Saturday, April 26, 2014

From The Rubble

The remains of "The Booth" - photo courtesy of Gregg Hansen
 Thursday of this past week, my friend Stewie posted on Facebook, “Puddles, your booth is down to the wrecking ball. Just saw it.” My immediate reply was, “No way!” Then after letting it sink in, I added, “I’m shedding a tear.” And wasn’t being totally facetious. After all, that booth is the namesake for this blog. Now it’s gone. I’m sort of devastated.

When I mentioned to my good friend Patty 4-Names that “the booth” at Finney’s West, she remarked, “I saw that!” She then made the sad face and added that I will have to change the name from my blog to “From the Rubble.”

She might have a point…

The booth first came into being in 1977 when Sam “Finney” Perry and current Kenosha mayor Keith Bosman, along with several silent investors opened Oakwood Park adjacent to Smitty’s Tavern in beautiful Somers, Wisconsin. The state of the art softball complex was the first of its kind in the area and featured all the amenities; in-ground dugouts, an electric scoreboard, cyclone fences complete with warning tracks, and a concession stand with the iconic announcer’s booth above it. At some point, both the ballpark and the tavern became Finney’s West.

It is now 2014 and it is called Scores. And the concession stand with the announcer’s booth above it no longer exists. It has been reduced to rubble.

However, I only have myself to blame.

I should have been more proactive. As my friend, Kool Papa, stated on Facebook, the demolition of the Finney’s West booth is a travesty. He feels that it should have been preserved under the historical registry. Because the Kenosha Softball Nation dropped the proverbial ball, the all-too-real wrecking ball actually dropped.

Kool Papa astutely noted that because this iconic structure is gone forever, no one will ever be able to say, “See that overhang up there? That’s where an umpire jumped when an irate Ken Pflugrad chased him out of the booth window!”

Yep, we blew it. The advocates for the Southport Beach House were wise enough to organize in an effort to restore and preserve the historic building that was established in 1941 and is located on the shore of Lake Michigan. They are to be commended for their passion.

Southport Beach House
Now, because I and the rest of Kenosha Softball Nation lacked this passion and, more importantly, foresight, the historic building that was established in 1977 and is located on the corner of highways E and 31 is no more. It has been reduced to rubble.

And this is very sad.

While the Southport Beach House might have been around 36 years longer, it has nothing on the booth at Finney’s West. There have been just as many cherished memories and historic moments in that rickety wooden booth as there have been in that classic building on the beach. And, I guarantee there was a lot more alcohol consumed in that booth. I can personally attest to that fact.

Nevertheless, there is no use crying over what was. It is a moot point now. The booth is gone. It no longer exists. Although it has been reduced to rubble, I will not change the name of this blog to “From the Rubble.” There are far too many memories for that.

With pride, I say, until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

More Fun From The Booth

Leon and Paul - Tag Team Champs of the Booth

There was always something going on in the booth. Besides the announcer and scoreboard operator, there were always visitors. Players that had played earlier, players waiting to play, random Finney’s West employees, and general friends of the booth. And, like I wrote earlier, many of them were characters. That’s why we had so much fun up in the booth. Well, most of us had fun. Let me share with you an example.

Remember when I said that the booth was a clubhouse, locker room, saloon, and comedy club all rolled into one. This was never more evident one particular night. On this night hilarity ensued. It was a laughfest. Except for Jason.

At the time, Jason was primarily a scoreboard operator. He was also an aspiring announcer. He was learning the ropes by doing an occasional 2-game stint on the back diamond. The back diamond was smaller, had no lights and had a small shed complete with a bar stool to announce from. Needless to say, it had nowhere near the prestige that the main diamond with “The Booth” had.

On this evening, I was announcing on the main diamond with Jason operating the scoreboard. Also in attendance were the owner/operator Leon, Cardo and Kool Papa. With this group, it was inevitable that some sort of nonsense would take place. And it did.

With a couple of games under our belt, popcorn, hot dogs and adult beverages were being consumed. The hot dogs at Finney’s West were excellent and I had just finished noshing one between innings. Kool Papa was enjoying a bag of liberally buttered popcorn. Leon decided that it was time for another round of drinks.

