CNY Baseball Legend’s Life And Times Detailed In New Book
Boots Day is proof that if you have the 'right stuff' to become a big leaguer, baseball scouts will find you - even if home is a small village in Central New York.
I'm always on the lookout for biographies on baseball's greatest stars, as well as those who enjoyed careers under the radar. The journey that role players, managers, and coaches traveled, even for what amounts to just a sniff at the MLB level, these are the stories that remind me why I remain fascinated about the game.
Recently, when scrolling through the latest of what Amazon is offering in their library of baseball books, I hit literary gold. There it was. Author Joseph Collea Jr.'s work. Boots Day - A Life in Baseball.
What a collection of stories, beginning with Day's early years playing Little League ball in Ilion, to his being signed as a 17-year-old by the St. Louis Cardinals, and all that leads up to his parts of six seasons as an outfielder with three MLB clubs.
Day and Collea go way back to their youth growing up in the village that the Remington Arms Company put on the map. Until two years back, I called home Ilion for 34 years. When my children attended Ilion High (now known as Central Valley Academy), one of the first items in the glass cases housing sports trophies that would grab my attention during parent-teachers meetings was a color picture of Day in his Montreal Expos uniform. As someone who watched the very first Expos game in 1969, Day's image shouted big-time baseball to me.
Now, with nearly 400 pages of Day's life recorded in A Life in Baseball, Central New Yorkers are treated with a history lesson of a ball player and what life was like in the region beginning in the 1950's. There are many photos supplied by Day of his early years never before seen, as well as newspaper clippings of how his blossoming career was followed, and enough images of him wearing the Expos uniform to make longtime baseball fans become instantly nostalgic.
"He (Collea) did a real fine job," said Day during a recent phone call to his suburban St. Louis home. "I'm thrilled that he did it."
Day tells of a tight collaboration for the book between he and Collea, a retired lifelong educator. When asking Collea what motivated him to package the story of his childhood pal, the answer came easy.
"I'm retired, and always looking for things to do. I love writing and baseball."
According to Collea, there are many books written about the big names in the game, but there are few about those who weren't all-stars or World Series champions. With Day having a baseball resume surpassing 50 years, for Collea, writing a book on the Ilion native was a no-brainer.
"We talked once a week, for an hour, for one year," Collea tells of how he gathered the details on Day's career that saw him share locker rooms with some of the game's greatest names as Joe Torre, Rusty Staub, Lou Brock, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo. "I knew Boots as a teenager, and through three years of Babe Ruth baseball. Then, he moved on."
Although Day's final swings in the National League came in the 1974 season, he toiled in the minors through 1980, as a player, hoping to get another call up by an MLB club. From then on, through the 2021 season, Day was in uniform, in one capacity or another.
One of the more fascinating stories Collea takes readers through in Boots Day - A Life in Baseball took place in 1972. During his third season with Montreal, residents of the Village of Ilion put together a traveling event, to Jarry Park Stadium, to honor their hometown hero.
"I think there were six busses, and 1,000 people that went to Montreal for a Boots Day celebration. It was late summer or early fall. Before the game, the people from Ilion paraded around the field. This was a big deal."
Collea has made an effort to keep his project all positive.
When looking back at his career, Day says he still can't believe he earned his way to the Cubs, Cardinals, and Expos.
"It's like a dream come true."
Front and center of his dream coming true is his meeting with his childhood favorite player Hall of Famer Stan Musial. Beginning his career in the Cardinals' chain of minor league affiliates, Day explains what it was like meeting Musial for the first time, and subsequently over the length of his career.
"I met (Musial) for the first time in 1966. He came into our clubhouse, sat down, and gave a talk to us minor leaguers. I was in the front row. I grew up listening to Cardinals games on the radio, and here I was in the same room with Musial."
Boots Day - A Life in Baseball is a wonderful local account of life in Central New York decades back, and can be equally appreciated by those who became fans of his while playing in Quebec.
As Day best sums up Collea's collective efforts, he doesn't have to read the book, he lived it. For the rest of us, it appears to be a prerequisite to getting an insight on when many baseball historians feel the game experienced its greatest era.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.