Leo’s Gone

Sorry to hear about the passing of another downtown South Deerfield mainstay. Leo Rotkiewicz, longtime owner of  Leo’s TV, died last week.

My fondest memories of Leo take me back nearly four decades, to the days when our rooftop antennas pulled in three or four boring, black-white-channels and Leo had the only color TVs in town in his showroom; all Zenith’s.

Those were also the glory days of afternoon World Series ballgames, when schoolkids hid pocket-sized transistor radios in their pants pockets, ran the earplug wires under their belts, inside their shirts, up their torsos and down the sleeves to secretly pick up the broadcasts in the classroom. We’d cup the earphone deep in our palm and listen to the games by leaning an ear to our hand and flattening it to insert the listening device. On an important play or home run, we had to contain ourselves from jumping to our feet, settling instead on discreet eye contact, winks and nods, as the teacher droned toward the 3 o’clock bell. Believe me, we were as anxious as the teacher.

By the time the bell sounded, the game would be in the third or fourth inning and we’d sprint cross-lots to Leo’s to catch the last five or six innings in vivid color. Kids weren’t the only people in town visiting Leo’s on World Series days. A cross-section of the community could be found there, talking, watching baseball, roting against the Yankees, shooting the breeze.

Leo was no fool. He knew World Series games were his best marketing tool to sell color TVs, that people would go home determined to have one of the new, space-aged products in their living room. There were no malls back then. If you wanted a TV, you went to the local dealer. That way you could get it repaired when it broke down.

My lasting memory from the World Series at Leo’s was Sandy Koufax’s 15-strikeout masterpiece at Yankee Stadium in 1963. The stylish lefty had the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard, Clete Boyer, Moose Skowran, Joe Pepitone, Tony Kubek and Tom Tresh eating out of his left hand. First he’d blow his 100-mph fastball by them, then make them look silly with his 12-to-6 curveball. That pitching performance on a crisp autumn day in the Bronx was the centerpiece of a four-game Los Angeles Dodgers sweep that was welcome in Red Sox land.

It was Leo Rotkiewicz who brought it to South Deerfield in living color. Now he’s gone with most of the other downtown merchants from that era. Fading memories.

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