Amsterdam has never been an entertainment mecca but thanks to food and sports, I’ve been able to keep myself busy and entertained most of my life. Today’s birthday celebrants each played a role in that.
I don’t know about you but when I was a kid, going out to eat at a restaurant was a very rare occurrence in our household. When we did go out it was usually as an extended family, which meant a dozen of us would walk down Leonard Street to Isabel’s Restaurant. Every time we went, we’d sit at the same long table in a back room and each one of us would order the exact same thing we always ordered. My dish was veal parmigiana. Dinner would always start with soup and since there were so many of us, the entire wait staff would pitch in to bring the soup to our table. Isabel’s used to serve the soup in cup-sized bowls on a little dish with the soup spoon and a small bag of oyster crackers traveling alongside and you knew the soup was coming as soon as it left the kitchen because each of the wait staff would carry three bowls apiece and the cups and spoons vibrating against the platters made quite a clatter. But not the soup’s delivered by today’s Birthday Celebrant. Lou Frollo’s soup deliveries were silent. Not only were his hands steady, he’d also carry the spoons in the pocket of his gray waiter’s jacket so they travelled in silence. Sure enough, years later when I was married and took my wife to Isabel’s and started sitting in their famous booth room, we’d look up and there would be Lou standing with our two soups. We could never hear him coming. A native west ender, Lou Frollo grew up with my Dad and like most of his buddies, was a hard-working, nice, nice man. When he and “Pup” Isabel weren’t taking care of the customers who dined in that legendary West Main Street booth room, Lou could be found up at his Knollwood Avenue home tending to an amazing garden that included the best tomatoes and garlic in town. Lou passed away lin 2015 at the age of 91.
Gene Agresta was a gifted schoolboy baseball player at AHS who stuck around Amsterdam, married his wife Sharon, got a job at GE and raised four boys, who were each good athletes in their own right. That’s how I got to know Gene originally. My son Matt and his youngest son Tony played youth baseball, basketball and I think even football around the same time and Gene never missed any of his sons’ games. Then my youngest son and Gene’s nephew Sean were also teammates in Wee Men baseball and he’d come to those games as well. And since Gene’s son Joe was also a baseball and basketball coach at Amsterdam High School we’d both show up at those games too. So if you add it all up, Gene and me went to the same local sporting events for fifteen years. Early on, we just started talking to each other and I instantly liked the guy. He had a great sense of humor and like me and so many other parents from this community, one of the great joys of his life was watching his kids participate in sports. I no longer remember the exact details but I think the joke started at one of the game’s we attended together. Frank Derrico was frantically looking for one of the players on the Wee Men baseball team he was coaching, who was supposed to be on deck. Frank was asking “Where’s Sorbero? Have you seen Sorbero?” From that day on, whenever Gene and I saw each other, the first thing one of us would ask the other is “Where’s Sorbero?” This past winter, I went to see the AHS Varsity Girls basketball team play and I’m sitting in the stands directly across from the Amsterdam bench and found myself thinking of my old friend. Back when his son Joe used to coach for the AHS boys’ hoop team, Gene would sometimes stand by the door behind that bench and watch the game. Somehow, from a hundred feet away amongst rows filled with people, he’d spot me in the stands and as soon as I’d look his way, he’d hold his arms out with his palms facing upward and mouth the question “Where’s Sorbero?” Gene passed away in 2012.
For me, “Lou Frollo” and “Gene Agresta” would be two of the many great answers I could give to the question, “Why have you enjoyed living in Amsterdam all these years?”