Soon after I learned to walk, my father dressed me in a baseball uniform and began what would be almost two decades of batting practice. I learned to keep my chin on my chest and swing levelly. I learned to adjust my batting stance so that my front toe pointed to the hole in the outfield and how to “pull” a pitch for a long fly ball. I learned to adjust my weight so I could control when to hit a line drive or a grounder or a long fly to get a runner home. I was taught to crowd the plate to intimidate the opposing pitcher and got hit a number of times. That stopped somewhat when I thought I had died from my inability to breath after a fast ball hit me square in the sternum.
We lived not far from Ebbets Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the 1950s. Before it was made into an apartment complex in 1962, it was still available at times to the neighborhood after the Dodgers and Giants left for LA and San Francisco in 1957. “Dem bums” was the moniker the Dodgers earned from my neighbors who had rooted for them since 1949.
I played centerfield for the Flatbush Pontiacs – the car dealership that sponsored our team- and proudly wore number nine for Roger Maris since number seven for Mickey Mantle was already taken. Sometimes we played at the Polo Grounds or Brooklyn Tech. My father took my younger brother and I for batting practice every Sunday and whoever hit the most “home runs” got a hot fudge sundae at Carvel. Since I was older, I always won and my dad came up with a Solomon-like change in the rules. The winner got a hot fudge sundae but the loser got whatever he wanted. Baseball became my tutor in life. I always remembered that Babe Ruth said, “Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back”. Ruth held the all-time record for home runs…and strike outs. But it was a coach who told me I was more valuable to him as a reliable guy who gets on base than swinging for the fences. “Just get on base” was his advice – “we’ll get you home”. I played baseball for all of my school teams until I made a decision that helped lead me to my life-long career in entertainment.
My family moved from Brooklyn to Hewlett, a suburb in Nassau County on Long Island. I was batting “clean-up” on the high school team of my new school but hardly anyone attended the games. I tried out for the school play and got the lead. The only problem was that rehearsals and practice were at the same time and I had to choose. Girls who had never noticed me when I played baseball started to invite me to parties – the new kid. In those days, a rock musician was who was most admired as a teen. An actor was a close runner-up and my decision was made. My younger brother (who lost at batting practice) became a drummer in a rock band.
Yet it was my baseball coach who helped me in my acting career. “Just get on base” became “get me in the room and I’ll book it”. I wanted to be a working actor – and later, a working director and producer. I got on base.