Throughout the years there are certain people that just make you go to the next level in life. Especially when you’re a kid looking for direction.
For me and a lot of my friends, we looked for that kind of encouragement from artists in the sports entertainment and film world.
Naturally loving baseball as I did, Mickey Mantle was big for me. Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, and Reggie Jackson were big. Luis Tiant was a hero because he was Cuban and great.
One day in the decade of the late 70s I saw a movie called One on One with a young actor that was just about my age named Robby Benson. This was a film whose timing could not have been better for me and my friends. It dealt with so many different issues that we were all going through. Things like going away for the first time, first love, Jealousy, etc. So many things that we were all dealing with. The irony was that we were all minorities (black, Hispanics) yet we loved the fact that we felt that the Robby Benson character really related to us. A few years later Robby would do a film called the Chosen. This film was big for me because I lived in Williamsburg Brooklyn. That whole neighborhood was either Puertorican or Hasidic Jewish. This story and the Benson character in the film were a reminder of my Jewish friends in my old neighborhood. It reminded me of the beatings, both verbal and physical that I took from my own people because they didn’t like me being pals with the Jews that lived only one block away.
I was always grateful to the actor Robby Benson because I learned a lot from him and his films. The thing that made me even happier was that my friends, especially the younger ones that I felt looked up to me would watch the Benson films and learn from them also.
Years later my friend, then film producer Alfred Zaccagnino was doing a fictional film loosely based on me.
When Alfred told me that the director was going to be Robby Benson I was in shock. You have to remember that I have worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest directors including Francis Ford Coppola but to me, meeting Robby Benson was truly surreal. Even though we are very close in age I found him bigger than life. He was an amazing gentleman and from a complimentary standpoint, he knew everything about my life.
The nicest compliment that Robby paid me was when he said to me and Alfred that he liked the script to keeper of the Pinstripes but the film that he really wants to do was my life story.
I have always said that if my story ever goes to film that the man that I would love to direct it would be Robby Benson. The reason being is that I think he understands why God has had me go through the kind of life that I have lived.
I think he understands that I have been here as a messenger… I think he understands that in one way or another, we are all messengers!