Monday, March 22, 2010

Place No. 82: Joe DiMaggio's boat; and 82A: Scott Kamieniecki's apartment

I’ve got another beef with Josh Pahigian.

Recreational watercraft belonging to dead Yankees does not make for a baseball place.

Yet, here we are in Martinez, Calif. with a boat that once belonged to Joe DiMaggio as place No. 82 in his “101 Baseball Place to See Before You Strike Out.”

Note that we’re skipping over place No. 81 for now.

Apparently of you go to the Martinez Marina, you’ll see on a platform a powerboat named “Joltin’ Joe” that was given to the ballplayer on the day he retired in 1949.

Josh writes that DiMaggio used the boat a few times then gave it to his brother Vince, who then passed it along to a cousin.

You won’t be surprised to know that I not only have not seen a boat that DiMaggio sorta kinda had, but have no intentions of doing so.

This is not to say there have not been encounters with Yankees. I submit to you:

Place No. 82A: Scott Kamieniecki’s apartment.

Here’s another tale from the archives.

In hindsight, It’s probably better that I didn’t realize the guy living right above us was Yankees pitcher Scott Kamieniecki.

My wife and I had just moved into a different apartment in our sprawling complex, landing a better unit with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer. It had only two floors, and four units – two upstairs and two down -- shared a little foyer and an outside door.

I claimed the extra bedroom as my first “baseball room,” a place to hang the glorious life-sized posters of Tom Seaver and Frank Thomas, the Mets pennants and yearbooks I’d collected since childhood and other stuff.

In the six years we lived in apartments, I can’t say we really got to know any of the neighbors other than a “good morning” when we passed, only sometimes not even knowing their names.

So it wasn’t much of shock that I didn’t really formally meet the new family that moved upstairs in the fall of 1992. The guy had one of those nasty halo harnesses you wear after a neck injury, and he had a wife and young child. I saw them a couple times as we passed in and out, even once in Meijer, which is a big store here in the Midwest.

My wife helped the woman carry some boxes up the stairs once, and said she introduced herself. The woman said, “We’re only here until our house is done being built” and closed the door on her.

My colleagues in the Flint Journal’s sports department did a good job keeping track of local athletes in the pros, and Flint’s got a lot of them. Kamieniecki was from Mount Clemens, which is closer to Detroit than Flint. But his wife was from Grand Blanc, the Flint suburb where we lived.

My friends at the local baseball card store stayed on top of such things, too. Dave “Pop” Zittel was a retired school administrator who was active with sports programs and opened the store with his brother as a hobby. He knew everyone, and told me Kamieniecki was moving into the area. And we had read that he was having some kind of neck surgery during the off-season.

But I never thought that the guy living upstairs might be the Yankees pitcher. And we barely took notice when the family moved out after a short time. People moved in and out all the time.A new family moved in, and one day they placed a letter atop of the mailbox in the foyer, and wrote on the envelope “Please forward to Scott Kamieniecki” and the address.

Finally, all the dots were connected … neck surgery … building a house … wife from the area … A MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER IS LIVING RIGHT ABOVE ME! Or, more accurately, was living above me.

My wife said, “Oh yeah, when I helped the woman with the box I saw all kinds of bags with the Yankees logo on them.”

“And you neglected to tell me this why?” I asked.

“Well, when the woman closed the door on me, I thought ‘That’s not very nice' and forgot all about the bags.”

I was crushed. The guy was living right upstairs from my baseball room.

Looking back, I realize this could have gone one of two ways:

Scenario one: Me and Scott become tight buddies, he comes downstairs to hang out and tells funny stories about Rickey Henderson while I throw some brats on the Weber. Then he teaches me a devastating change-up so I can finally beat Will at Wiffle Ball. When the Bombers pull into Detroit during the season he sets us up with tickets behind home plate.

Scenario two: Overcome at having a Major League ballplayer live upstairs, I’m reduced to a shaking, pointing mass whenever I see my new neighbor, who humors me once by accepting a tour of the baseball room and deeply regrets it when I retell the story of Reggie Jackson and the Hall of Fame ball for the third time. From that point on, Scott tiptoes past my door and up the stairs every time he enters the building to avoid making contact.

Yup, I think we know which one of those paths we would have walked down.

Kamieniecki, who still lives near Flint, had a nice career in the majors, pitching 10 years with a 53-49 record and 4.52 ERA. He was with the Yanks from 1991 to 1996, spent some time with Baltimore from 1997 to 1990 and split 2000 with the Indians and Braves.

And let’s just say I’ve made it a point to thoroughly get to know any and all new neighbors – just in case.


Anonymous said...

Neat story about almost meeting Scott Kamieniekci.

Anonymous said...

Dave, for the record, I'm still showin' you -- and everyone else including Kamieniecki in the yard -- the fork.

And you still AIN'T TOUCHIN' IT!!

OK, now my brush with major-league greatness -- on the minor-league level.

While in college, I was home for summer when one day my mom came home and asked if I knew Johnny Oates.

Of course, backup catcher deluxe, played with Hank Aaron, awesome 70s porn-star stache. His 73 card of him legging out a hit is a beaut. Who wouldn't?

"Well, he moved in five doors down and your brother is playing with his son."


Fortunately for me, scenario 1 happened. Oates was in town to manage the Clippers. Although I was more than a decade from realizing my first Baseball Room, I did have a nice collection of cards -- including a full run of Oates, including the rookie with Don Baylor. Anyway, he signed the lot and I got to know him pretty well in the few weeks that he and his family lived there before moving to a condo. But in that time I got seats behind home plate to a couple games (granted, it was the Paw Sox, but still ...) and stories of what it was like to play with Hank Aaron and other cool things that any baseball-loving male would want to know.

Oates was a great guy -- and continued to be. I saw him again when he was coaching the Cubs in 1987, and I was taking a sports journalism class at Northwestern. Oates made it a point to tell me: Anyone you want to talk to, you just let me know, and I'll take care of it. How cool is that?

And Oates continued to remember me the few times I saw him again after that -- when Dave and I went to Baltimore on our great East Coast Excursion in 1991 (Oates by now was the O's manager) and later in spring training in Florida in 1998 when he was managing the Rangers -- to the only postseason berths that franchise has ever known, I might point out.

Naturally I was bummed when brain cancer took him all too early six years ago. He was one of the good ones.