Fun through the years
Carl Kaufman is 94 years old and uses a walker to get around these days. Next to his recliner at home are numerous family photographs and, curiously, two laminated sheets of paper telling him where he can find his favorite channels – in both standard and high-definition, a sign of two different eras – on TV.
He had The Golf Channel on with the volume way too loud. One of his daughters turned the TV off while Carl started talking about his days playing baseball and softball in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area on long-gone fields. His family said this is a common occurrence when he’s driven around town.
If only for a brief moment or two, a youthful glimmer returned to Kaufman’s eyes.
“I have a lot of memories, but they’re all over the place,” Kaufman said. “Of course, in those days, we didn’t have mitts, we didn’t have gloves. The only ones that had gloves were the catcher and first baseman. You didn’t even have spikes. You had sneakers, if you were lucky. It was just that way. That was in the ’30s.”
Unlike today’s youth baseball scene of neatly organized teams playing in full uniform on mostly pristine fields, the conditions on which Kaufman played were less than ideal.
“We played a lot at the athletic field,” Kaufman said, “In those days, we had a pond. That’s where the high school plays (now). We played softball down in there and you had to go down in the bank to get to it. The thing that was in back was the tennis courts, and then the playground. Well, we had two players – Bob McMachon, who used to have McMachon’s Paint Store, and Bernie Walters – they were left-handers. They were always trying to hit the balls over the tennis court.”
Teams from Buffalo and Rochester came into the area to play ball, one of them including a pitcher aptly named “Shifty” Gears – he could throw with both his left and right hands.
“You never knew which way he was coming,” Carl Kaufman said. “He put his arms behind him and zoom. He pitched in the Buffalo leagues, which was big-time. He played up here a couple of times. “There was a spot in there when a guy lived (around Canary St.), Russ Frye. He used to put you up against one of the garages here, then he’d stand across the street and you’d have to either kiss the ball or it’d go through you. That’s the way you played.”
Carl and his gang would travel all over the area in a time where not everyone had a car and even public transportation was hard to come by at times.
“On Sundays, there were six of us who used to go to Lily Dale and play with Lily Dale,” Carl Kaufman said. “I forget the guy’s name, but he was a pitcher and he was a painter who hung out at McMachon’s, which is how we got to Lily Dale. One guy had a car and six of us went to Lily Dale to play because you were lucky somebody had a car and that’s the way we went.
“It just comes back to my memory. I don’t remember too well.”
FATHER TO SON
The elder Kaufman’s memory was often shared with son John, one of four children.
“No, not really,” the younger Kaufman remarked regarding his recollection of his father’s tales. “He always talked about the high school field, which was kind of a swamp back in the day.”
Even though times had changed from Carl’s youth to John’s youth, baseball was still embraced as something for a bunch of bored youngsters to do if conditions – and school – allowed.
“As kids, we all grew up playing baseball,” John Kaufman said. “It was what we did. We grew up on Washington Avenue and we’d meet up in Washington Park and play baseball.”
John Kaufman played baseball at the Babe Ruth and Little League levels in his youth with teammate John Schober. Schober’s father, Bill, played with and against Carl Kaufman on the local sandlots.
“I never really knew they played baseball against each other,” Kaufman said. “He talked about playing a lot of people in his time, you know?”
THE MEMORIES KEEP COMING BACK
“I remember Bill,” Carl said regarding the elder Schober. “Bill was a good pitcher. Bill and Elmer Schwenkel, they were pitching. One had one team and one had the other. Bill had Ruggles Street and up that way. At that time, there was a lot of kids and Elmer, I forget where they all came from. I was a third baseman. But we had a good time.”
The good times would grind to a halt, however. Local baseball programs, under the severe economic hardships of the Great Depression, folded while World War II took area boys and turned them into men.
“The first ones to go out of here were the naval militia,” Kaufman said. “That took quite a few of them in, and then (local boys) got drafted and what-not. When you come back, you’re a little too old – you’re not too old, but it just wasn’t the same, you know? You couldn’t do the same things. Come home, get married and four years in the service. Get married, have seven kids and here I am. I mean, I’m just lucky I can look back and say I’m 94 and a lot of these guys have gone.
“Bill Schober and I, before or after we came back, we stayed together for awhile. We didn’t play any ball.”
FROM THE DIAMOND TO THE GREENS
Baseball eventually left John Kaufman as well – thanks to his father.
“Once my dad took me golfing, that was it,” he said. “I played golf. That was when I was 13 or 15, something around there.”
However, softball is still a big part of Kaufman’s life. His daughter, Aimee, is a junior pitcher for Dunkirk who rose through the ranks as a Little League All-Star and a jayvee MVP.
He won’t take any credit for her development, though.
“I never pushed her to play softball,” he said. “She just picked it up and she just loved to play softball. She started when she was eight years old or something like that.”
Meanwhile, the Schober-Kaufman bond has continued into the present day.
John Schober’s daughter, Tess, played against Aimee often on Little League sandlots in their younger days. Carl struck up a friendship with the second-generation Schober in the stands while the girls developed their skills on the softball diamond.
“It was just one of those things,” Carl Kaufman said. “We’d just get together and talk.”
It’s a little harder for the two to get together and talk these days, as Tess is a sophomore hurler for Fredonia.
Still, even at 94 years of age, Carl Kaufman makes it to one Marauder game a week during the season to see his granddaughter play.
“It’s been quite a life,” he remarked.