Millville resident Bob Lattanzi isn’t an average Joe. He’s competed and placed in a number of Senior Olympic Games since retiring, built his own home with the help of his eldest son, Robert Jr., laced Yankee great Whitey Ford for two hits in an army game overseas after World War II, hit two home runs off softball pitching legend Eddie Feigner and, almost a year ago to the day, was inducted into the Bristol Borough, Penn. Softball Hall of Fame.
Lattanzi, 77 years young, has played competitive softball for more than 55 years and is one of a handful of softball greats to be inducted into the Bristol Hall of Fame. His softball career started out in fast pitch, which was a real challenge according to Lattanzi.
At the tender age of 16, Lattanzi bleached out his age on his birth certificate so he could join the Army, where he joined the engineer corps. He also served as an athletic instructor to the troops and led them in calisthenics and ran the baseball and basketball teams.
While stationed at Fort Dix, N.J. Lattanzi earned two base hits against Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, Whitey Ford. It wasn’t uncommon at that time for professional athletes to join the military, which provided a great talent pool for recreational games.
If professional players didn’t sign up for the armed services themselves, they’d bring them in for games, and Lattanzi had a chance to play against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lattanzi’s favorite player, Stan Musial, didn’t attend, along with Marty Marion, because they earned spots on the All-Star squad.
Lattanzi’s squad lost to the Cardinals, 5-2, which isn’t too bad since St. Louis’ starting pitcher for that game, Cliff Chambers, had pitched a no-hitter against Pittsburgh before arriving.
“It would’ve been fantastic to play against my favorite player,” said Lattanzi of the experience playing against the Cardinals and possibly with Musial. “We had some ex-major leaguers and some minor leaguers on our team that were real good players and gave them a good game.”
Lattanzi now serves as the Honor Guard for the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars.
Once home, and away from the Army, Lattanzi earned a living as a plumber and a heating/cooling afficianado. He and his wife, Josephine raised three sons, Robert Jr., Joseph and Danny, and two daughters, Valerie and Jan.
All three boys were great ballplayers like their father ,and their ascension into the game came by attending their father’s games as little guys.
“They used to live there [the ballpark],” said Lattanzi. “At certain times all four of them [Lattanzi and sons] would play at the same time but at different fields, so I had to make my rounds,” added Josephine Lattanzi.
Lattanzi was instrumental in his children’s athletic success but it wasn’t without its price, according to Josephine Lattanzi.
“Bob is Mr. Perfection and it was tough on them sometimes — especially Joseph,” she said. “He would come home and say ‘Daddy says to do this or do that,’ and I’d tell him to do what he says, because he’s older than you and knows better.”
Lattanzi started his ball-playing career as a first baseman in fast-pitch softball. It was in this division of softball that he belted two homeruns off the infamous pitching guru, Eddie Feigner.
Feigner was so good, according to Lattanzi, that he would travel around the country to play any team with only four total players. Feigner pitched from second base and blindfolded and, in over 25 years of pitching, he had accumulated 45,000 strikeouts, won 2,700 games and had 140 perfect games.
Lattanzi and Feigner were friends, and often kicked back a few brews together, but when game time rolled around, Lattanzi was all business and a bit of luck.
“I was just looking to make contact and got lucky,” admitted Lattanzi. “Fast pitch softball is really a challenge. The pitchers can really whip the ball, and because the pitcher’s mound is so close to home plate, you have to react very quickly.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Lattanzi to sport a batting average from as high as .633 to a “paltry” .486 in his fast-pitch days. These days, Lattanzi just keeps on keeping on.
He bowls, works out and still plays softball. He has more medals and trophies than he knew what to do with, so he gave some to his children while the rest hang proudly around his home.
Lattanzi played on the Korean War Vets basketball team, but stopped the year before last because of health problems. He suffered a couple “mini-strokes” last winter but has recovered almost as good as new.
“We bowl with (Ocean View Mayor) Gary Meredith, and he said he didn’t even realize that anything had happened because he was able to bowl so well even after the stroke,” remarked Josephine Lattanzi.
Lattanzi and his wife earned 13th place in the National Bowling Championships in Baton Rouge, La. prior to his strokes.
“They (strokes) really knocked me out of the box,” said Lattanzi , “but I was able to recuperate very quickly. My hands are getting better, but I still have some trouble.”
Lattanzi also bounced back from a vicious blow to the face while playing in an over-55 softball game. His front teeth were knocked out, and his face ballooned and turned black and blue, but nonetheless still plays only a few short weeks later.
All the guys who play with Lattanzi all worry about him and were very concerned when he got hurt, which touched his heart.
“When I got back, I must’ve had 30 calls, and some of them were second or third calls,” said Lattanzi.
He has torn rotator cuffs, a hip and knee replacement, as well, but Lattanzi keeps playing the game he loves so much.
Lattanzi pitched a few innings on Aug. 29 game against Cherrystones and had a couple line drives that were punched his way.
“I tried to groove the ball down the plate, which causes line drives and George Hunt hit one right at me,” said Lattanzi. “But he always hits them up the middle.”
Lattanzi pitched the final three innings and had just as many blasted back at him — all of which just missed his legs, but he has a solution.
“I don’t mind not pitching anymore if they don’t want me to,” said Lattanzi. “I just have to get my glove up faster.”
“I enjoy it so very much,” said Lattanzi. “I can’t bend as well anymore, and my reaction isn’t as fast, but I still like to get out there with the guys and have fun. I’ve been very fortunate.”