Tag Archives: Ron Berler

[OPINION] Living With Regret

Ron Berler is a 1967 Staples High School graduate. He writes magazine and newspaper stories on a variety of subjects, from education to guns. Today, he focuses on baseball.

We’ve all done things in life we regret. And we regret them all the more for never having owned up to them, for never having made things right.

Major wrongs, minor wrongs, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s the small ones that trouble us most, if only because they were so avoidable. A word of thanks here, an unprompted act of kindness there. That’s all it would have taken to avoid a regret – or to fix it.

An avoidable act of mine was to never tell Craig Matheson, the decades-long director of the Staples Players, how much it meant to me to be cast in one of his plays.

Even today, performing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among my most cherished memories. I still don’t quite understand why I landed the part. I wasn’t much of an actor; the theater critic for the Town Crier, Westport’s local newspaper, described my performance – generously, I thought – as “entirely adequate.”

Ron Berler (center( in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

But in gifting me that part, Mr. Matheson opened a world of art to me that I hadn’t truly appreciated, filled me with a new sense of confidence and introduced me to a circle of cast and crew to whom I still feel a bond.

Years later, having been away from Westport for decades, I walked into a Post Road restaurant in which Mr. Matheson happened to be dining. It was my opportunity, finally, to properly thank him, to make things right. He was grateful for my words, but not nearly so grateful as me for the chance to finally say them.

Craig Matheson — founder of Staples Players — was very involved in the Saugatuck Church too. In 2010, for its 175th anniversary celebration, he played the role of founding father Daniel Nash.

That was a moment I’ll always cherish. But like so many of us, I’m guilty of other oversights that I’ve never managed to correct.

I’m 73 now, and those missed opportunities – by now, some of them lost opportunities – continue to nag at me. It takes so little to be kind, to be thoughtful. The best I can express it is through an essay I wrote recently for the opinion page of the Chicago Tribune, regarding another person I dearly wanted to thank, but who died before I was able to do so. Gratitude is such an easy gift to give.

The Tribune has a paywall. I posted it also on Medium. I thought “06880” readers would appreciate it too.


How do you thank someone who has passed?

Oscar Zamora was a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1970s. He wasn’t very good, to put it kindly. During his Wrigley Field tenure, Cubs fans would serenade him as he exited the game, often in mid-inning after having surrendered a blizzard of runs. Here is a sample verse, sung to the tune of the long-ago Dean Martin hit, “That’s Amore.”

When the pitch is so fat
That the ball hits the bat,
That’s Zamora!

From the press box where I sometimes sat, he seemed to accept the razzing with equanimity, as if he agreed it was deserved. I was a young reporter at the time, and after games I’d pass him in the clubhouse as he dressed quietly at his locker, while I sought out one or another of his more prominent teammates.

Zamora pitched for the Cubs for parts of three seasons, and I can’t remember ever interviewing him for a story or even stopping to chat. He was one in that category — an interchangeable part, a minor actor who wouldn’t last long in the game.

Zamora was 31, in his second big-league season, on the day in May 1975 when we came closest to sharing a real conversation. My target that afternoon, as I strode past his locker, was one of his teammates — a star infielder I knew slightly who would win the league batting title that year. I had a favor to ask.

Like Zamora and his Cubs teammates, I too played the game, though not credibly enough to have made my high school team. Still, baseball was my passion. I played shortstop for a bar-league softball team, and my bucket-list dream was a new glove. Not just any glove — a major league-quality one, made of a grade of leather and stitching so fine, it was manufactured exclusively for professional ballplayers.

No problem, the infielder said. He named a price and I handed him the money. A week later, I returned to the clubhouse and the infielder waved me over. He reached into his locker and tossed me a new glove.

I thought he was joking at first. It was a Wilson A2000 — a popular model readily available in any decent sporting goods shop. Not a pro-quality one. Not at all what I’d asked for, or desired. I stood there silent, head dipped, feeling taken, staring at this unwanted object.

