CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I am often asked what prompted my interest in wine. The answer goes back to my childhood and the influence of my Italian immigrant grandparents and relatives.
As I have recounted before, wine was a part of everyday living then, and an integral component of family meals, particularly the large gatherings after Mass on Sundays at Grandma Iaquinta's home.
Because my family produced their own homemade wine each year, I was able to observe and sometimes assist in the menial tasks of winemaking. These experiences formed the foundation for my lifelong affair with the vine.
However, one particular (almost magical) incident involving wine, food and sport may have been the catalyst.
A stroke of genius! That's what I like to think it was that sunny afternoon in the fall of 1956.
I had been trying to find something that would provide just the right weight to form the core of a tape ball. Stones or rocks were simply too heavy, paper too light and soft. I had just stroked the tape ball we had been using along the ground into a curb storm drain. In rather colorful language, my two older cousins graphically described the consequences that would ensue if I did not immediately replace the lost orb.
A golf ball would have been perfect but, because the socioeconomic roll of the dice had not favored our fathers and uncles, Maxflies or Titleists were not an option. No sirree. If it wasn't a baseball, softball or bocce ball, we weren't playing it.
This was beer-drinking, homemade wine-swilling and parlay-betting country where Mickey Mantle and Rocky Marciano were the heroes of the day, and where kids like us spent warm afternoons playing our version of the national pastime along the streets of North View, the working-class and ethnically diverse neighborhood of Clarksburg.
A tape ball game required only one pitcher and one batter, but no more than two players per side. The rules mimicked baseball, with a few adaptations. Cleanly fielded grounders and caught fly balls counted as outs, as did one swing and a miss. There were three outs to an inning, but no bases.