With a used lineup card and pen in hand, Leon announced, “What’ll you have?” After writing down the order, he turned to Jason and asked if he felt like going downstairs.

He didn’t have to ask twice.

You need to know that Jason fancied himself somewhat of a ladies man. He thought he was hot stuff. So when Leon asked him to go down to the concession stand to get the drinks, he jumped at the opportunity. In Jason’s mind this served two purposes. One he could act like a big shot and pretend he was buying the drinks. Secondly, he could make an appearance to the females congregating around the concession stand.

Armed with the drink order and Leon’s money, Jason decided he looked hotter without his glasses and took them off. He left them next to the scoreboard. Hey, he had to look good for the ladies. However, this proved to be a big mistake.

As soon as Jason left the booth, Kool Papa reached over and grabbed Jason’s spectacles. Keep in mind that Kool Papa was enjoying buttered popcorn and his fingers were greasy. They were very greasy. He then proceeded to rub his slimy fingers all over Jason’s eyeglasses. By the time he was done there was a thick translucent film coating both the inside and out side of the lenses.

I told you Jason had made a big mistake.

Upon returning to the booth, Jason put his glasses back on. I’m surprised they didn’t slide off of his head. I’m not sure if he was aware of the snickering going on. He was too busy trying to get his glasses clean enough to see through. Our snickering had turned into full-blown laughter. Jason just muttered, “What the f*ck!”

I know. What a bunch of mean pricks. But it was fun. And we weren’t done. Now it was my turn.

Evidently Jason hadn’t learned his lesson. After the jocularity surrounding his buttered glasses died down, he did it again. Jason announced loudly to the occupants of the booth, “I get to go visit my dad in jail tomorrow.” Apparently Jason’s father was a bit of a ne'er-do-well and had run afoul of the law and was doing some time in lockup.

Not being a total jerk, I feigned concern and asked Jason how long he was in for. Jason said that he had been in for a while and was looking at another couple of months. He then used language spiced with an expletive deleted here and there to describe how much of a hassle it had been to get regular visits set up.

This is when I stopped acting like I was concerned. It was time for some more fun.

“Wow, Jason, that really sucks!” I then added, “You can’t let those people push you around like that. You have rights.” Jason replied, “F*ck ya, they ain’t pushing me around no more! I have rights”

Noting his emotional enthusiasm, I went for the jugular. “That’s right, Jason, you have rights. Are they allowing you conjugal visits?” Honest. I said that.

He said, “No they didn’t! What’s that?”
Doing my best to keep a straight face, I shot back, “Never mind what it is, it’s your right! You tell them you want a conjugal visit”
Jason was now steaming. “Hell ya! If it’s my right and I want it! Tomorrow I’m demanding a conjugal visit with my dad!”

To their credit, the other guys in the booth didn’t let on. Sure there was a lot of smirks and heads shaking, but Jason was none the wiser. Man, that’s an understatement. We might have been a bunch of rotten scoundrels, but we sure did have a lot of fun in that booth.

Until next time…from the booth.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More From The Booth

The Finney's New Yorkers

The booth was the place to be. It was where all the action started. The booth is where the lineups, the stats, the game times, the corny jokes, the raunchy jokes and every other type of joke in between was. It was much more than an announcing booth. It was a clubhouse, a locker room, a saloon, and a comedy club all rolled into one. One time it was even a flophouse.

Yes, that’s right, a flophouse. This tale first appeared in my book, “Some Kenosha Softball”, but it deserves to be retold.

I remember a group of ladies from the Finney's New Yorkers softball team that used a donut as an alarm clock. It happened very early on a Sunday morning during the Women's Marathon Tournament at historic Finney's West. The annual event began on Saturday morning with games being played non-stop through the night, and the championship game taking place sometime on Sunday afternoon.

At the time, Leon Rosko was the owner/operator of Finney's West and as usual, and was hard at it. He had been busy doing all the things necessary for the tournament to run smoothly. He had set the schedule, ordered the trophies, lined up the umpires, dragged and chalked the fields and stocked all of the coolers.

You get the picture. If there was something that needed to be done, chances are Rosko did it or was in the process of doing it. Plus you have to factor into the equation that this was a marathon tournament and he had no sleep since arriving just as the sun had come up Saturday morning.

