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Sandlot Baseball – The “Go-To” Guy, Part 1

June 15, 2010

Classroom discussions in high school were a lot like baseball games. Teachers served a dual role. On one hand, they were the opposing pitchers, firing blazing questions tempered with sneaky curves and drop-dead change-ups that could make you look silly. And on the other hand, they were coaches, challenging us (the classroom hitters) to take our swings at homework’s high heat assigned to us the previous night.

In Braintree, Massachusetts, from the mid-to-late 60s, Archbishop Williams High School sported a pitching-rich staff of top-notch teachers – most of them, nuns, from Kentucky. They were gamers with solid arsenals of theories, concepts and killer content lesson plans.

The ace of the staff was Sister Virginia, aka Sta, who coached more than she pitched. She was a welcome relief to those of us worn down from pretending to be invisible with our faces buried in our notebooks when one of the other big left-handers was shooting bullets from the mound. And there were some tough ones. There was Sister Phillip Joseph with the smoking, in-your-face fast ball and Sister Too Tall Paul Mary with a nasty slider that broke in on you like an isosceles triangle.

With hurlers like them, you needed a go-to guy, a rally-maker to start the discussion to buy time for the rest of us to get our thoughts together. You needed someone able to rip a remark up the middle into center. You needed someone with an on-target opinion and, at the same time, someone quick with a quip.

Phil Rando, of Brockton, was that guy.

He was the Bambino of Banter, the Sultan of Substance. He was the kind of player that made everyone around him better classroom participants. He was our lead-off hitter, the kid you could count on with comments in the clutch.

Phil was the take-charge guy in Mr. O’Brien’s political, current-events class. When the classroom crowd was still, there was Phil, in the on-deck circle, getting ready to step up to the plate with his takes on escalation and ground war in Vietnam, or the growing American counterculture revolution. And, with his dry sense of Bostonian humor, he was not without a few, choice Tricky Dick lampoons whenever the occasions were ripe.

He was a fan of a good argument and knew how to tinker with an opposing view. He would take it apart and, with pinpoint analysis, prove to his opponent why it wouldn’t fly. Phil was not afraid to dive head-first into the meaty issues and, more than once, verbally duked it out with the Harvard-bound scholars. You could say, he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And yet, his brightly colored madras sport jackets were forever spotless…

Phil was my first friend at Archies and we’ve stayed in touch for more than four decades. He recently shared with me his thoughts on growing up with baseball as a kid. His views may surprise you.

Look for his comments in tomorrow’s Part 2 post.

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