It’s never just a trip to Washington Township to see Immaculate Heart Academy’s softball team play.
It’s an adventure.
Take, for instance, the March 25 home scrimmage opposite Northern Valley-Demarest High School at what I like to call LaRezza Field, on the campus of IHA. It didn’t matter what the score was, it was just being there that makes the day enjoyable. I often call Livingston’s home field, the ‘ShangriLa’ of Essex County softball, but going to IHA is more like watching the ‘Gong Show’. (Some of us won’t remember that show, but it was a classic).
There’s never a dull moment. Head coach Anthony LaRezza sees me wearing a Philadelphia Phillies jacket (I’m actually a Cardinals fan), and says “who are you, Dick Ruthven? Tug McGraw?”
With Mr. Ruthven’s name now secured in the annals of famous people who have (somewhat) visited IHA for a softball game, he joins the likes of Jerry Reuss, Charley Lau, Doug Buffone, Willie Stargell and the great umpire, Nestor Chylak.
When it’s not about legends, the conversation can be about capitalism and the famous snack stand that thrives during the annual IHA tournament, the ‘chicken and the pig’ analogy, or which player has whatever race horse nickname I’ve given them.
You can also learn about where the term ‘upset’ came into sports conversation and the legend of the Sopranos or famous ‘Godfather’ quotes. (‘Leave the gun, take the cannolis’, or ‘They’re gonna pick you up in front of Jack Dempsey’s joint in an hour and a half.’)
While it’s still the exhibition season, the 2015 version of IHA is starting come around. The great Stef Thomas has been graduated, but there are two young pitchers, both lefties, who look pretty good in the circle. I’m even calling one of them a ‘Southpaw Secretariat’.
The kid throws so hard you can hear the glove pop BEFORE the ball arrives. No decaffeinated coffee with her.
Among the players in a hard-hitting lineup is a young lady with a classic first name. Won’t say what that is, yet, but let’s just say one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century would be very proud.
And there’s the young lady who gets to foul balls quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen the field at IHA, then you know there’s a lot of foul territory, and the need to get the foul balls that end up in the woods. And while it’s a thankless job, this kid flies to the errant ball. LaRezza and I were kidding she gets to the spot before the ball even lands.
Now if this weather would just warm up, softball season can really start cooking and the trips to IHA will be even more memorable.
Dare I say, ‘get your popcorn ready?’