Now it was early Sunday morning. With everything running like clockwork, an exhausted Rosko attempted to take a well-deserved "break" on the floor of the announcer's booth. He pushed the box of used softballs out of the way, grabbed an old glove from the lost ‘n’ found for a pillow and started his nap.

He had barely started to snore when the New Yorkers entered the booth, armed with a box of Dunkin' Donuts. They asked me where Leon was. I put my finger to my lips and gestured to the sleeping figure on the floor behind me.

Whispering softly, they explained that they had brought the box of donuts to give to Leon in appreciation for all of his hard work. Despite my rather feeble efforts to stop the New Yorkers, they decided Mr. Rosko had rested long enough and proceeded to attempt to wake him to give him his gift.

Calling his name didn't work, neither did tickling his ear. When poking and prodding Rosko had absolutely no results, the ladies proceeded to wave one of the warm, sugary delights under his nose. That did it! Needless to say, Rosko's snooze was now over and breakfast was served to the appreciative, albeit bleary-eyed, owner/operator.

I would be lying if I said that I remembered what place the Finney’s New Yorkers finished in the tournament. However, I do remember that this group of young ladies did indeed use a donut as an alarm clock. It was definitely a first at historic Finney’s West and most likely anywhere else for that matter.

Until next time…from the booth.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From The Booth

The reason I call this blog “From The Booth” is because of the multitude of stories that emanated from the rickety old structure located at the corner of Highways E and 31 in beautiful Somers, Wisconsin. The booth wasn’t always rickety and old. But it got that way in a short amount of time. It took a beating. Just check out the photo at the top of the blog.

Occupying the historic booth in that photo from left to right are: Bruce Heide (barely visible in the shadows) Kurt “Sonny” Jorgensen, myself, Rick “Cardo” Bloomquist and Leon Rosko. Conservatively speaking, that’s about 1500 pounds of beef. And that’s with only five of us up there. You would easily double that number for tournament final games or on an all-star night.

You can understand that wooden floors that doubled as a ceiling for the concession stand creaked and squeaked with a good amount of regularity. I always felt that the ladies down below serving concessions should have been issued hardhats and received hazard pay.

Now, not all of crew that worked upstairs in the booth was as hefty as the bunch in the photo, but you get my point. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the regular people:

The Booth Announcers
Jason Cruezinger
Randy Donais
Bob “Jocko” Harrison
Paul “PJ” Johnson
Bob Nyberg
Joe Perry
Jill Perry
Leon Rosko
Gregg Sinnen
Paul “Puddles” Vagnoni
Jim “the Screamer” Webber

The Booth Scoreboard Operators
Rick Anderson
Dave Fleming
Joe Ganero
Bruce Heide
Dave Mann
Mike Murphy
Alexander Sadowski III
Glen Skendzl
J.J. Steinhoff
Sam Steinhoff
Danielle Webber

Much chicanery took place in that booth. So much so, I wrote an entire chapter about it in my second book, “More Kenosha Softball.” Here is a short excerpt:

“The announcer’s booth soon became a major attraction at Finney’s West. With a clubhouse-like atmosphere, the booth was the place to be. Sports were discussed, hot dogs, popcorn and beers were consumed, cigarettes, cigars and what have you were smoked, farts were farted and nasty remarks were made on a nightly basis. Oh ya, and softball games were announced. All in that wooden booth that sat high atop the concession stand.”

Needless to say there were more than announcers and scoreboard operators up in that booth. We weren’t the only ones up there eating, drinking, farting and making nasty comments. Not by a long shots. Players and fans loved to stop upstairs if only to enjoy the view. Most of the time they stayed long enough to enjoy more than the view.

Characters like Rick “Cardo” Bloomquist, Kurt “Sonny” Jorgensen, John “Kool Papa” Schwarz and Craig “Hands” Tabbert made the booth an interesting and hilarious place to be. I have many tales from the booth that didn’t make my book that need to be told. I just need to figure out which ones are suitable to share. Hmm…

Until next time…from the booth.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Today’s blog is written in conjunction with Facebook’s “Throwback Thursday.” The above photo was taken during the mid ‘60s in the backyard of our house located at 7317 39th avenue. It was a two-story house located across the street from St. Mary’s Church. In the photo, my dear Ma is holding up baby brother Joey. Sister Teri is to her right and I am to her left. I’m not quite sure why I am flexing. Brother Mike is right behind Teri and is staring at me probably wondering what I am doing.

