Friday night’s contest could have been just another Greenport Men’s Softball League game for East End Pool King. Win or lose, with a record of 4-14, it had already been eliminated from playoff contention, and was facing Claudio’s, winner of seven in a row and the hottest team in the league. But it wasn’t just another game. Pool King was without its 63-year-old catcher, Willie “Fred” King, and for a concerning reason. Nearly 36 hours earlier, King was sent to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola to be prepped for triple-bypass heart surgery.
After experiencing chest pains last Wednesday night after work, King awoke last Thursday morning feeling no better. King drove himself to the emergency room at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and after examination, it was determined he was in need of the procedure.
“I had found out right before our batting practice,” said Pool King second basemen Jimmy Pelan, a teammate of King’s for eight seasons. “I thought, ‘You’re kidding me …’ The iron man, the fact that that happened to him was shocking.”
King attended Greenport High School in the mid-1960s and was a member of the school’s football and track and field teams. Over the years he has been known as Willie, Willie Fred, Freddy, and Fast Freddy.
King is known by his teammates and friends around the league as a hard-working, family-oriented man. “He dedicates himself to his family first because when he started playing with us, he told us: ‘I work two jobs. I got to take care of what I got to take care of, and then when softball comes around, softball comes around and I’m really into it,” Pelan said. “That [guy] works for Mullen Motors, and then he goes to King Kullen. … He puts in a week, man.”
Bob Peterson, a long-time teammate of King’s, reiterated the same sentiments. “He supports his family,” Peterson said. “… He’s really been there for the two girls that he’s got at home now. He’s been dedicated to them.”
And while King has been long considered a family man, a few events in recent years have strengthened his family-focused mindset.
First, in 2007, King’s 14-year-old nephew, Kyle Rose, passed away after a drowning accident. Then, just over a year ago, his 23-year-old stepson, Jefferson “Naquawn” Treadwell, was killed in a dirt biking accident. Through it all, King has continued his hard-working ways and has done whatever he can for his family. “Anybody that’s close to Freddie, he takes care of,” Pelan said. “He’s just one of those guys.”
And he has always stayed positive on the softball field.
“He brings life,” Peterson said. “He’s one of the only ones who talks on the team, and he’s just full of life. He always has been a ‘rah-rah’ kind of guy. I’ve pitched to him for at least 15 years now, so we figure we’re the oldest battery in New York State. He just brings life to the team with his attitude. … He’s always hustling.”
That hustle shined through during a July 19 win over Kreiger Well/Pure Water. With the score tied in the seventh inning, King was on second base and Pelan was at the plate. On contact, King sprinted to third and rounded the base hard in an attempt to draw a throw. His fake did just that and the toss got away from the catcher. He immediately broke for home. “At 63 years old, Freddy does a head-first slide into home plate to score the game winning run,” said Pelan.
Even 23-year-old scorekeeper Warren Bondarchuk was in awe. “It was something that even I wouldn’t do, and he did it with ease,” Bondarchuk said. “He got up, brushed himself off, and calmly walked off the field.”
It was routine hustle for King.
King is also known for his chatter behind the plate. Pelan has also played against King. “The best line in the world is, ‘Pretty pitch, pretty pitch,’ ” Pelan said. “Then he stops for like two seconds, and then it gets called a strike and he looks at the batter and says, ‘I told you so.’ I love that line. It’s a classic line. It’s a Freddy line.”
But on Friday night, Peterson was without the chatter and his battery mate of the last 15 years. “We played for Willie that night,” Peterson said. “We decided that’s the way it was, and when we went on the field we were going to try to win one for Willie.”
And East End Pool King did just that. Peterson held Claudio’s bats at bay throughout the 9-8 win and helped earn Pool King’s first victory against a team with a record over .500. It was Pool King’s night. “I don’t know if [wanting to win for Freddy] had anything to do with it, but it was probably our best game of season,” said Peterson.
Pelan said, “He’s a really good teammate, but I consider him a better friend.”