Pick one. Any one. You can save a life.
By: Dave Gordon
An icon in the Deal, N.J. softball league for decades, Robert Isaac “Red” Nesser, believed that sportsmanship and integrity went together like a ball and a glove.
Born February 11, 1948, Red Nesser, a celebrated athlete, professional driver and art gallery owner, grew up a sports fan. He rooted in particular for the Brooklyn Dodgers while pursuing passions that included wrestling, bowling, and softball. Wearing the number 6 jersey, Red played first base and was a dominant southpaw pitcher. Over forty years, he would come to earn eight championship trophies for teams such as Fiddler on the Goof, Red Devils, and Gemal’s Pals.
Red’s love for America’s favorite past timebegan as a young boy, when he was taken to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play the Dodgers. From 1965 to 1967, he and his brother Larry watched these two New York teams battle it out. “At the time, I thought those were the only teams that ever played, because those were the only games I ever saw,” Larry jokes.
Fred Nesser, Red’s nephew, notes the way baseball – a gentleman’s game – carried over into his every day life. “He led by example,” Fred says of this consummate team player. “He was a walking ‘pirkei avot’ on and off the field. Respect came first, second, and third. On the field, no matter how bad of a play a person may have made, he never put his teammate down,” Fred said. “You might get that certain ‘Red look,’ but only if you weren’t giving it your all. Playing ‘the right way’ was everything to him.”
Red’s behavior as a player was exemplary. He talked graciously to umpires and teammates alike and was always cordial to his opponents. “People talk about knowing how to lose,” Fred says of his uncle. “Perhaps more important than that, he knew how to win, never rubbing it in.”
Jack Haddad was fifteen years old in 1976, when he first met Red. That year, the two of them played for the Red Devils. They won the championship together and cemented a bond that would last for 40 years. With faith in Jack’s talent, Red eventually set up a major league tryout for him.
“The Red I knew was a big kid who didn’t want to grow up. He always made me laugh whether he meant to or not,” recalls Jack. “He was a unique, fun-loving kind person who hustled his butt off, and accepted nothing less from his teammates.”
Marty Gemal, 71, became friends with Red as a center-fielder alongside him in the late 1970s. “He was the Babe, the crowd attractor,” Marty said of Red’s magnetism.
“He was the essence and heart of the Sephardic league, always getting the young kids to join. He had a great rapport with them.”
Ike Dweck, a friend since age nine, played a variety of sports with Red as a boy. Most certainly, he said, Red was “a fierce competitor who gave it his all,” but there was also a soft side to him; he didn’t tolerate coarse language and was sweet and kind.
His loving nature surfaced when Ike served in Vietnam. “Red would make sure to write a letter to me every week without fail.He never made me feel like I was alone,” Ike remembers.
As a child, Jack Picciotto lived a few minutes’ walk from Red in Brooklyn. “As a little kid I kind of idolized him,” admits Picciotto, who later moved to Deal and joined the softball league.
“Red was a main card,” Jack says. “If he was on your team, you knew it was going to be very serious and that you had a good chance of winning.” Case in point, the championship game of 1979. Disastrously, Picciotto’s feet became too sore for him to play but Red volunteered to leave first base to replace him in center field. Their team went on to win it all because of Red’s heroics.
“He loved the game,” Picciotto says of his good friend. Red was just a pleasure to be around.”
Sadly, Red Nesser succumbed to diabetes and heart failure, this past April. He is survived by brothers Michael and Larry, and sisters Pat and Germaine. He will be missed by all who knew him.