A father and his baseball-loving son

Dino Papadopoulos, the ace pitcher for the Huerter Post #46 Little League team, stood stoop-shouldered on the mound, in need of solace. The twelve-year-old had just surrendered a game-tying home run after having started the inning with a five-run lead.

I trudged from the dugout to the pitching hill. I was twenty-nine at the time, in my fourth year managing in the suburban, Wilmette, Ill., Little League. I’d made mound visits like this countless times, but at the Little League level yanking a pitcher is never routine.

I took the ball from Dino’s hand. The boy was too dazed to…


Summer youth travel baseball is upon us. Back in the early 1990s, when youth travel sports teams were first growing popular — when parents first perceived them as a possible ticket to their child winning a college athletic scholarship — I surveyed Chicago Cubs players regarding the number of games they had played as 11- and 12-year-old Little Leaguers. Most recalled playing a dozen or so, maybe as many as 18. The idea of competing in 50 games, 100 or even more seemed ludicrous to them. Larry Bowa, the ferociously competitive former All-Star shortstop who later managed the San Diego…


Jim Czajkowski, in his playing days.

The minor league baseball season has just begun. How rare is it for a minor league player to reach the majors? Just ten and a half percent will make it. Of those who do, one in five won’t last more than a year. This is the story of Jim Czajkowski, a ballplayer who, at the time of this writing in 1992, seemed to have missed his chance of reaching the big leagues, yet wouldn’t quit the game. Ultimately, it’s about the impact those many years of minor league ball had on his and his family’s life. As chance would have…


By Ron Berler

The hero — for the moment.

With Little League season approaching, I thought I’d reprise this piece, written while I was a youth-issues columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

When the Harwood Heights, Ill., Dodgers took the field last Saturday against their Little League rivals, the White Sox, they figured there was no way they could lose. On the mound for them was 11-year-old Paul Santucci, the Tom Seaver of the league. In his last outing, a fairly typical performance, he had fanned the last six batters and hit a three-run homer to win the game.

The Dodgers players were in awe of Santucci…


Richard “Heatwave” Berler

When my brother, Richard “Heatwave” Berler, met me at the Laredo, Texas, airport in January some years ago, he was keyed up, distracted, as if spiking from a sugar high. He hustled me out of the terminal and into a desert swelter that left me gasping for air. “I don’t want to get too excited,” the city’s number one-rated TV meteorologist said, trying to keep a lid on his emotions, “but this could be the first day of the year we reach 90 degrees.”

We climbed into his Toyota and sped toward KGNS-TV, the local NBC affiliate where he works…


How do you know when you’re old? For me, it happened shortly after turning 70, at the Scarsdale, N.Y., recreation field where a group of us play a weekly Sunday pickup softball game. I oiled my glove, threaded new laces into my cleats. I couldn’t wait to take the field. Though the National Institute on Aging maintains that, “exercise has proven benefits for older people,” the 2019 season had been rough on me.

May: broken right thumb. June: concussion. August: strained right hamstring.

“Not my fault,” I insisted to my wife, each time I returned home cradling one appendage or…


If you pedal, you gotta have the shirt.

Of the countless sporting events that have resumed this year as the threat from COVID-19 eases, few have been as anticipated as the return of RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). The week-long ride has long held a special place in my own heart. I first pedaled RAGBRAI in 1986, on assignment for Outside magazine. I loved it so, I returned twice on my own. Here’s the original piece. My hope is that it will inspire others to saddle up July 25 when this year’s RAGBRAI commences:

Team Flab is taking five atop a small rise just outside…


BY RON BERLER

I wrote this for the Miami Herald during the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency. I could have written it today:

It was the Friday before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Kathryn Frey had decided to read Carmen Agra Deedy’s children’s book, “The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark,” to her fourth-grade, Greenwich, Conn., class. It tells a tale of how the king and his countrymen protected that nation’s Jews from Nazi persecution during World War II.

Frey teaches at New Lebanon School, one of the town’s three Title I elementary schools…


By Ron Berler

It’s pretty to believe that if one only puts in the time, he can save a wayward child. It doesn’t always work out that way.

The troubled boy I mentored for 6½ years through a Norwalk, Conn., school volunteer program fired me last May. We’d been together since he entered fourth grade, and until our parting I’d visited him at school almost weekly, as well as periodically throughout summer. Now 17, he no longer wants to meet.

I can’t say I’m surprised.

For the last three years, he has been spiraling toward a bottom he has yet…


I wrote this piece for the Virginian-Pilot shortly after President Donald J. Trump’s November 2016 election. It posed a simple question — Would this president prove competent in handling a national crisis:

Sat down to breakfast one recent morning and clicked through the cable movie selections on TV. Anything to divert my thoughts from the recent presidential election, to help me get on with my day.

“Flipper,” “Dead Poets Society,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Mission: Impossible 2.” I’d seen them all and wasn’t in the mood to sit through them again.

I kept scrolling. While doing so, I mused about a…

Ron Berler

Author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.” Has written for the New York Times Magazine, Wired and ESPN.com.

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