THE FOLLOWING STORY IS WRITTEN BY JAMES CATALDI, TAKEN FROM A RECENT "FIRST PERSON" STORY PUBLISHED AUGUST 29, 2015 IN THE PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE. DR. CATALDI IS A DENTIST PRACTICING AND RESIDING IN MOON TOWNSHIP AND GREW UP IN STOWE TOWNSHIP, ADJACENT TO MCKEES ROCKS. THIS STORY IS REPRINTED WITH JIM'S PERMISSION.
James Cataldi, DMD firstname.lastname@example.org
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Some photos provided by the Keitz family of McKees Rocks
For more information about the Keitz Family, please visit the following link
It is said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. Well, the battles of my life were largely won on the playing field of Keitz.
I spent years 3-18 on Pine Hollow Rd. in Stowe Township, next to McKees Rocks. But all of us there considered ourselves “Rox Guys.” And 30 yards from my front door was the gift of all gifts, the mecca of all meccas during the age of no air-conditioning, computers, video games, or smartphones, and black-and-white TV’s with four channels if you could get the rabbit ears adjusted just right, a vacant field. Keitzie’s Field, which we named after the owner, Mr. Keitz, whom I never met.
It was the gently sloped area below a large hill, big enough to lay out basepaths. While we also played football and a little baseball, softball was our national pastime.
After dinner in the summers guys would seemingly appear out of nowhere, Field-of-Dreams style, and start to warm up, have a catch, and rag each other. Eventually enough of us would be there to pick up sides.
There were three ground rules: The telephone pole in left was the foul pole. Hitting to right field was an automatic out. If you did that you had to go find the ball on the hill, covered with high weeds, blackberry bushes, and lots of (cue the ominous music) jagger bushes. So we all became dead pull hitters. And if you fouled one back and it wound up next to the fence across the road, you had to retrieve it out of the poison ivy.
The cool thing about it was that The Big Kids insisted that everyone play…sometimes 12 to a side. When I was seven I always got picked last or next to last, depending if my best neighborhood pals, Richie Caputo and Johnny Po(haski) were there. I learned it’s OK to be picked last. My time would come. As I got older I got picked sooner. I could always catch, so it was a thrill when The Big Kids told me to play first base. I had arrived.
No one wanted to play shortstop. The hill drained down through a rut at short, and it was inevitable that you’d eventually get a bad hop and take one in the kisser. Everyone who played shortstop fielded grounders with his eyes closed.
Inadvertently I became the de facto voice of truth when I was 10 on a close play at the plate. Our guys were yelling, “Safe!” “No way. He was out!” “Safe!” “Out!” Well, I was up next so I had a clean view. I said, “Nah, he was out, the throw just beat him.” Everybody stopped. “You’re saying your own guy was out?!” “Yep.” The arguing immediately stopped and from then on whenever there was any dispute, everyone, even The Big Kids, would look over at me and ask, “What was he?”
I learned life could be simultaneously fair and unfair, and it was OK. Henry and Ed Fisher, burly brothers around 30, would occasionally show up. One time Bobby Martino served one up and Henry crushed it. Over the edge of the field, across the red dog driveway, and down Pine Hollow Road. Henry took off and halfway to first base blew out his knee. He was lying there, grabbing it, unable to move. While were checking on him the left fielder finally caught up with the ball, ran it back, relayed it to the shortstop, who threw it to Bobby Martino, who said, “Henry, I hate to do this. But you’re out.” And then he tagged him.
And in all those years, only one time did a dad ever wander over to watch for awhile…my dad. The Big Kids yelled, “Hey, Mr. C., grab a bat. Yeah, c’mon, show us what you got.” Now Dad was about 39 then and dressed in his standard work uniform: dress shoes, dress pants, white shirt with a wad of work notes in the pocket, and a tie. But they didn’t know he had been All-County in softball in Cambria County growing up. So he steps in, takes the first pitch, and then BOOM on the next one. Kids just turned around and watched it go. Dad took off and circled the bases, holding his flapping tie with one hand and his shirt pocket with the other. As he crossed the plate he looked at me and yelled, “See you at home.” and kept going. The man knew how to make an exit.
Eventually The Big Kids graduated and moved on to work or college. And we became The Big Kids. And we let everyone play. It was just that the families stopped having new children….except the Caputos, who had 10 kids, including two sets of twins. That qualified Mrs. Caputo for instant sainthood in my book. So fewer and fewer kids showed up for the games.
And in due course we, the next generation of The Big Kids, moved on as well.
But I learned my lessons. Competition is fantastic. To give it everything you have and win is the best. But trying your hardest and losing is almost as good. Be honest. Be gracious to the little ones, the less fortunate. Being picked near the bottom makes you work harder. And probably the best one: the only thing you can control in life is your effort. Because you can never guarantee the results.
I drive past there every so often and The Field is now four townhouses. It looks so small to me now. But when I was small, it was the biggest, best thing there was. My kids never found that out. Very few vacant lots these days, and the owners don’t let you play there…afraid of liability claims, I suppose.
Mr. Keitz, wherever you are, I salute you.
James F. Cataldi Moon Twp. email@example.com