Mr. Kissell’s wife, Virginia, who was in the front seat of the Chevrolet, was apparently not seriously injured.

Forseth said the investigation is continuing and no charges have been filed, though he said the early information indicates Kidwell may have run a red light.