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43 years with the Sox... and counting

Ex-coach, manager recalls the good times

Red Sox consultant Dick Berardino visits the home dugout at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, where he was manager of the Class-A Spinners for two years. Red Sox consultant Dick Berardino visits the home dugout at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, where he was manager of the Class-A Spinners for two years. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / September 5, 2010

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LOWELL — Sitting behind home plate at LeLacheur Park on a sultry late-summer evening, Dick Berardino does not need a computer, or a radar gun, to evaluate the fielding prowess or base-running habits of the hometown Spinners.

His instincts and experience as a minor league manager for 21 seasons — including 1997 and 1998 in Lowell — and as a player in the Yankees system for eight more are all he needs.

The 73-year-old Waltham resident observes the Lowell center fielder properly back up a pick-off throw to second base, and a Spinners base runner make a late break on a wild pitch but still scores.

“The toughest adjustment for many of the players here just starting out is that they will experience failure for the first time in baseball,’’ said Berardino, a player development consultant for the Boston Red Sox who has worked for the organization in various roles since 1968.

Following his visits to LeLacheur Park, the home of Boston’s Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League for first-year players, McCoy Stadium (Triple A) in Pawtucket, R.I., or Hadlock Field (Double A) in Portland, Maine, he files reports, via e-mail, to Red Sox outfield and base-running coordinator Tom Goodwin.

“They come out of high school or college as the best players on their teams, but then a pitcher may get pulled out of a game in the third inning for the first time, or a player might be hitting .230,’’ Berardino said. “I spent a lot of my time as a manager explaining to them that this is where they will be tested, and it’s how they react to adversity that is most important.’’

He can also turn to his own experience as a player.

A football and baseball star at Watertown High and Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross, he signed with the Yankees in 1958. He received a $32,000 signing bonus, with $2,000 paying for his senior year at Holy Cross.

He got off a plane in California, where he was picked up by the general manager of New York’s Modesto farm team, and hustled into a station wagon for a game in Stockton.

“I was wearing a Harris tweed sport coat, it was 96 degrees, and I never had a chance to get a meal before the game,’’ he recalled.

“You never forget your first game. We won; I went 2 for 4, and I’ve been in professional baseball ever since — 53 years, 43 of them with Boston,’’ said Berardino.

He fell just short of making it to the majors as an outfielder. The competition was pretty stiff: One guy named Mantle and another named Maris were patrolling the outfield in New York. But he did wear a Red Sox uniform, as a coach under manager Joe Morgan from 1989 through 1991, including one season at third base. Morgan and Berardino, a 16-handicapper at Lexington Golf Club who still looks like he could put on a uniform and play, remain golfing buddies.

“I wore number 33 as a Red Sox coach, so I guess I was the most famous ‘33’ in Boston at the time — after Larry Bird, ’’ quipped Berardino, wearing his 2007 World Series ring (he also has one for 2004).

He is popular with Spinners fans and employees, who stopped by to say hello after he made the rounds Monday night in the home clubhouse, had dinner in the “Gator Pit,’’ and chatted with manager Bruce Crabbe and owner Drew Weber.

Lowell, the last-place club in the league’s Stedler Division, won its fourth straight game, beating the Staten Island Yankees 6-3, on “Scott Brown Bobblehead Night’’ at LeLacheur. The Bay State’s freshman US senator and his family sat near Berardino in Section 111. Brown’s daughter Ayla, a recent Boston College graduate, sang the national anthem and then chatted with Berardino about their respective college athletic careers.

The Spinners honored their former manager in 1997 on the occasion of his 30th year in the Boston organization with a special promotion — masks of Berardino mounted on a stick that fans could put over their faces.

“I had about 50 of them in my garage and didn’t know what to do with them, until one Halloween I gave them to the neighborhood kids along with the candy,’’ said Berardino, who met Kathleen, his wife of 49 years, when he was playing in her hometown of Binghamton, N.Y., in 1960. They have two grown sons and six grandchildren, including 13-year-old Ryan Berardino of Sudbury, who played this summer with a Massachusetts All-Star team that won a national tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

A member of four Halls of Fame, including those of his high school and college, Berardino also has an award named in his honor that is presented to a former Spinners player who has made it to the major leagues.

“Kevin Youkilis received it last year,’’ said Berardino, who makes about a dozen trips during the season in his role as a consultant for the Red Sox, and participates in the team’s wintertime Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla. “And he even shaved off his beard for the occasion.’’

Berardino, who still stays in touch with his high school baseball coach, former major league player George Yankowski, is starting to write his memoirs and has a story for just about every inning of his career.

One of his favorite people was Eddie Popowski, the late Red Sox coach and scout, who once had to pull a young pitcher out of a game.

“The pitcher told Pop that he wasn’t tired,’’ said Berardino, “and Pop said, ‘Yeah, but your outfielders sure are.’ ’’

He played against Sox prospects Carl Yastrzemski and Dick Radatz and was once beaned by a young Luis Tiant in a minor league game. As manager of Boston’s NY-Penn team in Elmira in 1976 that rolled to the league championship, he had a roster that included future major leaguers players Bruce Hurst, Wade Boggs, and Glenn Hoffman.

Berardino later taught business courses and coached baseball at Watertown High before leaving in 1986 to coach at Pawtucket.

Former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton’s tell-all book, “Ball Four,’’ included a description of some of New York’s minor leaguers as “a bunch of Dick Berardinos.’’

“So I brought that up to my business law class at Watertown High and asked them if that was a libelous statement,’’ said Berardino, who led Holy Cross to the 1958 College World Series, and went 2 for 4 in an upset victory over Southern California in the opening game.

“One of the kids replied that it wasn’t libel because it was true, and that I must have stunk as a baseball player. We all broke up laughing after I told him he was going to flunk the course.’’

Berardino, who received the Red Sox organization’s Edward M. Kenney Player Development Award in 1998 and the Judge Emil Fuchs Memorial Award from the Boston Baseball Writers for his long and meritorious service to the game two years ago, has seen it all over those 53 years.

But the most bizarre was a wedding in 1998 that took place between the top and bottom of the sixth inning at LeLacheur in a game against Staten Island.

“I was the best man,’’ said Weber, the team’s owner, “and the mayor of Lowell performed the ceremony. Staten Island protested the game because of the delay and the next day their manager asked me, ‘So what are you going to have tonight, a bar mitzvah?’

“Dick went along with it, although reluctantly, but I have always had great respect for his loyalty and the way he relates to young players,’’ added Weber. “The Red Sox are lucky to have him and he’s been lucky to have them. It’s a win-win.’’

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.

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