Fred Eshelman didn’t come all the way from Florida to eat pizza with pickles. No matter how much I raved about it.
Fred wanted his Sabatini’s pizza just the way he remembered it.
And he wasn’t interested in any of the thousands of unique beers available at Sabatini’s Bottle Shop & Beer Bar either. He ordered a Yuengling.
But before I get to Fred, perhaps I should talk about the pickles.
Yes, I did say pizza and pickles in the same sentence.
Most people I mention it to give me the same “You’ve got to be kidding me” look Fred did. But, no, I’m not kidding. Sabatini’s started serving pizza with pickles about a year ago and for me, it was love at first bite.
The dill pickles are chopped up and sprinkled over the pizza much the way traditional pepperoni or mushrooms might be. Lindo Sabatini said he and some of his employees were experimenting, without much success, with deep frying pickles one night when they thought: “What the heck, let’s just toss them onto a pizza.” They immediately knew they had a winner.
All I can say is what took them so long?
But Fred would have none of it. Not even a bite.
“I don’t want to spoil the moment,” he said.
People who grew up eating the pizza of Northeast Pennsylvania and then moved away know what Fred meant by “the moment.” When you come back home, that first taste of your favorite pizza is almost spiritual.
Fred, now 80, hadn’t been home in a while and had what I suppose you could call a “mini-bucket list.” I’m honored to have been on the list. And fortunate to have been coupled with Sabatini’s.
I’ve written about Fred before, most recently a little more than a year ago when he penned his autobiography titled “My Life, My Stories.” Fred has what I call a rapid-fire way of talking and that translates to his style of writing. He has thousands of stories to tell and whether he’s talking or writing it seems they all want to be told at once.
One of the stories in Fred’s book is about Pittston legend “Machine Gun Lou” Butera, who got his
nickname from the way he shot pool, which was kind of like the way Fred talks and writes.
“Machine Gun Lou,” who is depicted on the Inspiration Mural in downtown Pittston, was a world billiards champ who got his start as a kid in the Pittston pool halls. Fred remembers him shooting pool while standing on a wooden soda case so he could reach the table.
Fred tells a story of an out-of-town pool shark walking into LaTorre’s poolroom on Main Street looking to play someone for a $500 bet. “Just a minute,” a guy says and dashes off to Pittston High School where he gets “Sonny” Butera, as he was called then, out of class. Sonny walks in, runs 250 straight balls, picks up the $500 and goes back to school.
I got to know Fred Eshelman when he worked for Martz Trailways. He used to run a bus trip to spring training in Florida. Some 25 hours on a bus is not for everyone but I wanted to go on one of those trips. I longed to live on nothing but stadium hot dogs and beers for a week and leave my razor at home. But the kids were little and vacation time limited and I could never make it happened.
Another reason I wanted to join Fred was the thought of the ball players we’d meet. Fred has always had a way of getting himself onto sidelines and into dugouts and became friends with a lot of players. He was very close with one of my boyhood idols, Harvey Haddix.
The name Harvey Haddix is not a household word, but it found its way into my heart when I was only 10 years old.
Playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, Harvey had one of the most heart-wrenching experiences in sport when he pitched 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves, only to lose in the 13th. Not one of the first 36 batters he faced reached first base. Had his team scored just one measly run he would have won with a no-hitter.
Harvey Haddix died in 1994.
As mentioned, Fred and Harvey were close friends.
Fred’s also met and had photos taken with Debbie Reynolds, Perry Como, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Mitzi Gaynor, Kenny Rogers, Wayne Newton, Ted Williams, Lou Holtz, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan and a host of others. In his book, he recalls seeing John Wayne get off a plane in Philadelphia with a “good sized” jaguar on a leash.
Most recently, Fred had a long chat with Tim Tebow in Florida.
“He’s such a good person,” Fred says. “I really hope he makes it.”
Fred’s now determined to meet Tom Brady. He’s been told that might be impossible, but never underestimate Fred. The Patriots, he tells me, will play in Tampa on Oct. 5 and in Miami on Dec. 11. Fred’s wheels are turning,
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.