Buddy's Best The Legends, Too: Cerebral palsy didn't keep New Bedford's Frank Topolewski away from baseball diamond
The Standard Times - 1/29/2019
Jan. 29--If you didn't know the young man personally, you probably knew of him.
Back in 1950s, 60s, 70s and into the 1980s, anyone who played baseball in and around New Bedford was familiar with "Top."
He was the highly-competitive guy with class, charisma and ... cerebral palsy.
The curly-haired kid from County Street was the first baseman on the Knowlton Playground baseball team in the 1950s who hit close to .400 one season. Baseball was his passion and although "Top" had no illusions of playing beyond his teenage years, the sport would consume the rest of his life.
Despite physical limitations, "Top" refused to sit back and do nothing.
"I want to get out and play ball with the (neighborhood) gang and make something of myself," he was quoted as saying in a 1951 interview with The Standard-Times. After making a couple of hard tackles in a pick-up football game, he was officially accepted by his once-apprehensive playmates.
But for every hit he made and took on a football field, diamonds were "Top's" best friend. When he wasn't playing baseball, he was busy watching and talking about his New York Yankees as they generally waltzed through another Major League season.
Up until what would have been his sophomore year of high school, "Top" was schooled by a private tutor. That year he entered school for the first time, enrolling at Holy Family High where he breezed through his courses and graduated on time. In 1957 he graduated from Providence College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree at the school's 39th commencement ceremonies. "Top" liked to write and hoped to be a journalist but eventually took a job as a cost accountant for the Acushnet Company which he served with honor for many years.
As much as he loved his job, however, "Top's" heart belonged to baseball.
No longer able to play the game, Topolewski was determined to return to the diamond in some capacity and over the next several years that determination paid off as "Top" became a coach and top-flight umpire.
"He knew the rule book by heart," said long-time friend Manny Lima, who coached with and against Topolewski at various levels.
They were together on several Post 1 American Legion baseball teams with Lima serving as manager and "Top" as an assistant. "His knowledge of the game was unbelievable and the fact that we both were Yankee fans enhanced the friendship," Lima said with a laugh.
A medical problem forced "Top" to take the 1986 season off, but a year later, he was back on the bench serving as Lima's right-hand man.
Seven seasons later, Post 1 won the American Legion Northeast Regional Championship to qualify for the World Series in Roseburg, Oregon. Because of work commitments, Lima was unable to make the trip, but "Top" made the cross country flight and joined fellow coaches Joe Andrews and Chris Roberts on the west coast baseball field.
As an umpire, "Top" worked at various levels of competition, including the CYO League, and was named umpire-in-chief of a The Standard-Times League comprised of several teams of newspaper carriers.
Sadly, medical problems forced Topolewski to separate himself from the game he loved and would eventually still the heart of the man who was an inspiration to all who knew him.
"Buddy's Best: The Legends, Too" will run each day for 50 days. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #BuddysBest. Read the series as it unfolds at SouthCoastToday.com/BuddysBest. Email Buddy Thomas at email@example.com
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