by James F. Leiner
I continue to look for a baseball player from Nyack who played in the major leagues. I know of several guys who played professional baseball but none ever made it to the “Big Show.” I have found two men who played professional baseball in Nyack and made it to play in the majors. They played for the Nyack Rockies, Rockland County’s first professional baseball team.
The local sports pages on February 28, 1946 brought the news: Nyack’s assurance of Class D league baseball this summer was given when three backers of the newly formed Nyack Rocklands, Homer Lydecker Sr., John VanWyck and Albion Volk Sr. announced the acceptance of their application by the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs.” The Rockies would be members of the North Atlantic League playing against the Peekskill Highlanders, Newburgh Hummingbirds, Bloomington Troopers and four clubs from Pennsyl- vania: Stroudsburg Poconos, Carbondale Pioneer Blues, Nazareth Barons and Mahanoy City Bluebirds. The club was a member of the Philadelphia Athletics farm system run by Earl Mack, Connie Mack’s son.
Emil Schwob, a Phillies scout, was hired as manager and he brought many New Jersey players with him from the Weehawken area. Tryouts were scheduled and three local players were signed to contracts; Gerry D’Auria from Nyack, Johnny Greco from Suffern and Al Baker from Tappan who had been a high school star at Haverstraw High, signed on as a catcher. D’Auria played minor league ball before getting his Army induction notice and spent his wartime service playing baseball with guys like Ewell Blackwell and Warren Spahn. Gerry wanted to get back to the newsstand/candy store on Main Street his family ran, but he was talked into playing and helping Schwob. Playing baseball for the Rockies was not a big money-making venture. The club’s monthly payroll was limited to $2,250 for the 15 member team making average player salaries a $150 a month.
May 8, 1946 was opening night against the Newburgh Hummingbirds at Nyack High School’s field on Midland Avenue. A few years earlier the Nyack Boosters Association purchased the light towers from “Doc” Bernard’s Central Nyack Stadium and paid to have them installed around the field. Nyack’s Mayor Sal Ciancimino threw out the first pitch and pro baseball came to Nyack. However, the Hummingbirds spoiled the party by winning 6 to 5. Interest was high that year as the Rockies drew 37,000 fans at the price of 60¢ for adults and 30¢ for kids.
The club averaged 800 fans per game that season. The Rockies finished fifth in the league with a record of 67/54.
Gerry D’Auria was to figure in a most bizarre episode playing a game in Walden, NY. Lights on their field were the portable type and not too bright or dependable. Gerry was playing left field when a high fly ball was hit in his direction. Just as he settled under the ball to catch it, the lights went out and the ball bashed him between the eyes. Car lights were turned on to get him off the field and he was out of action for several days with a badly bruised nose.
Gerry would go on to hit .287 for his only season with the team. Walden was also the site for the most memorable event in the Rockies’ brief history. A no-hit, no-run gem was hurled by George Raetz, who later settled in Congers, in August, 1946.
A lot of wet weather and a last-place team with a 49/83 record in 1947 caused attendance at Rockies games to drop to 25,000. The three owners suffered financial losses and the next season was in doubt. After quite a bit of controversy the league allowed the team to play in 1948 despite the Nyack Field being regarded as the worst in the league. When the season began none of the original 1946 players were still on the roster. Rollie Sabatini was brought in as a catcher/manager yet the team finished seventh in a eight team league with a record of 46/82. On September 6, 1948 minor league baseball in Nyack came to an end.
Oh yes, who were the players from the Rockies to make it to the big leagues? Alex Garbowski, from Yonkers, hit .390 leading the league with 12 homers and 105 RBIs in 1946 and was the only original Nyack Rockies player to make the major leagues. He played two games for the Detroit Tigers in 1952. Fred Hahn, from Tappan, who played for the Rockies in 1948, pitched two innings for the St. Louis Cardinals 1952
My thanks to long-time Sportswriters George Mueller from Upper Nyack and Dick Yerg from Nyack for lending me their accounts of the Nyack Rockies for this column.
The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’