I walked down to Broadway Saturday evening to do the weekly shopping. The Uptown Sports Complex is across the street from the market so I stopped in to say hello. I wrote a piece about summer sports in New York last year for SI.com and featured a segment on the Complex which is owned by a couple of guys who went to high school with longtime Banterite, Dimelo. The owners and Dimelo (which is a moniker, Dominican slang for “What’s up?”) are part of a group of eight or nine guys who’ve known each other since they were kids. They call themselves “The Usual Suspects.”
The place was jumping. Sixty, seventy people were crammed inside–most of them young men in and around the batting cages. This is peak season for the cages, when high school teams come to work out and prepare for the spring. I was pleased to see that business was booming.
I saw Ernies, one of the owners, and went to say hello. He had a mop in his hand and looked distracted. He was setting up for a memorial service. One of Ernies’ high school friends, guy named Manny, died earlier this month near his home in South Florida. He was 35. Manny played football with Ernies at JFK and had some talent. He went to Wisconsin, was the starting tackle for Ron Dayne and won the Rose Bowl withthe Badgers. He never made it as a pro and shortly after graduating, he moved to Miami, and had a child with one of Ernies’ great friends.
“We went down to see him every once in a while,” Ernies told me. “He was part of the extended crew. But we talked all the time. He wanted to open up a cage down there too.” Ernies finished mopping up a spill near the restroom and put the mop in a storage closet.
“My man had South Beach locked down,” he said. “Every place we went to down there, all we had to do is mention his name and we drank for free. He had it on lock.”
Manny worked twelve-hour shifts as a security guard and he’d been working a lot around New Year’s Eve. After one shift, he fell asleep at the wheel. The car crashed and caught fire. He was trapped inside and burned to death. He left behind four children and a wife.
The service began at six o’clock. I waited around for Dimelo to pay my respects but felt out-of-place–I looked like a scrub, not fit for a memorial–so I gave my condolences to Ernies and his partner Andy and went to the market. The service was conducted, attended by family and friends. Dimelo called me later and reported that only one cage still operated as the service began–Manny’s mother wanted it that way. The sound of the bat hitting the ball could be heard as they cried and hugged and remembered a man who died too soon.
I was across the street picking through the string beans when I saw Ralphie, the eldest member of “The Usual Suspects.” I watched five or six playoff and World Serious games with the crew last fall and met him on a few occasions. He is a dapper man. I held out my fist and we exchanged a pound as he moved past. He was talking on his phone, “Yeah, I’m just picking up some juice for the memorial,” he said as he turned the corner.
I thought about my wife and my friends. Then I went back to picking through the beans. Carefully.