November 10, 2010

A player's tribute to Levittown Little League coach Mickey Rutner

Mickey Rutner (back row, far right) coached this 1955 Levittown Little League team. Arnie Galeota is in the front row, far right).
click on photo to enlarge

By Arnie Galeota
Class of 1961

I had the good fortune to play on a Little League team coached by my friend Toby Rutner's dad. Mickey Rutner knew all the proper ways to approach the sport of baseball. Hitting was more than keeping your eye on the ball, there was a discipline to hitting. He tried like hell to make a hitter out of me. He said," Arnie, you're not a big kid, (I weighed about 100 pounds) so base hitting is what we'll concentrate on, rather than long ball hitting". Little did he know that base hitting was even over my head. I was very short.. He told me to swing the bat at the ball and try to hit it back to the pitcher, BUT HIT IT HARD!. The end result was a base hit up the middle.

He demonstrated it to me and he took his stride and a level swing and crack...up the middle into center field. He did it maybe 8 out of 10 times. I step in and crack! a dribbler to the mound, some fouled tips and a few missed swings, I was 12 or 13 at the time. He never gave up on me, showed incredible patience and even showed a sense of humor about it. However, he was a no nonsense coach when it was time to work hard.

Now it came time for him to teach me how to play second base. He moved in front of a ground ball with the grace of a dancer. He taught me how to break for a ball as soon as it left the bat, how to turn and throw from different angles and what my responsibilities were when the ball was put into play. More than all of that he taught me how to think the way a ball player thinks. He always said to me, "Know what you will do with the ball if it's hit to you. What are your options?"

He spent a lot of time trying to teach me the pivot to make the throw to first base on a double play and how to run out into right field and be the cut off man. What a patient teacher he was. Eventually he molded me into a pretty decent fielding second baseman which I was able to maintain later in life when I played in a softball league in Smithtown...I was 40 at the time and 60 pounds heavier.

He tagged me with the nickname "hitless wonder" because of my fielding skills. He made it look so easy and he rarely showed any temper or frustration. He was a motivational kind of coach. I also remember Toby's mom Lee always being involved with the refreshments and other helpful things. He treated her with a lot of respect. She also seemed to love being around the kids as much as he did.

Mickey Rutner was a man to respect just by the way he treated everyone, the way he carried himself and boy could he play baseball!

1 comment:

Richard Rutner said...

thank you for that wonderful homage to my dad. He was a great ballplayer, Toby and I were luck enough to be on the road the first several years of our lives to live in the dugout and experience growing up with a professional baseball player. I also remember him being asked to be assistant commissioner of pony league by Mr. McLaren.
Richard Rutner