Nov 07, 2008 Herm Card Uncategorized
In the space of a week, ironically, during the World Series, the Central New York baseball community lost two of its giants. Bob Hunt, 79, passed away on Oct. 24, and Danny Russo, 90, on Oct. 29.
It is hard to track the exact beginning of my friendship with them, but I came to know both from playing against them in the mid 1960s. I was new to Syracuse, a young college ball player spending a couple of summers catching up on some academic shortfalls and playing for a local team, Sherman Park. I have long forgotten the exact locations, but there is no question that it was on local baseball fields that I first met Bob and Danny.
Mutual respect for baseball ability evolved into friendships. They became my friends but they became more –they became men that I admired because they were symbols of something almost indefinable — they were symbols of baseball at its finest.
These were two men whose lives hearken back to a time when baseball was what it was meant to be — the national pastime, played by ordinary people who led ordinary lives, and were drawn together through passion for sport. It was small town, amateur baseball, represented by the New York State League, a league that in the 60s was comprised of more than 30 teams stretched from Naples to Kingston, Ontario, and anchored in Syracuse by such teams as Russo’s Kilburn Ramblers and Hunt’s Split Rock Red Birds. They could not only play, but they could manage. They produced championship teams, teams that would draw large crowds on Sundays when baseball was “the only game in town” from May to October.
To them, baseball was sport in its purest sense. You showed up, you played hard. You won, you lost. After games, you shook hands with your opponents and you hung around the ballpark with them and talked baseball. The next day, maybe even that night, you went back to work.
And they did this for years. They recruited players who were “a great bunch of guys,” in Hunt’s words, men who could play, but also men who shared a common sense for what was right — and in this era, what was right was baseball.
Danny and Bob became part of the fabric of the time, part of an era that lasted until people like them were no longer the norm. Times changed and people changed and baseball changed. Bob and Danny were legends and respected by all who knew them, not for their character alone but for what they stood for, for the era they symbolized — a time when you could be judged simply on who you were and what you stood for — and if you could hit or field or throw a good curve, that was a bonus.
They were men of integrity. Neither had a bad word to say about someone, nor were there bad words to be said about them. They were family men, loving men, who were blessed with families that understood what baseball meant to them, but also in a larger sense, what they meant to baseball.
As with most people like them, their impact is immeasurable. It is easy to say they were “just into baseball” or “just coaches” or any other trite phrases that defines people, but by being what they were — who they were — they had a positive impact on thousands of young people in this area — the ones they coached and the children and grandchildren of those they coached. They taught the lessons of what sport is really about — it’s good to win, but it’s better, far better, to just play.
They played thousands of games. They umpired and coached thousands more. They even found time to watch some from the stands.
And those of us who played with them and against them — distinctions that become less important over time — fondly recall those days spent in the sun. We remember seemingly insignificant details of games played in decades long gone on fields long abandoned.
And as those memories surface and the stories are told and retold, the names of men such as Bob and Danny are prominent and always spoken in the way people do when showing respect without realizing they are doing so.
Among the large crowds that paid their respects in the past few days were men who have, in their own right, become legendary in our baseball community and in our town — men who bowed their heads and shed a tear in tribute and in respect to two much loved men — teammates and friends — Bob Hunt and Danny Russo, men never to be forgotten.