Word spread round the clubhouse about what had transpired. One of the infielder’s teammates, centerfielder Rick Monday, eyed the Wilson A2000 and shook his head. “If you wanted a glove, why didn’t you ask me?” he said, shooting a look at the infielder before returning to his locker.

Ron Berler

I was still staring at the retail-store glove when Zamora, the pitcher to whom I’d never spoken, approached. “Here,” he said. “Take this.” In his hand was a Rawlings Heart of the Hide professional-model glove. “It’s my backup,” he said, meaning the one he used during pregame drills.

I was too stunned at first to speak. I took his gift and turned it gingerly in my hands, as if I were examining a piece of fine jewelry. “I don’t know how to thank you,” I finally managed and kept repeating. The glove was the stuff of my dreams.

You’d think after such unprompted kindness that I would have sought him out regularly in the clubhouse, sat with him at his locker and gotten to know him as a treasured acquaintance, if not as a friend. I certainly had the time and opportunity. But I was 25, self-absorbed, oblivious. To my shame, I never did. By the time I realized my error, my loss, he had left the game. I never saw him again.

Zamora’s glove, though — that was a different story. I would take the field wearing his gift for the next 45 years, until I turned 70, till suddenly ground balls I had once readily handled seemed to come at me like sniper fire. It was time to retire.

Time for the glove to retire, too. Over the years it had taken a battering, its leather worn raw and thin, like a faded house stripped of its paint.

The glove.

I’m 73 now and haven’t played catch since hanging up my cleats. But every so often, I slip on Zamora’s glove and flex it till the pocket brushes my palm, till it feels as it did on the ball field, like a second skin. And I think, too, of the man who’d once worn it and of his selfless generosity.

Last December I sought to contact Zamora, to tell him about the glove and what it still means to me. But mostly, I hoped to get to know him. A Major League Baseball Players Association representative, wanting to help, mailed a letter to his last known address but received no response. Later, I learned he had opened a Miami shoe store after retiring, and I located Cosme de la Torriente, the attorney who had handled his business affairs.

I was too late, de la Torriente told me over the phone. Zamora died four years ago. He was 75.

The attorney and I spoke for almost an hour. Zamora had been not only a client but also his friend. He told me Zamora had emigrated from Cuba to Miami as a child and had returned to Miami after retiring from the game. The two had played local ball together and sometimes had gone nightclubbing.

“Oscar knew everybody, and everybody knew him. He loved people,” de la Torriente said. “What he did for you, that was his character. You would have liked him.”

I wish I’d made the effort.

[OPINION] Ron Berler’s Guns

Ron Berler is a 1967 Staples High School graduate, and noted magazine and newspaper writer on a variety of subjects, from education to baseball. Today, he turns his focus on guns.

Ron says:

How fearful are Westporters?

In 2001, the town’s police department issued a total of 26 gun permits. That number jumped to 181 in 2021.

According to the Connecticut State Police, as of April 2021 there were 5,212 registered firearms in town – 2,877 handguns and 2,079 long guns, a category that includes assault-style weapons.

That’s a lot more firepower than the Minutemen who faced down the British at Compo Beach had. And those fellows had an actual need.

Ron Berler

I grew up in Westport. Walking the quiet streets, even the unlighted ones, even at night, I can’t recall a single instance of fear – other than the time I egged a car on Halloween night and the driver chased me through woods that, thankfully, I knew better than he.

Now I live in Stamford. I walk the streets of my suburban neighborhood nightly, armed with a flashlight, doggie bag and miniature poodle while keeping my eyes peeled – for the hawk and the occasional coyote that have claimed as their turf what I had imagined to be mine.

I don’t own a gun. Never have, never will. Yet I don’t pretend that Westport, or the US, will ever be a gun-free zone. Or that it even should be.

I do believe in a nuanced approach to firearms possession.

Shortly after the Uvalde massacre, I wrote an op-ed about nuance and gun reform. It ran in the Houston Chronicle. I wanted it in a Texas paper for a reason. Here it is. (The Chronicle has a paywall, so I’ve posted it on Medium.com.)

I hope it resonates with you.

The type of weapon the 2nd Amendment had in mind, for a well regulated militia.


