In 1961, a considerable amount of attention was focused on an Amsterdam sports rivalry between men’s softball teams based at two local taverns.
Nationally that year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs. Mickey Mantle was the highest paid baseball player, making a whopping $75,000 that season. The Yankees won the World Series.
But in Amsterdam in August attention was focused on a three-game series between the Hawaiian Klub and Burza’s Highland House for the coveted city men’s softball league title.
Sports teams based at the Hawaiian Klub, a tavern on Church Street in the Reid Hill section, had been covered on the sports pages since 1950. Earlier in 1961, Stanley Burza and his wife, Irene, had purchased the Highland House on upper Locust Avenue.
Previously, the Highland House was owned by William Patrick. The tavern became a place of refuge after fire destroyed a barn at the Sanford Stud Farm on Route 30, killing 25 thoroughbred horses in 1939.
Former Sanford jockey Louis Hildebrandt said, “All of the farm employees who had to clean up after the disastrous fire could only take the smell, filth and emotion for so long,”
After William Patrick died, his sons William and Eddie operated the establishment prior to the Burzas buying the business.
The Hawaiian Klub won the first softball game in the 1961 championship series 2-1. Burza’s Highlanders took the second contest 6-1 before a huge crowd at one of the fields behind the then-Wilbur Lynch High School on Brandt Place.
The deciding game was set for 6 p.m. sharp the following Monday. A crowd of 500 attended. Recorder sportswriter Bob Wischmeyer wondered, “Will it be a Highland Fling or an Hawaiian Hula that is danced tonight at Senior High 1 softball field?”
Wischmeyer reported the next day, “Defense told the story last night. Burza's Highland House played without an error and turned in two double plays to defeat the Hawaiian Klub 5-1.”
Burza played third base, was team manager and was part of one of the double plays. New York state Assemblyman Donald Campbell was on the Highlander team along with other Amsterdam notables such as Bud Heck and Fred Sandy.
Among those on the Klub roster were Gene Bik, Fred Cerasaro, Chuck Pettengill and Dave Quick.
Stan made a ritual of saying good night to you by name when you left the Highland House, with a formula that went something like this, “Good night, Bob. Don’t slip on the ice. Don’t step on Irene’s tulips.”
Irene recalled in a 1986 newspaper article that she once asked a young man to take his feet off the furniture. When he replied she sounded like his mother, her response was, “When you’re here, I am your mother.”
The Burzas closed the tavern in 1986. Irene died in 1990. Six years later Stan married Rita Loughrey, a woman he had met through his daughter and son-in-law.
Rita Burza said Stan enjoyed being useful. He played softball for 50 years. He took up skiing in his 70s and went with Rita on an Alpin Haus-sponsored ski trip to France for their honeymoon.
Stan Burza died on Nov. 2, 2010 at age 92. A Navy veteran of World War II, he was buried with military honors at St. Stanislaus Cemetery. What was Burza’s Highland House on Locust Avenue is now the Kinowski Insurance Agency.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or email@example.com.