It’s a sunny Saturday in April, 1981.
You need a new leather because the tip on your head broke while you were scooping on the concrete after the game. You can go to Lefty and Kemp’s on Route 9, near Hoffman’s Playland, or you can go to DeRossi Sports in Westmere. The idea of going to Breakaway, Mercury Printing, Dick’s or ordering online are not options (Al Gore was yet to invent the internet!!). It’s a different era. These options simply don’t exist. The game is new to the Capital District, and both the times and the game are different.
You’re a little upset. You’d worked in a really good pocket and now the pocket was wrecked by a broken leather. But you’re also a little happy inside. You get to go to DeRossi‘s and get your head
restrung. Maybe, just maybe, Mom and Dad will let you get that new Superlight II that your teammate brought to practice last Tuesday.
Kemp’s was an option, but you needed to go to DeRossi’s. DeRossi’s is where everything lacrosse happens.
DeRossi’s has an unassuming exterior. It’s a small store near the end of a strip strip mall just outside of Albany on Western Avenue. A nondescript façade, but like most greasy spoons, when you walk in, you’re in heaven. Upon entry a silver transistor radio is playing PYX 106, piping out the latest Kinks tune, “Destroyer.” The store has more lacrosse equipment and paraphernalia in it than all the rest of the Capital District sports stores combined. Sure there’s a handful of USA Hockey items as promos from last years Olympic win, as well a few other things like a couple of soccer balls, or maybe three baseball mitts, but the reason why you want to go to DeRossi’s is because it is THE local lacrosse Mecca.
Mike DeRossi has all the amazing cutting-edge lacrosse options, and high school and college fan apparel in his store. And Mike is always there. He knows yours and every other player‘s name in the area; he knows what school you play for, and like your favorite barber shop, when you walk in Mike greets you with warmth and friendship, regardless of your age. Mike follows every team and knows individual, and can rattle off team stats. He can immediately banter with you about the area and what was going on here in this new lacrosse world. He is an incredible resource of information and can fill you in on how Hopkins, Cornell and Syracuse are doing. None of the local papers write about lacrosse and none of the three TV stations cover it either. “Destroyer” ends and Blue Oyster Cult’s’ “Burnin’ For You” starts up.
The place is alive and a hub of lax banter. As you near the store you get excited because you never know who you will see while you’re there. Artie Waugh or Mike Ryan might be at the counter when you walk in, talking with Mike about plays and the formation of a high school league. George Leveille and Mike might be there shooting on the hockey net in the store and laughing about whatever. Russ Ferris might come in while you’re there looking for new Siena gear, or you might bump into up and coming local superstars like Russ Hilton, or the Leahys from Columbia, Steve Brunner or Tom Snow from Shaker, or Frank O’Brien from Albany Academy. Frank ends up being in the store while you are there. He talks about his hockey season in a modest way that is always Frank, and then he tells you he saw Brian Brannigan pop a player’s Bacharach off during last Saturday’s Siena game. “He hit him just right and it flew off like a Rock’em Sock’em Robot” Frank exclaims with a big smile. You think how cool it would be to be able to do that. You ask Frank how Academy is doing and what it’s like to play those Mass prep teams. It’s rough he replies. You understand because Academy just launched their program and Deerfield, Taft, Simsbury and other prep schools have run established programs for almost a century.
While you are there you ask Mike to fill you in on the local gossip. He tells you that there is talk CBA, Bethlehm, Shen and Colonie might be starting programs next year. As much as they are rivals, you are happy because that means the game is growing.
Along the wall are state of the art lacrosse sticks. Only at DeRossi’s can you get the new heavy Excalibur, the Superlight, and Superliight II, The brand new Magnum, with the thick side walls and fancy cut out sides, and here you can get a blue, red, white, green or even yellow STX stick. For some reason Mike even has some of those new sticks strung with mesh, of all things. You ask Mike what’s the deal with mesh. He says it’s a new trend. Players like it because the pocket doesn’t get ruined in wet weather he tells you. It looks interesting, but what can beat a good leather pocket. And while you like cutting edge, you’re not crazy. That would be like getting rid of all your vinyl albums and getting your music on those new compact discs. How could the record artwork look good on the Who’s new “You’d Better You Bet” when those CDs are so small?
