by Bud Walls
For the genuine sports fan there is always something to give a little pleasure. The second week of January, 1987 had very little prospect for entertainment, but turned out to be one of the most enjoyable weekends I have had the good fortune to enjoy in quite some time. It began early Friday evening when my wife reminded me that the Bulldogs and the Colonels were playing basketball at North Caroline that evening. She followed up by suggesting that I invite my 10-year old grandson to go along. A phone call assured us that Jamie would be delighted.
Well, even a seasoned sports fan like myself could never truly imagine the pleasure one gets out of seeing a spectacle such as a Colonel-Bulldog game for the first time through the eyes of a 10-year old. Everything amazed him. The size of the crowd, the noise, the pretty cheerleaders and the skill of the players. He is a fledgling basketball player himself and he just couldn’t believe some of the things that high school players are capable of doing. “How can they dribble the ball and look around the court at the same time?” was one of his questions. “How can they jump so high and how can they look in one direction and pass so accurately in another direction?” was another. The only answer I could give him was a one-word sentence. Practice.
And the two schools didn’t let us down. Even the jayvee game, won by the Bulldogs, was exciting. But the main event surpassed itself. Not that it was picture perfect basketball by any means. It was simply vintage Caroline County high school basketball. There were some great plays and there were periods of sloppy play on both sides. There was suspense right up to the final minutes in a game that saw each team threaten to dominate at intervals throughout the first three quarters and even the waning moments proved interesting when a beaten Bulldog squad refused to quit and showed signs of coming back.
Self control has never been one of my strong points and it was increasingly difficult for me to restrain myself and demonstrate a bit of dignity befitting a mature adult as my grandson jumped three feet out his seat whenever the Bulldogs did something right.
In the end, Bulldog fans shared the disappointment that always comes with losing, but this particular fan’s disappointment was nothing to compare with the feeling I enjoyed at having shared such an evening with a loved one whose unrestrained and complete enjoyment served as a reminder as to what it is really all about.
Winning is important. The game should be played to win; but seeing through the eyes of a 10-year old made me realize once again that it is possible to lose and still enjoy the game.
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Then came Saturday morning and I found myself at loose ends after a few light chores so I decided to spend a few minutes visiting an old friend, Tony Gianinotto, Sr., who is sort of semi-confined to his home due to illness. A few minutes turned into a couple of hours and I could have spent the whole day talking to a man who is an even greater sports fan than myself and who has lived a very interesting life, most of it involved in sports in one way or another.
I was fascinated as Mr. G. talked about growing up on Long Island and playing baseball without a glove. A pick-up game led to an invitation to play for his first organized team, but it turned out there was a unexpected problem. A catcher from the beginning, Tony had never used the tools of the trade. He had to learn to catch with a mitt, a mask and a chest protector before he could play for his new team.
But what might have been the beginning of a promising career was cut short by military service. Actually, the military life had a very promising beginning with Tony playing baseball in such places as Puerto Rico on teams that were composed of many former big leaguers. In fact, on one team, he was the only player that was not a former pro. Two well-known names that he mentioned were Harry “the Hat” Walker and Walt Musial, the brother of hall of famer Stan Musial.
World War II put a temporary end to his ball playing days and may have cost him a pro career. After the war, the big catcher was invited to a pro training camp and offered a minor league contract. Twenty-five years old, with a wife to support, Tony had to pass up a job that paid around $70 a month and returned to his shoe repair business.
Baseball was partly responsible for the Gianninotto’s move to Greensboro when an old friend called Tony and suggested he come on down and he could play baseball for the Greensboro town team. The rest is history… Tony G. has played, coached, and been a complete fan for many local teams ever since.
And finally: Interested in being a Little League umpire or simply learning more about umpiring? Little League’s District 6 will host an umpire’s school at Easton Middle School on Saturday, February 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For $1 per person you can learn from the best with Little League’s number one umpire Frank Rizzo and Eastern Regional director Kyle Harrington serving as instructors. For more information, contact Keith Christopher or Jim Bilbrough.