Take me out to the ballgame
My mother, Mary Martino treated her son Frankie Kafka, my half brother as though he were one of her preferred customers at the White Tower Restaurant.
Serving him, waiting on him was her goal in life. Her first priority was the White Tower, the second was my brother. She handled them both in the same way. Prompt, courteous attention, and service with a smile became her trademark when “working” Frankie or the White Tower. It was the “White Tower Way” or “Frankie’s Way.”
They were cojoined. You couldn’t really tell where one began and one left off.
For White Tower she would show up on time, ready, willing and able to work her shift and she would show up at his school, and sports events ready, willing and able to participate and contribute. Frankie was her life.
Frankie was a talented athlete. Baseball was the only game in town. Scrapbooks my mother put together became her hobby, her passion, her obsession. Photos of his teams, articles in the newspapers, became the sole reading material for my mother right up there with the romance comic books she would read at dinner. She would pour over these pieces as though they were the original stone tablets that held the ten commandments, reading them over and over, memorizing them, only to quote them to customers and family at any time. Why not? Frankie was a god to her.
Baseball became the focal point of their lives. She never ever, missed a game. I know. I was there, dragged to each and every one of them. Adulation from coaches and teammates only intensified the mania that was building. Frankie was going somewhere, he was going to be a star and make big bucks. He was a south paw (left handed) pitcher, the likes of which no one had ever seen. Perfectly pitched games became his trademark. Hitting homeruns came naturally to him. When he wasn’t on the mound, fanning batters one right after the other, his exploits in center field were heroic. Baseball scouts came to the basement apartment on Henry Street, all trying to woo my brother to their teams. College was never an option. My mother wanted Frankie on the “fast track."
Jealous? Yes I was. No doubt about it. I probably still am.
My mother made sure that nothing, absolutely nothing interfered with their baseball efforts, from doing his homework in high school, to buying him the best baseball gloves that money could buy.
Her weekly trips to the A&P grocery stores in order to purchase the latest installment of Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia was a pilgrimage. Although she bought the series for Frankie, she would ceremoniously do his homework, so he could practice baseball and be the star she envisioned.
Strangely I saw a metamorphous take place. Her obsession with the perfectly starched uniform for White Tower, the polished white shoes, the ritual in donning her stockings and garter became his ritual, almost like the Stations of the Cross at church.
Different steps for different articles
Frankie would polish his baseball glove with saddle soap until the correct shine was visible, then place a brand new baseball in the pocket of the glove, then wrap heavy duty rubber bands around it to gently break it in. Perfectly molded glove for the perfect catch. The glove would then be placed high on top of a bureau somewhere, out of the reach of anyone, not to be disturbed.
Frankie would fold over his new baseball cap in half so that the visor or beak would touch. That also would be held by a rubber band so that the visor was perfectly formed and curved over his forehead.
He would then indent the top, the peak, as to have a little form, and the hat would not be pressed against his head. The hat would then be placed next to the glove.
The first socks to go were the tube white style knee socks. Over that he would put on the team colored stirrups. The socks would be held in place, never to move, with a huge wad of rubber bands. Frankie would actually measure as I held the measuring tape, the exact height he wanted the stirrups to be.
The rule was to have the pants gently rolled at the knee, just above the stirrup.
Frankie's hair had to be perfectly combed to minimize "hat head" for when he took his hat off.
The Baseball Hat
The hat was donned at the baseball field, never before.
Last, but not least, the cleats. Frankie would painstakingly clean out each tiny little crevice of dirt from the game before, and then polish the cleats until the shine came back. Once again, these were only put on, on the field.
Frankie was a sight to behold. He was the perfect son and perfect baseball player.
My mother could not have been any prouder if she were on the mound herself pitching.
But her dream never materialized. It seems all that perfect pitching in high school ruined his arm, or at least that’s what the scouts said. Frankie developed some sort of elbow injury just before spring training opened. The baseball scouts disappeared from the house as fast as cockroaches scurrying when the lights are turned on.
Frankie never got to the big leagues.
Neither did my mother.