Now Batting: Ron Berler

Staples High School 1967 graduate Ron Berler calls his baseball history “checkered.”

Playing in Westport’s Little League, he threw an on-field tantrum when Max Shulman — the author of “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” but, more importantly for this story, the umpire — “blew a call” (Ron’s words) on a tag play he made at third.

In later years he was cut during tryouts at both Long Lots Junior High and Staples. He joined the only team that would have him: Staples Players theater.

Ron Berler

After Northwestern University, he became a writer. The Chicago Tribune Magazine sent him to Arizona to do a “Paper Lion”-type spring training story. He suited up for the Chicago Cubs. Leo Durocher was the manager. Ernie Banks drove Ron from the team hotel to the ballpark each morning.

One day Ron lined a shot to right field, causing a rookie pitcher to be returned to the minors. But after one at-bat in the team’s first intra-squad game, Ron was handed an unconditional release from baseball.

He was, however, offered a position with the Wrigley Field grounds crew. He declined.

That was not the end of his baseball career, fortunately. For 18 years, Ron managed suburban Chicago Little League teams.

His day job included writing a weekly, youth-issues column for the Chicago Tribune. He recently reprised one of those pieces — about the unwanted pressures facing star youth athletes — for Medium. Click here to read “The Cost of Being a Little League Hero.”

As Westport youngsters return to the diamond — and all kinds of other athletic fields — it’s a tale worth heeding.


“Heatwave” Hits Laredo

Richard Berler graduated from Staples in 1972. For the last 41 years — with the nickname “Heatwave” — he’s been chief meteorologist for KGNS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Laredo, Texas.

An entry level outpost for most, he remains there because Laredo is — literally — the hottest TV market in America. 

Richard first gained fame at Staples. He provided daily weather reports as part of the morning announcements. He was so trusted that when he predicted a snow day, no students did homework. 

He received the NOAA National Weather Service’s Jefferson Award for meritorious service. Since 2003 he has been a featured speaker at the American Meteorological Society’s annual conference on Broadcast Meteorology.

Berler’s brother Ron graduated from Staples 5 years earlier. A writer and editor. his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Wired, Outside and other publications. He is the author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.”

In 2007, while a columnist with ESPN.com, Ron wrote this piece about his brother. The other day, he posted an updated version on Medium. Ron writes:

When my brother, Richard “Heatwave” Berler, met me at the Laredo airport in January some years ago, he was keyed up, distracted, as if spiking from a sugar high. He hustled me out of the terminal and into a desert swelter that left me gasping for air.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” the city’s number one-rated TV meteorologist said, trying to keep a lid on his emotions, “but this could be the first day of the year we reach 90 degrees.”

Richard “Heatwave” Berler

We climbed into his Toyota and sped toward KGNS-TV, the local NBC affiliate where he works, windows open, the immense heat washing over our faces. At the first red light, he pulled what looked to be a meat thermometer from his breast pocket and took a fresh reading. 88 degrees. A grin began to play on his face.

Staring at the bleak countryside — a tired stew of mesquite, scrub brush, tract houses and 7-Elevens — I struggled to share my brother’s enthusiasm. Though it was midday, the city looked abandoned.

Small wonder. In a typical year, the temperature will top 90 degrees 180 times, and 100 degrees 71 times. Other than my brother, nobody walks the streets of Laredo. At least, not since the advent of air conditioning.

How shall I describe Heatwave? My brother is like a hothouse plant. He once drove through Death Valley with the air conditioning off, to immerse himself in the stupefying swelter.

“I’ve seen him riding his bike in 110-degree weather,” marveled Richard Noriega, the station’s one-time news anchor. “He seems to draw energy from the heat.” Once in 1998 it shot up to 114 degrees, burning the leaves of the city’s banana trees like cigarette paper — a day my brother describes as one of the greatest of his life.

Ron Berler: “Heatwave”‘s proud older brother.

He chose Laredo because it is, quite literally, the hottest TV market in the country. He grew up in Connecticut and worked his first TV weather job in Duluth, Minn. The winters there just about killed him. He’d curl up in bed with a good meteorology book and dream about Senegal, the Amazon jungle…Laredo.

