Now, 41 years later, it remains one of the most exciting days of my life. Spring of 1971. I had spent the previous season in the obligatory minor league of West Ballard Little League. And now, at age nine, I was trying to make the jump to the majors.
I thought tryouts went pretty well – but when I got the call from Gene Caruso that he had drafted me onto his Loyal Realty team, well… I was as thrilled as a little boy can get. In fact, after hanging up the phone (a brief conversation that I still vividly remember), I remember jumping and touching the doorway between our kitchen and living room – it was the first time I had ever been able to touch the top door frame. It’s amazing the boost you can get from a great phone call when you’re nine years old.
At the first week of practice, however, there was a problem. The baseball glove that my mom bought me for ten-cents at a garage sale was made out of a strange, rigid material that didn’t come close to resembling leather. The baseball just bounced off the glove. It simply didn’t work.
With no dad around… and zero money in the house… my new coach – Mr. Caruso – took me down to Olympic Sports on Market street in Ballard and picked out a new glove for me that he paid for. It was a Bobby Bonds autograph glove that magically fielded grounders and effortlessly pulled line drives out of the air.
I loved that baseball glove.
Loved it so much, I learned how to re-string baseball gloves and I used that mitt into my 20’s, 30’s & 40’s. Thousands of baseball and softball games were played with that glove over the decades before I tragically lost it at a softball field in Issaquah a few years ago.
When standing at shortstop over the years, I would often look down at that glove and think about the man who bought it for me. His kids were kind enough to invite me and my family to Gene’s 80th birthday party 11 years ago. I got to introduce my children to my old little league coach. I got to tell them – and him – how much he meant to my life.
We strolled through his house and he showed the Longacres’ winner’s circle pictures he had in his den. Horse racing – we had another shared passion besides baseball. Much of what I can tell you about Gene is reflected in the obit that his family has written for him:
Gene was born in Seattle to Italian immigrants, Angelo and Philomena Caruso, on October 12, 1921. He was a lifelong resident of Ballard. He graduated from Lincoln High School and earned a business degree from the University of Washington, attending classes in the evening while working full time.
Gene served in the Coast Guard during World War II. While attending a USO dance, he met and later married the love of his life, Joyce Glick. They were married for 67 years.
Gene worked in the insurance industry as an accountant and comptroller. A longtime employee of Groniger and Company, he retired in the 1980s after many years of service.
The main focus of Gene’s life, however, was always his family. Whether it was assisting his parents, his two sons and their families, grandchildren or great grandchildren, he was always available to help in any way possible. He instilled in his two sons a love of sports and supported their athletic efforts throughout his life.
His passions outside of family included sports and horse racing. He coached the team of Loyal Realty in the West Ballard Little League for 15+ years. He positively impacted many young boys’ lives with his guidance, encouragement and support. On many occasions Gene would purchase and gift baseball equipment to the kids on his teams who came from struggling families. He also enjoyed going to Longacres Race Track and was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning a race horse. As a 30-year-season ticket holder, he loved going to Husky football games and was a supporter of the Husky Marching Band.
As a compassionate family man of the highest integrity, he will be greatly missed. He achieved a good, full life and left so many others better off for having known him.