It was a home run, sure. But it was more than that.
I’ll never forget the amazing spectacle, the ecstatic, wondrous moment of Mark Massaroni’s mighty, magical home run ball.
THE POUTRE POND POKE BY GREG GIORGIO 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 107
I don’t recall which team we were playing in this baseball game, what inning, the score, or if anyone was on base. But I’ll never forget the amazing spectacle, the ecstatic, wondrous moment of Mark Massaroni’s mighty, magical home run ball.
It was on a weekday afternoon in a Colonial Council varsity game in 1972 or 1973 at Rotterdam, New York’s Memorial Park. The park was bordered by Curry Road, Route 7, to the north, and surrounded by residential streets. The land was originally Poutre Pond, where neighborhood folks and their kids fished, and ice-skated in winter. My mother used to skate on the pond as a child in the late 1930s.
Mark Massaroniwas my friend. We grew up together on Dahlia Street about a mile from the field in this Schenectady suburb. Mark, his brothers Chris and Ronnie, along with a horde of neighborhood kids played a lot of sandlot baseball and football together, and later played in organized leagues and scholastic teams.
We loved our lives together in the old neighborhood. Many games and adventures took place in an idyllic time when kids roamed free and played hard.
Baseball was an obsession for us. This was largely due to Mark and his father Ron Sr. What I learned as a young boy about the game was because of Mark and his family. For this I am truly grateful.
Mark was the best baseball player I ever saw up close. He was a fierce and cool-headed competitor, with superb hand and eye coordination. He had a tremendous knack for dramatic and timely game-breaking plays.
When we were on the Rotterdam Babe Ruth League’s All-Star squad in 1971, Mark put on a regular hitting clinic in the New York State Tournament at the minor league park in Jamestown, New York.
A couple of doubles rattled off the right field wall, shots off his bat that were like bullets.
He hit a home run to right that cleared the fence by a considerable distance and left the field in the blink of an eye. The whole ballpark gasped.
We had gotten to the tournament with the help of Mark’s offensive accomplishments, including a home run shot at the field in Schuylerville, New York which sailed over the right field bleachers.
But the ball he hit at Memorial Park a year or two later stands alone. The field at that time did not have an outfield fence constructed for baseball as it does now. In those days a chain-link fence ran on an east-west axis straight across the outfield, separating the playing area from a children’s playground and a basketball court. This odd layout put center field in closer proximity to home plate than either the left or right field corners. The fence on the hill stood about 18 feet above the field.
Mark stepped into the left-handed batter’s box and early in the count launched a towering drive that jolted all of us who witnessed the feat into a higher state of awareness. The crack of the bat was telltale, meaty.
Coach Doug Erickson rose to his feet and yanked the hat off his head, his jaw pointing forward to steady his gaze. Everyone on our bench stood in unison as well. It was a home run, sure. But it was more than that.
As the ball left the playing field in a path over right center, it continued to rise. It cleared the fence and was now on a collision course with a tall willow tree. The ball struck the tree a few feet from its top, cannoned among the tree branches, and fell to the ground on the further side.
Coach Erickson, often stoic, exclaimed, “Holy shit!” He could not contain the excitement of seeing his star player’s blast. We won the game, a small detail by comparison. Yet next day the magical home run ball was relegated to a line score in the Schenectady Gazette.
When I first considered writing this story it was only natural to go down to the old field and measure the distance. Ron Pavoldi, an old friend who also was a witness to the home run ball, brought a 200-foot tape measure. We climbed the fence of the locked ballpark, now the home of the Rotterdam Babe Ruth League. Then we set about determining the distance from home plate to the spot where we knew the ball cleared the fence in right center field. The willow tree no longer stood, but we knew the flight path and the distance from the fence.
When we measured the distance we were perplexed. Could it be only 317 feet?
But there was more to consider. The willow stood an estimated 60 feet tall. This put the point of impact with the tree 70 feet or more above the field. There is standard orthodoxy in trigonometry to estimate the distance potential of objects in flight, like batted balls. But try as I might, this learning-impaired math mind could not grasp the complexities of the calculation. But I found a couple of sources online which helped develop what I consider to be fair representations of this home run ball’s potential.
The ball hit the tree about 350 feet from home plate, some 70 feet or more off the ground. With that kind of height it attained a launch angle of around 29 degrees. It had to have considerable exit velocity to meet these parameters, probably more than 107 miles an hour.
Another thing common to such a flight path is that once a ball reaches peak height it has achieved around 75 per cent of its ultimate distance. This adds another 116 feet or so, putting the ball at a potential of some 465 feet or more from the home plate. This high school player exhibited a feat of raw hitting power that most seasoned major league power hitters never achieve.
Mark was under the watch of several major league scouts. But a shoulder injury in a school football game derailed his hopes of signing a professional contract.
It was my honor and privilege to have played alongside him for more than 10 years. None of the memories are sweeter than the sound of the crack of the bat 50 years ago that day in old Memorial Park, a homer I like to think of as the Poutre Pond Poke.
I have been telling stories as a radio and television, sports and horseracing reporter, freelance journalist, short story writer, and poet for nearly 50 years. The labor movement and social justice gave rise to stories in publications like The Industrial Worker, and to hosting The Labor Show on WRPI-FM in Troy, New York. I was editor of The Black Cat Moan newsletter, a publication which advocated for the end to sweatshop economics. I turned my passion for good beverages into a second writing career in trade publications for the wine and beer industry. While good wine has certainly been a muse, I must count impressionism, and various aspects of the counterculture, like Hobohemia and film noir. From the sandlot ball games of my youth to the right field bleachers of Fenway Park, I have worshiped the baseball deities gleefully. Hallelujah!