I am writing this the morning after Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hit his 62nd home run of the season, breaking Roger Maris’ American League record of 61, which he set 61 years ago.
I immediately thought of my dad, his youth, my life as his son and our relationship with the American pastime. Anthony Quilico was born in 1901 in the coal mining Italian enclave of Seatonville in Bureau County, Illinois. His dad worked the mines until 1909, when the mine fire in nearby Cherry, Illinois, convinced him to take a job with the railroads. Many miners of Italian descent died in the Cherry Mine fire, and it had a profound effect on survivors.
By comparison, Anthony’s childhood seemed pretty idyllic, and one of his favorite pastimes was sandlot baseball. He earned his lifelong nickname of “Dido,” the word for speedy in the Piemontese dialect, because of his baserunning prowess. I don’t know if his love of the Yankees emerged while he was still in Seatonville or after he moved to Chicago. Either way, he was attracted to them because of their Italian players: Lazzeri, Raschi and Crosetti, and later Berra, Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Pepitone, Girardi, Torre and many more.
I think these players reassured him you could succeed in life as an Italian American. He and my mom ran a tavern that we lived above in Logan Square, and in the little spare time he had, he coached my Little League team at California Park. He, of course, named the team the Chicago Yankees, with the C and Y on the hat artfully linked together to mimic the NY on the Yankees cap.
My older brother and I weren’t great players, but my dad really enjoyed imparting his baseball wisdom upon us and watching us play the game he loved so much. When the Yankees were in town, the game would be on the TV in the tavern, and whenever he could, he would take me to Comiskey Park to watch them play.
On vacations, the car radio would be tuned to a game whenever one was on, but a single vacation stands out as the most memorable.
That summer, he loaded up his 1958 Studebaker and packed my mom and me in the car for a trip to New York to see his team for the first time in the Bronx. The Yanks had a three-game homestand, and each day we would drive from our hotel through the Bowery to the stadium to buy our tickets, only to learn that the game was rained out.
He was crushed, but one more goal compelled him. He had an old bat that was strangely curved, and he thought it had been used to hit fly balls to outfielders during practice, with the bend in the bat making it easier to direct the ball just so. Intent on donating it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, he suffered his second disappointment when he was told the bat was merely warped and was of no use to the museum. His love of the Bronx Bombers in particular and the sport in general was undiminished.
I planned on playing ball in high school only to discover that St. Pats didn’t have a team, and in college I was too out of shape to make the cut. After graduation, I discovered soccer and played that for many years, following calcio with a devotion to Torino FC, whose home is 30 kilometers from where my grandparents grew up. I like to think my passion for my favorite sport was somehow engendered by my dad’s passion for his.
My dad watched the race to 61 home runs between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle with great interest and was glad when the Babe’s record fell. I’m sure he would be happy that another Yankee has set the new American League record.
The above appears in the February 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.