In addition to plain white heads, Derossi’s has every solid head color for the surrounding schools. He has blue, red, purple, maroon, green, and one of them even had dyed lettering on it that says “Guilderland Lacrosse” across the head. That’s a special order. Looking at it you marvel at the dyed stick with a school name. Imagine how well you will play with a stick like that dyed in your school colors!
There aren’t many aisles in the small store, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need less than two hours to work your way through it.The STX and Brine sticks all need to be touched. The over-sized L-35s, hard plastic elbow and rib pads, and the shiny new Bacharachs in Syracuse and Hobart colors all need to be studied. He has not only wooden shafts, but all three types of metal shafts. He has them for both STX and Brine heads since handles at the time were not interchangeable. You need to feel each of them because nowhere else in the area is there such a potpourri of choices. STX or Brine? This is the great debate of the day. It’s as big as asking who’s better- Hulk Hogan or Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka?
It’s great to watch a younger kid walk into the store while you’re there. Mike immediately greets the kid and warmly strikes up a conversation about the game. He asks him where he goes, and who he wants to play for when he graduates. He explains how Richie Moran is having another great year at Cornell, but that Hopkins and ‘Cuse are both dangerous. He tells the kid Syracuse is the team to watch because of the Nelson brothers. Mike then shares he heard the two Gait boys might be committing to Syracuse too. The new kid doesn’t know what Mike is talking about, but you can’t believe what he’s saying! Wow! Another set of twins going to ‘Cuse?! They were going to be incredible. More opposing team members walk in while you are there. The conversation is friendly and easy. You relive the past games, talk about upcoming opponents, school rankings, and whether Yorktown or West Genny is going to win the state title. As far as all of you are concerned, winning the NYS state title really means winning the high school national title. The phone rings again. It’s rung six times since you’ve walked into the store. Mike picks up the phone and says, “Hey TH, what’s going on?” There’s a short pause and Mike laughs, “Sure Coach, anytime for HVCC.” He laughs a good deep laugh again and says, “Ok, see you Tom,” and hangs up the black landline phone.
Eventually Mom gets impatient with you standing there talking lacrosse all morning with the adults and boys. She says it’s time to go. Whether you needed it or not, you always have to buy something when you’re at DeRossi’s. You need to get something not just for yourself, but because you want Mike to have business- because nowhere in the land is there a better lacrosse sanctuary. Your Mom incredulously asks if you really need a new stick. Absolutely, you reply! She replies, “Hurry up and pick one, the morning’s shot because we’ve spent forever in this store.” You smile and say nothing because having a chance to talk about lacrosse with people who know the game, with people who share your passion, and people who were invested in you as a player is time well spent. You cannot experience this anywhere else. When you visit lacrosse stores downstate or in Central New York there are more sticks, and it’s a little busier, but it isn’t the same.
You say good bye to Mike and walk out. You climb into the the big Impala with your new Superlight II and a new ball. The ball smells good, but the smell of the fresh leathers is enchanting. You needed it, you told your mom. Practice was Monday and Mike said your stick won’t be ready until Thursday. You and Mike smiled at each other and he winked at you as you explained the dire urgency of needing the cutting edge stick for practice while yours was in the shop. And of course, you needed a new ball. You would use that ball and the screwdriver that you brought with to begin breaking in the pocket of your new prize on the ride home. And you did.
You smile in the car. A new stick, ‘Cuse is going to be solid next year, (as far as you know- no one else knows this), possibly four new teams next year, AND you get to go back to DeRossi’s on Thursday to pick up your old stick. What new gossip will he have on Thursday? It will be tough, but you can wait a few days before you get to go back and do it all over again. On the way home you ask Mom if she can drop you off at the High School so you can hit the wall and try out the stick. She says yes, but you need to be home by 4:00 pm. As the two of you round the school’ s corner to the big brick wall on the side of the school- you see two of your teammates having a catch.
It’s definitely going to be a good spring.