City’s Veteran Players Still Live For Their Day In The Park

He had just spent the day teaching physical education and then throwing 300 batting practice pitches to his Holliston High School team that was two days away from winning its state Division 2 championship game. He arrived at Casey Town Field in Dorchester from Framingham just a few minutes before Mass. Envelope was to play the Larkin Club in the Boston Park League.

So the best that tired, 43-year-old Harvey Krupnick could do in a game against Larkin recently was to single, triple, homer, lay down a crucial sacrifice bunt and knock in three runs in his team’s 5-4 victory.

“They used to tell me I was a bit too slow when I was younger,” laughed the wiry Krupnick, who runs a batting school in his backyard. “Now they tell me, ‘hey, you’re pretty fast for an old guy.’ ”

Krupnick who started in the Park League in 1968, was carrying a lifetime .370 average with 551 hits in 1,497 at-bats through the month of June. But he’s obviously getting better with age, because this season he was off to a 30 for 56 start (.535 for 16 games) at the plate and playing a smooth first base as well.

But Krupnick isn’t the oldest active player in the 10-team Park League — that distinction belongs to television station owner, political analyst and talk show host Avi Nelson, who says that at age 45, “you learn to make some changes in the way you bat and throw to compensate for the loss of quickness.”

Nelson, known through the years as a scrappy, get-on-base-anyway-you-can hitter, has a lifetime average around .300 and no desire to hang up his spikes. “Not when your team shirt has your name on it,” he jokes, in reference to the fact that this is the first year of the Avi Nelson Club in the league.

Krupnick, Nelson and Bill Mahoney, manager of the Larkin Club, are the most veteran of the “on-field” participants in the league. Mahoney, the Boston University baseball coach and a former BU outfielder, says he still gets the urge to have “one more at bat. But after the last one, I’m not so sure I’m gonna do it.”

A member of the Park League Hall of Fame and a .315 lifetime hitter, Mahoney pressed himself into service last year as a pinch hitter and rammed a hard ground ball to shortstop. “Then I slipped and fell in the batter’s box. It wasn’t exactly the way Ted Williams finished his career,” winced Mahoney, now an assistant principal at Brighton High School.

For all three, remaining active in the league is a combination of therapy and teaching.

“I manage, because after a hard day’s work at school, baseball is like therapy,” said Mahoney. “And coaching is like teaching, and I love teaching. You know, I really can’t go anywhere in the city and not see somebody I either played with or against in my 26 years as a player.”

His most satisfying moment in a career that began in 1960 with his home neighborhood Brighton Towne Club came in 1980 with the Mahoney club that he ran with his brother Jack. “We had been in the playoffs for six straight years and always got knocked off by the Supreme Saints,” said Mahoney, “but in ’80 we won the title in the last at bat in the last inning of the seventh and last playoff game.”

Posing for a photo with Krupnick, Mahoney paid tribute to his longtime opponent: “A good player and a tough out. If you keep Harvey off the bases, you’ve done the job,” said Mahoney.

Krupnick has been playing baseball since 1952 when he participated in the Athol Little League. Captain of the Adrian (Mich.) College team and briefly a Detroit Tigers farmhand, Krupnick has always played for Mass. Envelope general manager John Kelliher, also a member of the league Hall of Fame.

“John is a wonderful guy who cares deeply about the sport of baseball and his players,” said Krupnick, “and one of the main reasons I commute to the games from Framingham is my relationship with him.”

Krupnick is a member of the executive board of the Mass. High School Baseball Coaches’ Assn., a coordinator of the state baseball clinic and a strong advocate of “waiting on the curveball and hitting with the wrists.”

And he practices what he preaches: In the first inning of the game against Larkin, he flicked a curveball up the middle into center field for his first hit. His homer, the first this year, cleared the outfield wall 325 feet away.

“I see kids coming into the league whose dads I played against,” said Krupnick, who was the oldest player selected to a 1984 Park League all-star squad that played the US Olympic team at Fenway Park.

“Harvey’s involved in baseball all the way up to his teeth,” said Kelliher, “he’s great with our young ballplayers and he’s my unofficial scout.”

Nelson, a youthful-looking 45 who foots the bill for his team, played on the Sammy White club in the early ’60s when his teammates included Bill Mahoney, “a good hitter with terrific speed,” said Nelson.

On a night on which his team came from behind to beat the Towne Club, 13-9, Nelson was a few minutes late for the action. As principal owner of a new television station (WMFP) in Lawrence, he was overseeing repairs to the transmitter.

“That’s one of the big differences now: As you get older and into the business world, it’s harder to find the time for baseball,” he said.

A second baseman and outfielder at Roxbury Latin, Nelson began playing in the league while a student at Yale.

Now, he mainly DH’s, but plays an occasional second or third base. Nelson is editorial director at radio station WEEI, but as far as his baseball team goes, he lets friend and team manager Harvey Soolman call the shots.

“It would be uncomfortable to pull people out of the lineup after I came late,” he said. So on this night, Nelson helps Soolman as an assistant coach and head cheerleader.

“I just have a great affection for this game,” he said. “I’d even like to see the Park League season expand to include games past July. The short season is a throwback to when we were a twilight league, but now the fields have lights and we’re not restricted.”

Nelson says that current league secretary-treasurer Walt Mortimer, the former Supreme Saints slugger, was “the best hitter I ever played against. He was on every pitch, and he’s one of the reasons the league is run so well today.”

Nelson, who emcees the annual Park League banquet, said, “Being part of this league has been a unique experience and a good break from a lot of the other stuff I do . . . There’s a sense of camaraderie and competition that brings so many of the retired players back for the Hall of Fame banquets. That’s what it’s all about.”

Copyright © 1987 Boston Globe, all rights reserved. Written by Marvin Pave.

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