The day he left Duluth, 19 degrees was the high. His first week at KGNS, in February 1980, the temperature hit 99. On air he reported this with such passion, the rest of the news team stared at him in disbelief. “From now on,” he instructed the anchorman, “I want you to introduce me as ‘Heatwave.’” He’s been at the station 41 years, yet almost no one in the city knows his given name.

Back then, KGNS had the feel of a frontier outpost. Bats, tarantulas and scorpions called the newsroom home. There was a hole in the building’s foundation; one night a rattlesnake slithered around the studio while my brother and the rest of the Pro8News team delivered their reports.

Yet here in ranch country, where people treat weather seriously, the community has come to depend on him. During Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 he stayed on the job 3 straight days, tracking the storm and issuing weather advisories, grabbing rest when he could in a sleeping bag he’d brought to the station.

Now his fame is such that once, while riding his bicycle, the pilot of a low-flying border-patrol plane spotted him and called through his loudspeaker, “Hi, Heatwave!” Viewers complain to the station when he goes on vacation.

When former Laredo mayor Betty Flores heard I was doing a story on my brother, she insisted on speaking with me. “He is loved here,” she said. “He has changed the way we feel about our city. If he left town, people would take it personally.”

Its always hottest in Laredo.

He has in fact instilled in the city’s citizens a weird sort of community pride. Much as Detroit is Motor City, Laredo is now Heat City. Folks chart hot spells like old-time baseball fans followed Joe DiMaggio’s famous hit streak. In 2011, they will tell you, the temperature reached 100 degrees 35 straight days, 60 days out of 61, a grand total of 122 times. Heat has become their identity.

There was a time when my brother would tune to the number one San Antonio TV station and grow envious of all the technology available to its weather team. He’d wonder if he’d made the right choice, marrying himself to small-budget Laredo.

Then in 2005, as a kind of 25th anniversary gift, the station purchased his wish list of high-tech gadgetry. My brother called me to celebrate. “I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be,” he said. He hasn’t looked back since.

It’s 21 degrees in Connecticut as I write this. I’m thinking back to that January visit, when I looked on as Richard waded through a jungle of wind, temperature and barometric charts piled on his desk. “It’s going to get hotter,” he insisted that day. At 4:02 p.m., the temperature officially hit 90. He slapped me five and dashed outside to bask in the heat.


Little League Elbows

Today’s New York Times Magazine contains a fascinating story on the tremendous harm done to young baseball pitchers’ arms, due to overuse and under-caring.

The piece, it turns out, has a strong Westport connection.

It’s not — fortunately — about local athletes.  Westport’s youth coaches do a good job of counting pitches.

Ron Berler

Ron Berler

The connection is the writer.  Ron Berler grew up here.  A 1967 Staples grad, he was the Wall in the Staples Players’ production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  He became an actor after being cut as a sophomore during baseball tryouts — “a wise decision” on the coach’s part, he now says.

Ron did play Westport Little League — “the last time I was an All-Star in anything.”

But he’s always loved the game, and while driving to his weekly Sunday morning softball game he listens to Rick Wolff on WFAN.

Shortly after last year’s Little League World Series, the talk show host mentioned that a pitcher had thrown 288 pitches during the tournament — over just 10 days.  Ron was stunned.  He had coached youth baseball for 17 years.  A writer for Wired, Men’s Journal and ESPN.com, he “pitched” (ho ho) the Times. The result is today’s eye-opening piece.

“I hope the article will lead parents to demand changes in how youth baseball leagues are run,” Ron says.  “It’s their kids who are at risk.

“At the same time I hope Little League — which has done more than any other youth league to protect its players — does not end up shouldering all the blame.

“Yes, Little League needs to address its relaxed pitching rules during the World Series tournament.  But the real problem lies with the thousands of kids who play on multiple teams, many of them with overlapping schedules, for coaches who do not communicate with one another, and who pitch their players way too much.”

Amen.  And let’s thank all the Westport coaches who are not caught up in such craziness.