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Another fellow with some fresh ideas for the national pastime is Michael John Petonic, now 63 but once a director of the Scottdale (Pa.) Cardinals in the Middle Atlantic League. Any player of baseball, says Petonic, can better his batting average overnight by practicing his swing against a plastic golf ball delivered from a point midway between the mound and the plate. "This discovery, gentlemen," Petonic says with mild immodesty, "is the greatest thing in baseball since Abner Double-day's day."
Benefits to accrue from practice with the golf ball, one fifth the size of a baseball and normally used by backyard duffers, include a steely, steady eye and a sophisticated, deadly swing, says Petonic. After a session with the diminutive ball, he continues, a baseball takes on the aspect of a grapefruit, and can usually be last seen clearing the center-field fence. That the concept has true merit was demonstrated several years ago by Dick Groat of the Pirates and Dale Long of the Cubs.
Petonic found Groat in a .254 slump in 1956, he recalls, tutored the shortstop for two hours with the plastic golf ball. Next day, says Petonic, Groat got four line drives off Robin Roberts, in no time at all was batting .273. The following summer Petonic undertook the resurrection of Long, who was wallowing around at .227. After just one golf lesson (as Petonic tells it; Long admits he's fuzzy on the dates and statistics) the outfielder hit two singles and a home run in his next game, two home runs and a single in the game after that. Long finished the season with a .298 average, and his fabled comeback, says Michael Petonic, was largely attributable to Michael Petonic.
Why, then, is Groat's current average still only .275, Long's only .236? "Because," says Petonic, "you can throw gold at some guys and they won't pick it up."
The Tie That Bound
Among the many and fanciful ways men choose to risk their necks, the Cresta sled course at St. Moritz holds a secure position. En route down the precipitous, serpentine, three-quarter-mile case-hardened gully of ice, the sportsman lies flat, belly-whopper style and practically helpless, on a razor-runnered, 150-pound steel sled, plummets toward, if not actually into, eternity at upwards of 90 mph. Since 1884 it has been one of the most rousing things a man can try in Switzerland. About 1,400 are now alive who have accomplished it, and they are all thereby entitled to wear the appropriate Cresta Club tie, an affair of wine and gold stripes.
Now, if all goes well, North America will shortly have its own Cresta, on the slopes of Canada's Laurentians.
Word of these plans reaches us because a reader and correspondent of ours who lives in Montreal happened to wear something like the Cresta's tie to a dinner party not long ago at Quebec's Mont Tremblant. The tie caught the eye of one Wolcott Robinson, a Philadelphia man and vice-president of Tremblant. Robinson asked if it were the Cresta tie. Our friend said sorry it was not, but in the ensuing conversation admitted an acquaintanceship with the Cresta course, having once shot down it. He also admitted, as the talk waxed on, an acquaintanceship with Montreal's Doug Connor, 41, Cresta's undisputed world champion (56 seconds for the 1,320-yard nose dive). Our friend suggested that Robinson, who for 10 years has nursed the notion of a Canadian Cresta, ought to talk to Connor, who's had the same idea himself.
Just the other day Robinson, Connor (a helicopter airline executive) and their catalyst friend sat down and drew up provisional plans for a Cresta Club. And this week the three of them mean to hover over the Laurentian slopes of Mont Tremblant in a helicopter until a likely Cresta route presents itself to their searching gazes. Rhapsodized Doug Connor last week: "Tremblant's the best bet by far." Said Robinson: "It's the most exciting project I've worked on in years." Reports our friend: "When we open for business, I'm going to present my tie to the club."