Pitch perfect

Clovis resident Len Santi was drafted by the New York Giants baseball team in 1940, but Uncle Sam had other plans. Santi, who was raised in New York, came to Clovis with the Air Force and helped build what is now Cannon Air Force Base.

Tony Bullocks: Clovis Media Inc. photo
On April 10, 2012, Len Santi threw out the first pitch at a Clovis High School baseball game against Roswell.

Tell me about your baseball career. I grew up in New York. When I was 12 years old, I used to sell copies of the Brooklyn Daily Citizen newspaper outside of Dodgers' baseball park for two cents a copy. If I sold 25 copies, they would let me into the park in the sixth inning to watch the game. I joined a sandlot baseball team called Plaza Cubs and became their catcher. After some years we converted to semi-professional and played for Rheingold Beer Company, in New York.

In October of 1940 I was signed to a contract by Wilcy Moore, a scout for the New York Giants. I was to report to their Minor league in Oswego on March 15, 1941, but I never made it. I was drafted by the Air Force to report to Fort Dix for military training in February of 1940. I played ball in the Air Force, and when I got out, I joined the Clovis Pioneers professional Class D baseball team and played for two more years before I resigned. I had been catching since I was 12 or 13 and by the time I was 32, my knees were giving out.

Did you find Clovis much different than New York? New Yorkers don't trust each other, and that's the way I was raised, to be a loner. I was shy and quiet and very reserved and afraid of people. When I came to Clovis with the military, people would tip their hats and wave when they met you on the street. It made me suspicious. I didn't know what they wanted. I learned that's the way people should live. The American way of life is the best proven way of life in the world. There is no country like America.

Tell me about your parents. I was raised by Italian immigrants. My father was from Rome and fled to America to escape Mussolini.

My wife and I took our family back to Rome to visit my father's relatives once. They could not understand why he wanted to leave, because he was very wealthy, and he left everything behind to come to America. My father hated Mussolini. He used to say "America is great, but damn that Mussolini."

Courtesy photo: Len Santi

Santi was drafted into the Air Force in 1941and served until 1946.

Tell me about your military experience in Clovis. I was transferred to Clovis with 150 others to open Clovis Army Airfield. My first thought when I got here was "This is a hell hole." I thought I was in hell. There was dust flying everywhere. I had never seen anything like it, but I got used to it. There was nothing at the base but a runway, which was obsolete for our needs. We had to tear it up and make a new one for the B-24 bombers that were coming in. That was a terrible airplane. We probably crashed a dozen of them in the Clovis area. The baseball team had a B-17 bomber called The Flying Fortress that we took all over the country to play baseball.

Courtesy photo: Len Santi

Joyce Matlock, left, and Len Santi, in 1942 during their courtship.

How did you meet your wife? I was stationed at Clovis Army Air Base and she was working at the base exchange, it was a store, like a Walmart; they sold groceries and products.

She was on the porch watching me and another player play catch with a baseball. She was a great looking blonde. I always accused her of flirting with me, but she denies it.

We courted for about a year and married in 1943. We've been married 69 years. She's still my life. She's the best thing that ever happened to me.

— Compiled by CMI staff writer Tonjia Rolan

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