By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON July 26, 2002 Ben Chesnick could practically field grounders in his sleep.
The Callicoon resident has been living the American pastime his whole life. From leaping for fly balls in the outfield as an eighth grader to getting on his knees in the dirt each night as an umpire, Chesnick has given his all to the game.
And hes finally getting some reward this fall he will join other local sports legends when hes inducted into the Wayne County Area Sports Hall of Fame.
From the time he was a youngster playing stickball with a broom for a bat and a cow plop for first base in the backyard of his parents farm in Uniondale, Chesnick was hooked.
I just love the game, he says with a smile, his eyes clouding with memories of his career. I remember the first ground ball hit to me I picked it up and threw it over the catchers head.
But, he added hastily, he quickly improved from there.
I always wished I could get into the big leagues, he recalled.
Instead, Chesnick settled down after playing ball in the Navy, and he moved to Callicoon with wife Nancy to raise a family and continue work at Dairylea (he was there 47 years before retiring in 1992).
But hes never given up baseball. Chesnicks passion for the game was born as a youngster running out his energy with his brothers in some old-fashioned backyard ball.
He joined the Navy in 1945 and was quickly recruited for the ships team, playing with the best of the seamen in Newport, R.I.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Cuba; Hawaii; and Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, Chesnick was on the team that swept the championship, beating out boys from other U.S. ships as well as foreign players.
When he returned to Uniondale, Chesnick picked up the game again, joining the town league to keep up with his game. He can still list the members of his team: his brothers Alphonse, Francis, Bernard, Matthew and Stanley; cousin Albert, a guy whose real name was Clark Gable; and the Tedesco brothers.
At that time, Chesnick was rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies.
He moved to Ellenville later, then Windsor and then to his current home, Callicoon, playing ball as he went.
He played baseball and softball in leagues in Ellenville even attending all the home games at the local correctional facility.
All the inmates were cheering for our side, he recalled with a laugh.
The family went to Windsor next, but because it was wintertime, Chesnick never got the chance to play.
He entered the Callicoon league in 1955 however, and hes been here ever since.
We were the Indians then, he recalled. There were three members of the clergy on our team.
While Chesnick played ball, Nancy ran the concession stand to help pay the umpires.
He even spent an extra year playing in Lookout, Pa. to make sure the town could field a nine-man team.
Every other Sunday, the team played at home, and a freight train would stop right near the ballfield. Chesnick remembers taking a baseball, writing his name and address on the hard leather coating and whacking the ball up on top of the coal car.
Someone in the Philadelphia freight yard found that ball, picked it up and mailed it back to Callicoon.
When anyone asks, Whats the longest ball you ever hit? I can say, 250 miles against the wind, he said with a chuckle.
Chesnicks talents led him to a player/manager position on the Callicoon team at one point in the 1960s, and later it led him to refereeing the games in 1969.
Hes been a member of the NYS Sullivan County Umpire Association for more than 30 years, calling games at colleges and high schools in the surrounding area.
I go wherever Im needed, he explained.
And he has many memories playing ball with Bob Diehl, a friend who is also a member of the Wayne County hall of fame; spending time with team sponsor Mickey Roche; and early mornings playing ball in Uniondale with Bobby Tedesco.
I was the janitor at the grade school, and he lived close by, Chesnick recalled. And we were always out there hitting ground balls at 6:30, 7 oclock in the morning.
And now Chesnick is up early in the mornings with his 17-year-old grandson, Jamie, playing catch in the backyard.
Ive been playing with him since he was a kid, Chesnick explained. I just hope he gets higher up in the leagues than I did.
And hes still umping after 34 years. After an interview last week, Chesnick was preparing to suit up and head out to a doubleheader in Liberty, and he expected to be working again soon after that.
I just love the game, he explained.