Roach: The baseball glove

The game Breese Stevens in 1966 proved significant

The location was Breese Stevens Field.

The event was the Madison City League Baseball Championship.

The time was the summer of 1966.

The players on the field were 13 years old, with the west-side Madison team playing the east-side Madison team for the city title.

There was a good crowd in the stands. Youth City League baseball was a popular neighborhood affair, and had yet to be eclipsed by the more formal Little League experience. In a smaller Madison in those days, it was a big game. The Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times would cover it, photos included.

In the middle innings, a kid from the west side slapped a banjo single into right center, then stole second and reached third on a passed ball.

The stage was set for a little drama.

The east-side pitcher, a talented athlete named Johnny Czerepinski, delivered. The batter hit a grounder to the second baseman. The kid on third sped toward home with the leading run. Rather than take the easy play at first, the second baseman threw to home to the catcher.

What happened next was heard by the pitcher, catcher, umpire and folks in the stands. It was a sound that some would remember for years.

The runner on third, while sliding into home base, caught his spike on the perimeter of the embedded rubber structure that constituted home plate at Breese Stevens. The runner, who was called safe, kept sliding forward while his leg stopped. Something had to give and that something was the runner’s tibia and fibula. They broke with a snap.

The game came to a halt. The next several minutes were composed of a bevy of folks attending to the runner who lay on home base in pain and bewilderment. In a sign that is never good, the kid’s father was called down from the stands. As this was the pre-cell phone era, someone scurried inside of the bowels of Breese Stevens to make a call for help. Soon, the boy and his father were bundled into an ambulance and carried off to St. Mary’s Hospital.

Despite Czerepinski’s stellar performance, the west siders ended up winning the game.

Two days after the incident, and still in the hospital, the injured ballplayer received a card from Johnny Czerepinski expressing his heartfelt wishes for a quick recovery. It was a remarkably classy act for a 13-year-old, one the kid with the broken leg would remember.

Fifty-two years later, Czerepinski admitted that the card was his idea, though he got help from his parents finding an address.

The card so impressed the father of the injured ballplayer that he sent Johnny Czerepinski a gift certificate to his place of business on State Street.

The business was called Badger Sporting Goods. The gift certificate was for $25, an astronomical amount in those days. Young Czerepinski, who played with a used baseball glove because he could never afford a new one, was able to buy the best baseball glove in the store, and a new bat to boot. Czerepinski would use the glove he got that day at Badger Sporting Goods for the next 25 years.

Breese Stevens Field is no longer a baseball field. It’s currently used for soccer, food festivals and REO Speedwagon concerts.

Czerepinski still lives on Madison’s east side.

The kid who didn’t know how to slide is this columnist.

And it was John James Roach, my father, who sent Johnny Czerepinski the gift certificate for that brand new leather baseball glove.

Dad passed away on Feb. 24 of this year at the age of 88.

He never mentioned what he did for Czerepinski. I learned of it by happenstance a half century later from Johnny.

Nor was Dad inclined to speak of the countless other generous things he did for young athletes, coaches and friends alike.

If you ask around town, most folks will tell you, that was the man he was.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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