Memories of Time Gone By
Richard J. Garfunkel
I met George Bochow in the early spring of 1962. It was on the baseball diamonds of Hutchinson Field, which is located going south just off Sanford Boulevard in Mount Vernon, and almost to the Pelham line. Hutchison Field was right next to the more beautiful Parkway Field, which the Pelham High School Pelicans played. Even though we should have been natural rivals, we never played them in an official game, because their enrollment was too small. But we did play them in “unofficial” games, sort of like a scrimmage in football or basketball. The total amount of games was “set in stone” as we were limited by Westchester County and New York State regulations pertaining to high school athletics. The only members of the Pelham team, who I could remember were their handsome and very talented centerfielder who was rumored to have gotten an appointment to the Naval Academy and their very large and aggressive first baseman. I had a minor incident with him when he was on first base, and our pitcher was throwing over to keep him close to the bag and I tried to block him from getting to the base. That turned out to be a mistake.
I had gone to Horace Mann in ninth grade, and was a bit unfamiliar with the intra-school junior high school play that had existed on and through 9th grade. In those days, AB Davis High School, which was, and is still located on Gramatan Avenue, was a three-year school. While I was away in that year, I missed out on many things that were happening. At Horace Mann, I played freshman baseball, basketball and freshman and junior varsity soccer. I didn’t play any Little League of Pony League baseball in Mount Vernon because I went away to camp and belonged to beach clubs in New Rochelle on Davenport Neck. But I honed my skills on the sandlots and the school yards. Because my choice to leave Horace Mann came on a bit late, my assimilation into Davis High School was a bit unplanned. Since I was not a rising freshman in the system, I registered late for all my courses and was a bit of an outsider even though all my classmates had started their sophomore year at the same time I did in the fall of 1960. It was a difficult year of adjustment after Horace Mann, and though I played junior varsity basketball at Davis, I had no clue about when and where baseball tryouts were held. In my junior year, my gym teacher, Bill Sywetz, who was also the varsity baseball coach, asked me to try out. We actually were very close friends and I spent countless hours in his tiny athletic department office as his assistant and runner. I loved and admired both Bill Sywetz, and the legendary Henry “Hank” Littlefield. They were great and I have the fondest memories of both men. Bill left for Scarsdale High School the next year, he eventually took over for the retiring Dave Buchanan as Athletic Director and I would stop in to say hello for years afterward. I was in his office many times, and for years I watched him referee high school wrestling meets. In the winter of my junior year, after a disagreement on style, I was cut from the varsity basketball team by the late Vinnie Olson. That unforeseen event opened up a great opportunity for me. I was able to meet and become associated with Hank Littlefield, one of the premier scholastic wrestling coaches in the United States. From that time on Hank and I became fast friends and we remained close until his untimely death in 2000 at the age of 66.
Those years with Henry were wonderful and I cherish every memory. I became his assistant, and later came back from college and ran the NY State Section I Wrestling Tournament (Westchester-Putnam-Dutchess Counties) in Mount Vernon for three years, 1965-6-7. It was all a fascinating run and great fun besides. After Mount Vernon’s first year of varsity wrestling in 1961-2, Henry’s teams won five straight Section Titles from 1963 through 1967, and the State Titles in 1966 and 1967, Henry’s teams were also undefeated in that period in Section I competition. The next year, Henry went off to Northampton, Massachusetts to work on a Federal History Project and then he headed on to Amherst College.
But in the spring of 1962 I was playing baseball under Coach Bill Sywetz with my neighborhood buddies; Joel Grossman and Jack Bromley. We basically had almost an all-junior squad with the exception of George Bochow and maybe a few other guys. I didn’t know George, and had never heard of him. He went to school across town at Nichols Junior High School, and according to everyone he had a great reputation. He did have an older sister named Beryl, and I know that I had met her in one of my classes, but to this day I cannot pin down where that happened. George was a natural athlete, very strong and quite carved for that era. He was shy, quiet and from my perspective a nice all around guy. Maybe because he was a year younger, he kept quiet. The rest of the team had some great personalities who loved to talk, have fun, and enjoy life. Bob Manfredonia, Bob Spana, Tony Castaldo, Steve Blankstein, Jack Bromley, Joel Grossman, Ricky Miller, Lou Nardone, Andy Mahler and Jim Seiler, were the guys from my class that I remember.
My strongest memories of those years were of the cold weather we endured during those springs and our home and home victories against regional powerhouse James Madison High School of the Bronx, which had in the past featured the legendary Hank Greenberg (Class of 1929) and Ed Kranepool (Class of 1962). We faced Vic Vergara, Danny Monzon and other talented other ballplayers at both Hutchinson Field and their barbed wire surrounded field which was located at Boynton Avenue and172nd Street in the Bronx. Monroe HS was closed down in 1994, and divided into four small schools. I only remember a few parts of that game in the Bronx, One was an incredible homerun hit by Vic Vergara, who challenged Eddie Kranepool’s school homerun record, the fact we won 2-1 and I made the running catch in right field to end the game, and preserve the victory for our tall left-hander Jack Bromley.
During one of our practices, Jon Murray, of the Daily Argus, one of the local paper’s sport’s reporters came out to Hutchinson Filed to pitch batting practice. He was a young guy in his late 20’s or early 30’s at the most, and he was a wild left-hander. We were sitting on the bench awaiting our turns at the plate. He was wild and dangerous and he plunked two or three of the first batters he faced. George Bochow turned to Jack Bromley and I and declared that if Murray hit him with a pitch he would throw the bat at him! Well, George’s turn came up, and Jack and I were encouraging George to dig in and try to hit Murray’s fast ball. Wouldn’t you know it, the first pitch hit George on the wrist, and he said nothing. We verbally reminded George of his earlier promise, but he just turned at us an sheepishly smiled. After a few more swings, he ran down to first base. I was next up, and before I stepped into the box, I warned Mr. Murray in the best way not to throw at me because I was less disciplined than George. It seemed to work, and Murray took something off his next few pitches and put them right down the middle.
After baseball season ended in the spring of my senior year, very little matter with regards to school. The next few weeks were the “mop up” days before high school came to a close. It was the end of childhood, and home as we knew it for most of us. Most of my friends went off to college, others went to work and some went into the service. A few months later JFK was killed, the fervor of the 1960’s was ramped up, and the Vietnam War started to get very hot. Those idyllic days of the spring and summer of 1963 were long gone. For me, and many, that year was the last year of peace and innocence that we enjoyed.