On Mother’s Day weekend, we take the time to celebrate all the moms and motherly figures who have passed down their passions from generation to generation.
For one local mom, her lifelong passion has been the New York Yankees – for very close to 100 years!
On May 22, Vincenza Bonanno will celebrate her 100th birthday. Vivian, as she’s known, will gather with family members and friends to mark this milestone occasion.
Bonanno was born the eldest of four siblings on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1922. Her parents were Italian immigrants from Sicily, with her father being a tailor and mother a seamstress. From a young age, she dropped out of school to help with the family business during the height of the Great Depression.
As a small child in the early-to-mid 1920s in New York City, there obviously was a reverence for Yankees legend and larger-than-life folk hero Babe Ruth. Bonanno and her friends used to sneak away from work to stand outside Yankee Stadium just to get a glimpse of the Great Bambino and his teammates.
On many occasions, she was successful. Ruth loved children, so he always took time to greet them after games. As Bonanno recalls, Ruth would reach into his pocket and take out nickels and dimes to give to children for candy, ice cream, a loaf of bread, or to go see a movie.
After Bonanno and fellow die-hard Yankees fan husband Angelo had three daughters – Marie, Linda, and Angela – they moved to Queens, where their only son, John, came along in the early 1960s. The family lived in St. Teresa of Avila parish, South Ozone Park, where John played Catholic Youth Organization sports. John also attended the parochial school, where Vivian worked as a teacher’s aide. Still, her full-time job was raising four children, while her husband worked as a truck driver.
John started developing a love of baseball at a young age, but his allegiance as a Queens boys in the ’60s immediately turned toward the newly born New York Mets – and not the Yankees like his parents loved. It was much easier for the family to take little Johnny to see ballgames at the new Shea Stadium in Flushing than it was to trek to the Bronx to see the Yanks.
As John gravitated more and more toward the Mets, Vivian was steadfast in her Yankees fandom. She took a special liking to all the Italian players over the years, including Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, and her personal favorite Joe Pepitone.
“My mother was a fanatic, and she couldn’t miss a game,” said John, an Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, graduate who serves as the sports clinic director for the St. Kevin Parish, Flushing, Youth Guild. “Every time I was there, she always had the Yankees game on.”
John specifically recalls October 18, 1977, when the Yankees battled the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series. As a young lad, John had dozed off to sleep, but his parents woke him up right after “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson hit his third home run of the game – on three consecutive pitches no less! Though a Mets fan, John still had such a huge appreciation for baseball that he enjoyed watching the Yankees clinch their first Fall Classic title since 1962.
“I could imagine my mother raising us children and not having as much time to watch the ballgames,” John said. “My mother had four of us. From the mid-50s to late-60s, I could see her not paying as much attention, but then she got back into it as we all got older and she had more time.”
Once Italian favorite and Brooklyn’s own Joe Torre was named the Yankees manager prior to the 1996 season, Vivian was again hooked. She and Angelo were ecstatic watching Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada guide the Bronx Bombers’ dynasty teams to four World Series victories in a five-year span – including the win over the Mets in the famed Subway Series World Series in 2000.
“It just gave her so much joy and excitement,” John said. “She and my father loved watching the games together. They both enjoyed it and liked spending the time together, as well as the competition of it. Win or lose, she was always on the edge of her seat. If they won, she was glad, and if they lost, she was mad.”
Another Italian Joe Girardi took the reins of the Yankees in 2008 and delivered another World Series title in 2009. Vivian and Angelo were able to enjoy one last championship together before Angelo passed away in 2010.
These days, Vivian – a cancer survivor who still lives in the Queens home where John grew up – enjoys knitting, crocheting, taking care of her cat, and trying to stay as active as possible for a soon-to-be 100-year-old.
Of course, she still passionately follows her beloved Yankees. It was this love that helped John develop his own affection for America’s pastime. Yet their relationship has been much more than sharing a love of baseball.
“My mother always taught me how to be patient and kind to people in my life,” John said. “She is a very loving, warm, compassionate person. She’s loved by so many people. I am so grateful to her for making me who I am today.”
On this Mother’s Day, we say a big thank you to all the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, stepmoms, and the like for making us all better people.
A special shoutout goes to all the moms who have instilled a love of baseball in their children – just like Vivian has done with John. Happy 100th Birthday!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.