Since this is a “Throwback Thursday”, I am going to take you on a tour of my old neighborhood and see how many neighbors I can remember. I will go north on 39th avenue and start with the white house behind us in the photo. Here we go…

The Wayne and Betty Smith family. They had two sons – Steve and Doug. Wayne was a firefighter who later bought an Open Pantry convenience store in Racine.

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Collins. I’m not sure of her name. Maybe it was Rose. The first job I ever had was shoveling the Collins’ sidewalk and driveway.

Jim and Jackie Pulera family. Their kids were Joanie, Tina and Jimmy. They were great people and were my folks best friends back them. Jim sold cars. Ma still stays in touch with them.

Mrs. Dimeo and her male “friend” lived on the northwest corner of our block. Al Dimeo was her son. He insisted on wearing his eyeglasses when we played football. Of course they got broke. High drama ensued.

We are now going around the corner to the 38th avenue side, starting on the northeast corner.

Art and Elaine Jurgens and their son, Keith. They had several other older sons that didn’t live with them. Played a lot of sports with Keith. Although he threw lefty, he batted right-handed. The Jurgens were all good bowlers.

The York family. I’m kinda sketchy with the details here. Don’t remember any of their names. Except for Nancy. She was my age and I briefly had a thing for her.

The Onserud family. Another household that I am kind of vague with. I think the kids were named Guy and Sarah. She was a tomboy and good in sports.

Jim and Shirley Iaquinta and their children – Alice, Jim, David, Peter and Tim. Two things stick out in my memories of the Iaquinta family. I was scared to death of their big black dog (which never stopped barking) and Tim shaved off one of his eyebrows just for the heck of it.

The Gillespie family. Not sure about the names of the parents, but the kids were Frankie, Hope, Don and Greg. I will never forget the viscous wedgies Don would give his little brother Greg. Man, he had his underwear up over his head many times. Ouch.

The Follensbee family. Again, I don’t recall the names of the folks. They had a ton of kids. Here’s who comes to mind – Ken (aka Punky), Vickie, Stevie, Debbie (?) and a couple I don’t recollect. Ken lived up to his nickname. I remember him sliding into second base on the asphalt at St. Mary’s playground. He was picking stuff out of his leg for weeks.

The Fredrickson family. There was Scotty and his mother. She was sort of a hippie and he was crippled. She would occasionally pull him around the block in a wagon. Other times he would hop around the sidewalk on his knees. Sometimes this made me sad.

The Isermann family. They lived in a big house on the southeast corner of the block. I believe that the daughter, Katie graduated with me. They were sort of removed from the rest of the neighborhood. She was very attractive. I do remember that.

The rest of the southside of the block was flanked by Roosevelt Road. There were several businesses located here. Frank’s Bakery, the Public Library and Clay’s Tap immediately come to mind.

We now go around the corner and back on 39th avenue.

Zuehlsdorf Family. Not too sure about these neighbors. I think they had a son, but we didn’t do much with him. I do believe they owned Clay’s Tap at the time.

The Clark family. This was the house located to the south of ours. Jeff lived with his grandma and grandpa here. Jeff was a good athlete and excelled at baseball. He developed into one of Kenosha’s best softball players and is now known as Herman. He was over to the house just last week.

That concludes my tour of the neighborhood I grew up in. It was fun looking back. I know that I probably screwed up some of the names, but who cares.

Until next time…from the booth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is Lent Over Yet?

As I stated yesterday, Lent is more than halfway over. For my Lenten penance, I traditionally abstain from pizza. Any of you that know me well, realize that this is a true sacrifice for me. Pizza is easily my favorite food. That is why it is what I choose to abstain from during the 40 days of Lent. Those long 40 days of Lent. Those extremely long 40 days of Lent.

Is Lent over with yet?

I remember the first time I explained why I give up pizza to Bev, my friend from England. At first, I think she thought I was crazy. However, the next time I spoke with Bev, she proudly announced that she was giving up crisps for Lent. I should explain that crisps are what the English call any sort of potato chips and Bev enjoys her crisps as much as I do my pizza.

