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.