Spirit of Dodgers Baseball Helped Lead Bay Ridge Man Home
BAY RIDGE — As a child, Hank D'Amato idolized the Brooklyn Dodgers of the day — Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Edwin "Duke" Snider, the team's brawny center fielder known as the Duke of Flatbush.
The Duke was D'Amato's salve at age 5, when his best friend, Jimmy LaCerra, paused their stickball game to say he was moving to Flatbush, home of the stadium where the Dodgers played.
“Here I was, devastated. My world was coming apart,” said D’Amato, now a 65-year-old retired transit worker. “Then Jimmy turned to me. He says, ‘Yeah, but I’m moving to Flatbush, the same street Duke Snider lives on. I saw him. He was playing ball with the kids on the block.’”
In the early 1950s, the Duke was one of the best bats in the game, hitting at least 40 homers in five consecutive seasons, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
D'Amato lost touch with Jimmy — and baseball — as he grew older. D'Amato married a woman named Karen and they had a daughter.
But his boyhood wonder for the game resurfaced in 1975, when D'Amato and his wife bought 178 Marine Ave., a two-story, battleship gray and green home tucked into a corner of Bay Ridge.
D'Amato was giving the house a fresh coat of paint one afternoon when he took a break, sat on his front steps and an old man walked by.
"Oh, so you bought the Duke's house," the man said.
"What're you talking about?" D'Amato asked.
D'Amato knew Snider had lived in his neighborhood, like many Dodgers players, but he doubted his new fixer-upper had been the Duke's.
"Oh no, it's that house," the man insisted. "My daughter used to babysit for him."
Years passed. The couple welcomed another daughter and D'Amato took a job at a scrap metal business, one of several lines of work he would have.
Then one day in the early '80s, he got a call at work from his wife.
"Would you know Duke Snider if you saw him?" she asked.
"Of course I would. He was my hero," D'Amato replied.
"Well, there's a man here who says he's him, and he has a film crew. But I'm not letting anyone in until you get here," she said.
D'Amato raced home to find the Duke of Flatbush in a plaid blazer and baby blue pants sitting in his family's kitchen with a World Series ring on his hand.
"He was a very nice guy, a nice gentleman," D'Amato said. "He even apologized for the film crew for not getting in touch with us beforehand."
The former slugger signed autographs and posed for photos. D'Amato showed off his handiwork on the house and they talked about the neighborhood — what changed, what hadn't.
"They filmed him sitting on our stoop," D'Amato said. "If you look closely at that shot, you'll see us hiding behind the blinds in the porch area, listening to him."
The chance to meet a boyhood idol would be enough to satisfy anyone's nostalgia, but the Marine Avenue house revealed another unexpected childhood connection.
When D'Amato proudly told his parents he had bought the home, his father asked, "Wait, what's the address?"
When the younger D'Amato told his dad where it was, his father shouted.
"Jimmy's parents lived at 179 Marine! We've been sending them Christmas cards every year since they moved!"
D'Amato's childhood friend and his siblings had long since moved away and started their own lives, but two generations of D'Amatos reconnected with the LaCerra family, with the LaCerras heading over right away when they heard Snider was visiting.
D'Amato laughed as he remembered how little Jimmy had confused the Duke's realm — Ebbets Field in Flatbush — with the slugger's actual home. As D'Amato put it, the two boys "didn't know Flatbush from a hole in the wall."
"All those years, I had no idea where Jimmy went. He didn't move to Flatbush at all. He moved here to Marine Avenue," D'Amato said.
"Little did I know, the house that he talked about that Duke Snider lived in was this one. It was just, 'Wow, this is a big circle being completed.'"