That was eight years ago and Bev has abstained from crisps each Lent since then. And she’s not even Catholic, just a very dear friend.

On April 21, the day after Easter, I will be ordering a pizza. And I can’t wait. Living in Kenosha I have well over 30 pizzerias to choose from. What a wonderful conundrum! Which one will I order from? Hmm…

Actually it’s not that hard of a choice for me. I have three “go-to” pizzerias, my top choices if you will. Remarkably, my selection was made for me. Before I explain how that can be, let me list my top 10 list.

My Top 10 Kenosha Pizzerias
1. Sal’s
2. Valeo’s
3. Pa’s
4. Luigi’s Pizza
5. DeRango’s
6. Rocky Rococo
7. Casa Capri
8. Jimano’s
9. Infusino’s
10. Kaiser’s

That’s my current list and has been for quite awhile. As I said, the first three are the places that I most often patronize. The quality is so close that I usually rotate among the three. So why is my choice so simple on April 21? Easy – Sal’s and Pa’s are closed on Mondays. Therefore, my abstinence will be broken with a delicious pie from Valeo’s. Sal’s and Pa’s will have to wait a few days.

Before I end this discussion about Kenosha pizzerias, I would like to make one more point. While our fair city is blessed with an abundance of fine pizza restaurants, there are actually three that I avoid like the plague. One is because their pizza is lousy; the second because of their management and the third is guilty of both – lousy pizza and bad management. I’m not naming names, but I will never give any of this trio my business.

With that out of the way, I have one question. Is Lent over yet?

Until next time…from the booth.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Time to do a bit of reflecting. On Monday I did the unthinkable and wrote about politics. Yuck. I’m still trying to get the taste out of my mouth. Blech. I’m not making any promises, but I won’t be writing any more political blogs in the near future. Why you ask? Yesterday, I posted that blog around 11:00am. By 5:00pm I learned that there was new primeval slime oozing out in the unprincipled world of Kenosha politics. You honestly can’t make this shit up, but I can stop writing about it.

For now.

On to something a little less controversial. Hopefully.

It is more than halfway through Lent. During my prayers I have been reading a daily reflection from a booklet by Father Thomas Connery titled “Lent little by little.”  Almost all of these reflections are very meaningful and some even seem to be directed specifically at me.

Take the reflection from this past Sunday for example. It even used my name.

Paul was driving home late one night when he picked up a hitchhiker. As they rode along, he became suspicious of his passenger. He just didn’t like his looks and started to feel that he had made a mistake picking him up. Paul checked to see if his wallet was safe in the pocket of his coat that was on the seat between them. It wasn’t there! He slammed on the brakes, ordered the hitchhiker out and demanded, “Hand over the wallet immediately!”

Frightened, the hitchhiker handed over a billfold, and Paul drove off. When he arrived home, he was still livid and began to tell his wife about the experience. She interrupted him saying, “Before I forget, do you know that you left your wallet at home this morning?”

We human beings naturally judge by appearance; we judge the externals. The tricky part is that we need to make judgments. You can’t be na├»ve and put yourself in harm’s way. We have to discern what is safe and unsafe. We teach our children that very thing. Yet we are challenged to see as God sees, to look beyond the externals of where one lives or what kind of car one drives. Accept the fact that we know very little of the heart of the person by their appearance. Don’t be quick to judge based solely on what you see. Know that there is more to a person than the clothes they wear.

FATHER, I don’t have your eyes, and I don’t have your mind. I can’t see or know everything. Yet I have to make judgments. Help me with your grace to beyond externals and try to know the heart of another. Grant me your eyes that I may see as you see. AMEN.

That reflection really hit home with me. I have been on both ends of this. I have been guilty of judging others without knowing everything, without seeing the whole picture. And, others have also judged me when they had no idea what I was going through or what I was dealing with. It hurts when people jump to conclusions without asking questions. Especially when they are individuals that are close to you.

The bottom line is that we need to treat each other better and refrain from being judgmental. Find out what’s in the other person’s heart and let them know what’s in yours. It’s least we can do for each other. This is especially beneficial with the people we think we know. Remember, people change and so do we.

Until next time…from the booth.