Lawrence Township lost a good man recently, and Lawrence Little League lost a legend.
When Robert A. “Bob” Calderone suddenly died at age 61 of a heart attack on June 28, a void was left in the hearts of numerous township residents, most notably those who played either for or against Calderone in Lawrence Little League.
“I was very surprised when I heard,” said Ryan Dunn, who played under Calderone for three years in little league and one in Senior Babe Ruth. “I think everybody in the township was kind of stunned. Through all his coaching and working with the township, so many people knew him and everyone was surprised.
“No one ever had a bad word to say about him. He was just so well respected.”
One of the men who knew Calderone the best is lifelong Lawrence resident and long-time Notre Dame High boys soccer assistant Zigmund “Ziggy” Zegarski.
The two men’s relationship spanned over 30 years, as Zegarski worked for the Mercer County Department of Transportation and Calderone worked for Lawrence Public Works. The two also worked together at the now-defunct Merry Go Round bar and restaurant, which was like the Lawrence Town Hall in its glory days.
Calderone, a lifetime Lawrenceville resident, is survived by his wife Marjorie, son Chris and daughter Allison, but an entire town feels as if it has lost a family member.
“He’s gonna be sorely missed by his wife and kids and everybody that knew Bobby,” Zegarski said. “It was a big shock. He always wanted to see good things happen for the kids. That’s what he would tell everybody. It’s all for the kids.”
While no one can quite remember when Calderone started in the Lawrence Little League, all agreed he lasted over 30 years and was still doing field maintenance right up until he died.
Calderone started coaching in the league before Chris was even old enough to play. After he coached his son, he remained as a manager despite not having a relative in the league. He went on to Senior Babe Ruth, and once Allison began playing softball, he switched sports. After that he decided to umpire.
“There were a lot of years that he coached where he had no kids in the league, and that’s practically unheard of,” said Jack Dunn, Ryan’s father. “He just did it because he loved it. I remember he coached Swiss Bakery, and he used to come over and pick Ryan up and take him to the games.”
Zegarski’s son Jason, the current Lawrence Post 414 American Legion manager, never had the pleasure of playing for Calderone. But he enjoyed playing against him nonetheless, and was good friends with Allison even though she gave Jason chicken pox when they were in Kindergarten.
“You always had a good time,” Jason said. “You knew, regardless of how you did, he’d pick you up (spirit-wise) after a game. He’d say ‘Great game,’ if you had a few hits. If you lost, it would be like ‘Tough one, you’ll get it next time.’ He always cared about the players whether they were on his team or the other team.
“He was just a great guy, he always put the kids first. He was beloved all over the town. He was always working on the fields. When it was a rainy day he would be out there trying to get the fields ready for the kids to play.”
For his efforts, Calderone was given the honor of being one of just four lifetime members of the Lawrence Township Junior Baseball/Softball Association.
Ryan Dunn said one of the great things about playing for Calderone was, win or lose, it was still worth the time.
“I don’t think our teams were very good back then,” he said with a laugh. “But we still had fun. He made it fun. He made it very enjoyable and made you want to be there.
“He had the kids’ interest at heart definitely. Winning wasn’t the big thing with him. He wanted to get us all better as baseball players. At the time he coached me, his son was already a lot older. He was just a selfless guy.”
Dunn added that Calderone is one of those guys who got hold of a kid when he was 10 and left an impression for a lifetime.
“Absolutely,” Ryan Dunn said. “He taught me about hard work and fortitude and teamwork. When you’re a guy like that, dealing with 10, 11, 12 year-old kids, you become someone they can really look up to.”
Zegarski said that Calderone’s greatest pleasure would be to watch a Lawrence LL graduate go on to bigger and better things, such as when John Schneider played for the Tigers and Blue Jays. But it didn’t matter to Calderone if you were great or the last guy on the bench—he wanted you out there playing.
“Bob was all about baseball,” Zegarski said. “I don’t think he played in high school or college. He was in the service, in the (Coast) Guard, he served his country.”
And oh how he served the little league.
“Every Saturday morning, you would see him out there lining the fields, running the front end loader,” Zegarski said. “There wasn’t a bad bone in his body. Even when he umpired, he would help the kids out. If they went after a bad pitch he would say ‘Son, you shouldn’t have swung at that pitch.’ He was more of a mentor than anything. He wanted kids to be successful in Lawrence.”
Zegarski had an appointment to go blueberry picking with Calderone on July 1. He was shocked to get a phone call two days earlier telling him the bad news.
Zegarski had lost a close friend. But so did a ton of other people in Lawrenceville, both young and old.