Easter Tournament memories: More than just baseball

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 07:15 AM

County baseball players and fans aren’t the only ones who look forward to the East Rutherford Easter tournament each year.

As a member of the media, I have the event circled on my calendar well in advance. But it is not only the prospect of watching baseball for three or four straight days that keeps me coming back year after year. It’s the people.

The folks in Forest City have always modeled the county motto of “Small Town Friendly”, but during the tournament, they take it to the next level. From the time I pulled up in the parking lot Monday night, I was greeted with friendly smiles, waves and a chorus of “it’s good to see you again this year.”

Then I got to the press box and renewed acquaintances with Cavalier coaches Preston Allen and Chuck Walker, both of whom I had not seen since last year’s tournament.

Over the next three days, when East wasn’t on the field, we would swap baseball stories and a few laughs. Coach Walker and I even found time in between games to have an in-depth conversation about Chuck Norris.

Meanwhile, coach Allen, who was in charge of supplying baseballs for the tournament, would mourn the loss of each foul ball as if it was made of gold and then do his best Carlton Fisk imitation to try and keep the next one fair.

Then there was public address announcer Frank Chyz. I’ve known Frank for years because he is the media director for my home church, but it is always nice to see him in a different setting.

He traded in his Sunday best for a ball cap and sneakers while sending country tunes over the loud speakers instead of the latest praise and worship music.

Like me, Frank loves baseball. While living in Canada, he attended Montreal Expos games where he learned about the sport, but Frank always wants to know more. So in exchange for me giving Franklin in-depth explanations of the infield fly rule and the balk, I was privileged to hear about Expos games in Jerry Park Stadium under manager Gene Mauch. I also discovered how the strike in 1994, along with Olympic Stadium, killed the franchise.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the quality time I got to spend with my co-workers, Travis Durkee and Erin Kidd.  Both showed off some of their numerous talents throughout the week.

I learned, for example, that Erin keeps a neater scorebook than some coaches I know, while Travis somehow discovered the secret art of eating a deep-fried Oreo without spreading powdered sugar from one end of the press box to the other. He needs to teach me that trick.

As I put the finishing touches on the R-S Central verses Watauga article, I could not help but feel sad. That was my final tournament game for 2013. No more belly laughs or bratwursts. No more impromptu country music karaoke sessions with the press box windows thankfully closed. No more in depth discussions about baseball or even Chuck Norris. At least until next year. I need to buy a 2014 calendar because I’ve got some dates to circle.