Major Leaguers help raise funds for Joliet schools
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org October 4, 2012 9:08PM
Homer Glen resident Leo Bigus (right) talks to former White Sox pitcher Donn Pall (left) about his baseball bats during batting practice for the fantasy baseball tournament, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," at Silver Cross Field Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, at One Mayor Art Schultz Drive in Joliet. The 10th annual event raises money for the Joliet Grade Schools Foundation for Educational Excellence. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 6, 2012 6:10AM
JOLIET — Steve Trout, the hard-throwing left-hander who played a crucial role in the Cubs’ awesome 1984 season, was on the mound and ready to fire away again on Thursday.
Except the batter had a small question for him.
“Did you get the text that I sent you?” Rocco Fusco said.
“What? About the curveball, right here?” Trout said, holding his hand somewhere in the upper strike zone.
“No, you better look again,” Fusco said.
Fusco, of Chicago, went on to get an infield hit against Trout, who was known for his zany humor as well as his pitching prowess.
Major League Baseball players from some memorable years gathered Thursday at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. They played in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a fun baseball tournament that also included donors who support the Joliet Grade Schools Foundation for Educational Excellence.
Thursday marked the tournament’s 10th year.
Names, faces and memories — all at the ballpark in downtown Joliet. Jay Johnstone and Trout, whose colorful personalities entertained both Cubs and White Sox fans; pitcher Danny Cox from the St. Louis Cardinals; Rich Nye from the 1969 Cubs pitching staff; Donn Pall, who also pitched for both the Sox and Cubs; and Billy Pierce, the White Sox pitching ace in the 1950s, including that pennant-winning 1959 season.
For a donation to the foundation, participants could suit up for the tournament, face Trout or Pall on the mound and listen to Johnstone’s Major League stories in the locker room afterward.
The contributions will fund grants that improve teaching and learning in the Joliet Grade School District.
“It’s a tremendous give-back, not only on the part of the former professional baseball players, but the community at large,” said Dr. Charles Coleman, district superintendent.
Dan Brandolino, a foundation board member, spoke of the importance of fundraising events like these.
“With all the budget cuts, and the financial situation that public schools are in, more events like this are needed, so that kids all over can get necessary resources in the classroom,” Brandolino said. “And the good thing about this is dollars that we raise go right into the classroom, and the kids see it right away.”
Decade of memories
Brandolino, who played Crest Hill Lions baseball as a youth, helped start the Joliet school foundation board back in 2003.
The idea for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” came from an informal baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Johnstone invited Brandolino. When Brandolino arrived, he could not believe who was playing: Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Milt Pappas, big names from Cubs history.
During that game, Brandolino went 2-for-2, including a double to the wall. He scored the first run of the game on a head-first slide.
“I own the highest career batting average at Wrigley Field. I’m batting 1.000 at Wrigley,” Brandolino said, smiling.
“I had such a great time that day, I said, ‘Anybody who loves baseball would just cherish this kind of experience. So I took that experience, and that really formulated the first outing we had here. And all these guys get to enjoy that same kind of thing.”
Brandon Kaminski, a pitcher for the baseball team at Joliet Catholic Academy, played third base and shortstop in the tournament Thursday. He went 3-for-3 in his team’s 10-2 victory in the first round, hitting a single, double and triple.
“It’s a lot of fun being able to come out here and see these players I’ve heard about,” Kaminski said. “I’ve heard the stories from my parents, how they watched them growing up. Being able to play with them is awesome — being able to come out here for a good cause.”
David Valentino of Joliet also played in the tournament Thursday. His wife, Sandra, called WJOL-AM (1340) and won an on-air auction for a place on the roster. Valentino got two hits in the morning game — one against Cox, who struck him out during another at-bat. Valentino also had a hit against Trout in the afternoon game, but was tagged out on a play at the plate.
Lyle Weseloh of Elmhurst hit a double and triple in the championship game. He scored the tying run, and drove in the winning run as the Tigers beat the Cubs 2-1 in what one player called “the championship that should have been.” (Cubs vs. Tigers? World Series? Any Cubs fan knows what that means).
Johnstone is famous for his hilarious antics and his fan-friendly style. He is a perfect fit for a fund-raising tournament like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” — and he’s been involved in the Joliet event for a decade now.
And Trout, cracking jokes and telling funny stories on the mound, is an ideal complement to Johnstone’s humor — both on the ’84 Cubs and today.
“He’s a typical left-hander who does crazy things,” Johnstone said of Trout. “You’ve got to have guys like that on your team. They keep it loose, and they make it fun for a lot of other guys. Sometimes you’re under a lot of pressure. When you get a guy who comes up with a joke, or does something funny, or says something that’s way off the wall, you’ve got to love guys like that.”
“I had a lot of fun on the team with (Trout) when I played, and today I bring him back because he’s so great with people. He just has fun with the guys when he pitches,” Johnstone said.
After the championship game Thursday, Johnstone entertained the players in the locker room with stories from his two decades in the major leagues. His long career, from 1966 to 1985, included time on both Chicago’s North and South sides, and America’s two coasts, including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.
And for the last 10 years, Johnstone has come to Joliet — the Crossroads of Mid-America — to help raise money for classrooms. He is the clown prince of baseball.
“When I do these things, we get together for a little chalk talk,” Johnstone said of the locker room sessions. “And they ask me questions like, ‘Remember when you locked (Tommy) Lasorda in your room?’ and, ‘What happened when you put a brownie in Steve Garvey’s glove? — or when you put pine tar in Al Campanis, the general manager’s, shoes?’ ”
“Baseball is a long season, it’s a lot of down time, and I really need to find things to amuse myself,” Johnstone said.
“I’m always at the park five, six hours ahead of the game, so I need to think of things to do, and that would give me something: Cutting the middle out of Rick Sutcliffe’s underwear, or cutting the toes off of Davy Lopes’ socks.”
For more information about the school foundation, call 815-740-3196, Ext. 204.