Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Booth

This morning my Aunt Janet stopped by to drop off a Kenosha News clipping from Sunday, June 23, 1985. It is an article about the booth at Finney’s West, featuring Leon Rosko and myself. Sports writer Steve Brunner wrote the piece. I thought that you might like to read it. I did.
2 Slowpitch Experts

Announcers Enjoy Game
 Paul Vagnoni and Leon Rosko will watch more than 1,400 softball games this year, spend three to four hours a week each on league batting averages, and see some of the best players in the Kenosha area.

Of the 1,400, they’ve seen each season for the past seven seasons, one stands out.

“It was a few years ago,” Vagnoni said. “Washington Island had two outs and were down seven runs in the bottom of the seventh and came back to win.”

Leon Rosko, 35, and Paul Vagnoni, 28, are the public address announcers at Finney’s West softball diamonds. Both started announcing at Finney’s in 1978.

Alternating games and nights, the two work three mornings and six nights a week at Finney’s. They nickname players and cause the scoreboard to go crazy for a homerun.

“It’s not so much a job,” Rosko said. “It’s a good time.” They’re sure there is more fun in the booth than on the field.

Anybody who has played at the diamond in Somers at the corner of highways 31 and E has heard their voices.

“OK, we will let the crowd file in before we start our next game,” Rosko announces as the three spectators enter view. “This will let you people pick up a nice cold brewski and a redhot hot dog.”

On this particular night, the Racine city champs, Bushwackers, were dueling the Kenosha Park Tavern. Rosko was at the mike while Vagnoni watched.

“People come up here to see the view all the time,” Vagnoni said laughing. The booth faces west overlooking two diamonds and straight into the sunset.

“Hey, get the score right up there, “ yelled Washington Park player Willie Yee.

“Get in the game Joey,” Rosko said to his eight-grade scorekeeper, Joe Garnero. “See, things do get tense around here.”

“Most of the players blame us for mistakes on the scoreboard,” Vagnoni said. “Let’s get this straight. We only do the stats and the announcing.”

“The players like hearing their batting averages most,” Vagnoni said. “But that is where the most complaints are. One guy the other day said I messed up on his batting average – that he had two more hits. So I looked back in the books. He had a sacrifice, and got on on an error.”

Rosko said the little things, like announcing averages, are what makes Finney’s one of the best area softball complexes around. “Finney fills up his leagues every year for the last 10 years.”

“Paul and I start out in December, organizing meetings and setting things up,” said Rosko, who is also a part-time worker at Rosko signs. Vagnoni works at Koos Inc. eight months of the year. The softball, both agree, is more of a hobby.

For a hobby, they know their subject, and the players, well.

“Who are the best softball players in the area? That’s a tough question,” Rosko said. “There are so many good players no one really stands out. Maybe Ron Funderbird or Dick Laba. But Laba has a bad back now.”

Vagnoni said he couldn’t pick just one player. “I suppose I like the nicer guys. For instance, Mark Hackbarth will bring cookies sometimes.”

After some prodding, they said the six best players they’ve seen at Finney’s are: Bill Johnson, Nick Perrine, Hackbarth, Funderbird, Laba, and Ron Danoski. They pegged Ira Williams of Washington Island Fish Market as the best newcomer.

Johnson plays softball in Milwaukee now. Laba and Perrine are semi-retired, after playing professionally.

Rosko and Vagnoni have come to appreciate a good softball game as well as good players.

“I really don’t like to see the boom, boom, boom stuff. It’s no fun to see all homers. I like to see a good hitting and fielding game,” Vagnoni said.

“What we hate to see is a sloppy game,” Rosko said. “Those sometime seem to take forever. Good games fly by.”

The longest home run they’ve seen?

“Remember, Paul, when Funderbird hit the Squirt sign,” Rosko said. The Squirt sign is on top of the scoreboard 310 feet away.

They divulged a secret about Finney’s West: “Those signs on the main diamond fences,” said Rosko, “are a few feet short.” “Yeah, about three feet each way,” said Vagnoni.
And they know other secrets.

“We’ve seen some bad calls, but we won’t say anything. The umps usually do a good job.” Rosko said.

“People call up here all the time,” Vagnoni said. On this particular night a man called up to protest umpire interference from the game before. Both laughed after the phone call. They seemed to know the umpire was in the right.

From their perch they see all, seem to know all, and still have time for fun.

The article brings back many memories from the booth. Thanks to Steve Brunner for writing the article and thanks to Aunt Janet for bringing it by. Until next time…from the booth.


Anonymous said...

Just saw Leon at Kwik Trip. Told him how I wish we could go back to the days of Julian Schmidt throwing his steel-tipped darts into the shingled eave above the cooler, Kifka's ad hoc bartending and Love Shack cranked on the jukebox, amid a packed bar of softballers and ladies on a hot Somers night. Those were the days, my friend.
Kool Papa

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Kifka, the Russian author? How about a young J.P. Schwarz coming off the railing around the dart machine with a well placed elbow? Those were the days…

Anonymous said...

As the senile pirate once said, "I forgot me arrrrgh."

Kool Papa

sue said...

I can just picture you sat that - commenting to your hearts content.

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Very rarely am I at a loss for words, Sue! :)