Memories of Bertha Saladino: No runners-up in her affections
I played for Brandon Seed.
Tony Saladino III, son of Bertha and Tony Saladino, played for Ken’s Barber Shop.
The year was 1972 and we were facing off in one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century: the three-game Pee-Wee Baseball Championship at South Brandon Little League.
We were 8.
The tiny bleachers — and I am not exaggerating — were packed: A patch of yellow shirts for thriving Brandon Seed (lots of cows and horses to feed in Brandon in those days), and a swath of red for Ken’s Barber Shop (where all the kids got their bowl cuts).
Fans (parents and siblings) chanted and cheered. They high-fived. They danced. They hung on every play.
Every game was tight.
Unfortunately for Brandon Seed, Tony Saladino III made a bunch of great plays to lead Ken’s Barber Shop to victory in the final moments of Game 3.
For Brandon Seed this was nothing less than devastating.
In the Brandon Seed dugout we cried as if we not only had lost one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century, but as if all of our houses had just burned down. (Little known fact: In the top-10 all-time rankings of horrific crying after sporting events, this ranks No. 2, right behind the Russian hockey team crying in their locker room after the Americans defeated them in the 1980 Olympics).
I cried so hard I thought I might choke to death.
When we finally stumbled out of the dugout — after a good 45 minutes of gut-wrenching bawling — our faces were so red and puffy they almost burst.
So, yeah, I certainly remember that horrifying ending.
But I also remember something else: While our parents hugged us and told us this wasn’t the end of the world, I saw standing there with the yellow-clad Brandon Seed parents Tony and Bertha Saladino (in Ken’s Barber Shop red), so concerned with our unprecedented wailing that they waited to offer condolences.
Bertha opened wide her arms to us sad folks from Brandon Seed. She hugged us. She wiped tears from her eyes.
I remember this partly because she had memorable hair: Big, perfect, beautiful hair. She was always very well put together. I remember looking up and seeing her sweet, smiling, loving face framed in that perfect hairdo (she didn’t get her hair done at Ken’s Barber Shop).
For more than 40 years after that, Bertha told me many times that those Pee Wee memories were right up there with her favorites in baseball, and lord knows she had a lot of baseball-related memories.
Every time she saw me — and she saw me often as a teenager growing up with Tony III and as a reporter covering the annual Tony Saladino Tournament and awards ceremonies for more than 25 years — she greeted me (always with perfect hair) as if there was no one on the earth she would rather see than me.
“My love,” she would say and hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek.
She would pat the seat next to her and say, “Sit down.” I would sit and we would talk. She would tell me what was going on in her life and vice versa. She listened intently. When we parted she would say, “I love you.”
She did. I know she did. She was a love bug.
A thought: Through the decades of the Saladino Baseball Tournament, the winning team would get a victory meal. But guess what? So did the runnerup.
She said, ‘I want those boys to feel just as good as the winners,’” her husband Tony Saladino Jr. said. “She said, ‘I want everyone to feel good.’ So she always fed both the winners and runners-up. It’s what she did. It’s who she was. She was concerned about everybody’s feelings. She desperately wanted everybody to happy.”
In 1972 …