Former minor-league legend Rick Lancellotti joining Cherry Hill East Hall of Fame
The real-life 'Crash Davis' from the movie 'Bull Durham' hit 276 home runs in a career that included stints in 15 leagues in eight countries on four continents.
Of all the journeys Rick Lancellotti made in his globe-trotting baseball career, perhaps the most significant was the two-mile, two-way trip he took along Kresson Road on his first day as a student at Cherry Hill East.
Without that one, Lancellotti might not have played baseball for the Cougars.
And without high school baseball, Lancellotti would not have played in eight countries on four continents, earning renown as the real-life "Crash Davis," Kevin Costner's character in the movie Bull Durham.
And Lancellotti, 62, certainly wouldn't be joining Cherry Hill East's athletic Hall of Fame along with 15 other former athletes, two coaches and a contributor in the induction ceremony for the class of 2018 later this month.
"I wanted to quit," Lancellotti said of the first day of his junior year at Cherry Hill East in September 1972.
It seems inconceivable now, considering what the sweet-swinging left-hander was able to accomplish over a long and remarkably rich career as a professional baseball player.
This is a guy who played 17 seasons in 15 leagues, with stints in Canada, Columbia, Japan (where they gave him No. 45, because that's how many home runs he was expected to hit), Italy, Mexico, and Venezuela.
He led three leagues in home runs, hitting 41 in the Eastern League in 1979, 31 in the Pacific Coast League in 1986, and 39 (six below expectations) in the Japanese league in 1987.
He hit an astounding 276 home runs in his minor-league career, drawing comparisons to Costner's fictional and philosophical catcher in the 1988 hit movie.
"People would tell me, 'Hey, you're Crash,' " Lancellotti said from his home in Buffalo. "I would say, 'Yeah, I'm that guy. You don't want to be that guy.' I was a gypsy."
Lancellotti's career was the stuff of minor-league legend. He played everywhere, squeezing every last drop out of his ability to stay in the game.
"My problem was that I loved baseball so much," Lancellotti said. "I just loved it. I thought it was the coolest thing going. I didn't care where they sent me. I said, 'I'll go.' "
Lancellotti ended his career after one season with the Parma Angels in an Italian league in 1992.
"Play twice a week and eat and drink wine the rest of the time," he recalled of his final season.
Lancellotti enjoyed three cups of coffee in the major leagues, with San Diego in 1982, San Francisco in 1986, and Boston in 1990.
His most memorable moment was his first major-league hit, a three-run double off the Cardinals' Bob Forsch for the Padres in 1982.
"I'm standing at second base with my head down, and it's like a movie scene in my head," Lancellotti said. "I was like, 'Did I just do that? Take me now. I'll go quietly.' "
Lancellotti, who runs a baseball school in Buffalo, still laughs in wonderment at the idea that his career nearly didn't happen but for support and encouragement from Cherry Hill East coaches such as Dave Martin and Bill Sheppard.
"The best part of this whole thing is that I can go back and grab those guys in a big hug and thank them for what they did for me," Lancellotti said.
But before benefiting from the influence of Martin and Sheppard, and before heeding the advice of the late Glassboro State College coach, Mickey Briglia, who persuaded Lancellotti to try out for the Profs rather than join the Marines, the shy transfer student from Concord, N.H., had to find his way at his new school.
That was a problem on Day One.
"I came from a school with maybe 800 kids, two floors, a shoebox," Lancellotti said. "I'm a quiet kid, and I'm new to Cherry Hill East, with 3,500 kids, and they've got rooms with names like 101A, 101B, 101C, and I'm like, 'What?'
"I didn't know what I was doing. I ended up being late to my first class on my first day and walk down the hall, and I look in the window and the teacher is in there and the students are sitting there and I said to myself, 'I'm not going in there.'
"I went home. I walked all the way home down Kresson Road and told my mom I was quitting. I said, 'I'm not going back.'
"She said, 'OK, I'm calling your dad.'
"I turned around and walked back. I got detention that day, too."
Cherry Hill East Athletic Hall of Fame
Saturday, Nov. 24 at 11:30 a.m. at Indian Spring County Club, Marlton.
Class of 2018: Sue Bilic (1976, field hockey, basketball, lacrosse); Stan Clayton (1983, football); Greg Coolahan (1981, wrestling); Liz Griesback (1990, soccer, track); Celine Flinn (1980, field hockey, basketball, lacrosse); Lenny May (1974, wrestling); Rick Lancellotti (1974, baseball); Maureen Mackson (1983, swimming); John Marion (1986, swimming); Joe Davis (1976, soccer, baseball); Wayne Ramsey (1979, soccer, baseball); Bill Stewart (1981, cross-country, track); Bill Swift (1970, football, basketball, baseball); Tricia Udicious (1986, tennis, basketball); Lori Watson (1984, cross-country, track); Ed Heisman (soccer coach); Bo Wood (football coach); Fred Belchikoff (contributor).
Tickets: $40 per person ($15 per child).
Contact: Fred Belchikoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.