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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Mike extracted all the joy he could from baseball. He bugged Budzynski to let him hit lefty, and the coach allowed him to do it so long as he got a hit righty first. On his last plate appearance of some games, he used a wooden bat, just to be traditional. Budzynski batted him third. "He was a natural leadoff hitter or second-spot guy because he had great plate discipline, but on our team we needed him third," says the coach. Mike caught for most of his first two years, but as a senior he volunteered to surrender the position to a freshman, Carl Sartori, so the team would have a catcher when he was gone. Sartori, now 19, calls Mike "my mentor, the best teammate I ever had."
Since Mike's death, his uniform number, 13, has not been given to another Elmsford player. "And as long as I'm coach," says Budzynski, "it won't be." Budzynski's teams now close out their daily practices by yelling, "Thirteen!"
I GOT CUT from Oakcrest High's freshman baseball team, and if you have an hour or two I can filibuster you on the reasons that should not have happened. Worse, the coach who cut me installed the lefthanded Bobby at third base for much of the season. It just about sent my father over the edge. He really liked Bobby, but that didn't change the fact that a southpaw is at a severe disadvantage at the position. (The varsity coach would move Bobby to leftfield, restoring order to the universe.)
When Bobby was a sophomore, he got kicked in the groin during football practice. I remember visiting him in a depressing hospital room. One of his testicles was rendered useless, and a doctor later told him it was unlikely he would father children—which turned out not to be true. But Bobby would never play football again. Without it, he joined Oakcrest's first male cheerleading squad. I can still see him in a gray sweater hollering into one of those giant cones.
High school went on, and we stayed friends through girlfriend changes, contrasting academic performances and different sports seasons. In the senior yearbook poll Bobby was voted Best Personality and Warmest Smile, and I got Most Typical Senior. We were otherwise immortalized on back-to-back pages in the yearbook's sports section. I'm in midair, going in for a layup; turn the page, and there's Bobby at the plate, feet spread wide apart, bat raised—the stance he'd adopted as an eight-year-old.
I remember standing outside the school on a cool May afternoon of my senior year watching an Oakcrest baseball game from afar. Pride always stopped me from watching up close. Bobby was at the plate, and I heard the sharp crack of the bat a split second after he swung. The ball found the hole between first and second. I felt good for Bobby and sorry for myself.
If you'd told me then that Bobby would live just another 2 1/2 years, I would've called you insane.
SOMETHING CHANGED inside of Mike Arciola on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He had returned to Hamilton High for his junior year with a starter set of cornrows, but on the day after the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center he showed up for school with his head shaved. He had already been talking about joining the military but, as his mother, Teresa, says, "This cemented it." In the summer of 2002, he enlisted in the Army. For his senior message in the yearbook he had written, "Peace on earth and goodwill to mankind," adding in French, "F--- you, bin Laden." By the time anybody noticed, the books had already gone to print.