A very distant relative for Mel Finkenberg

May 9, 2022 Andy Furman
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A distant relative — very distant.

That’s the way it was for Mel Finkenberg some 56 years ago.

Finkenberg was an outstanding basketball player at Lafayette High. In fact, for years it was almost understood he served as tri-captain of the 1966 Division Championship team with Ike Pollack and Luis Flores.

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“Nope,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle, “just Pollack and Flores. It still haunts me.”

But it was Pollack’s dad, according to Finkenberg, that talked then Lafayette High basketball coach Gil Fershtman into making him part of the troika.

“Coach had me buy ‘Co-Captain’ for my letter jacket,” Finkenberg came clean last week, “we never spoke about this again; I still love the guy.”

Basketball served Mel Finkenberg well – very well in fact.

He taught in public schools in West Haven, Conn., and Clear Creek ISD, League City, Texas for three years before beginning a career in higher education at California State University, Los Angeles, where he assumed a department chair position after his fourth year.

He then served as department chair at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, where he was named a Distinguished Professor and recipient of a Regents Professorship, the highest honor given.

He served as dean at the College of Education during his time at SFASU as well. Before entering teaching, he served as an exercise physiologist with the NASA Astronaut Program.

Dr. Mel Finkenberg, tri-captain of the 1966 Division Championship team at Lafayette High School and educator, academic. Photo courtesy of Mel Finkenberg on YouTube, @CousinPike

And with an extensive publication record, one would think – at least – Dr. Mel Finkenberg would at least recognize some of his relatives. He’s published approximately 90 journal articles and presented more than 50 papers at professional conferences.

But way back when – as a 16-year-old – he met an uncle he’ll never forget.

“When the Mets had Gil Hodges as manager, I was about 16,” he told John Herbold, then Baseball Coach at Cal State-Los Angeles, “When my best friend West and I got tickets to a Mets-Cardinals game.

“Well,” he continued, “when the game was over, he got the brilliant idea about us hiding in the men’s room until everyone had left and then sneaking into the Mets’ clubhouse to meet some of the players and maybe even Gil Hodges.”

Yes – it worked. Finkenberg says he and his buddy must’ve hidden in there 20 minutes to a half hour and they figured all was clear – and out they came.

The place was deserted – and they were undetected – they thought.

“We quickly advanced within 20 feet of the clubhouse door when all of a sudden, we heard nothing but whistles reverberating off the walls. Guards came running at us from all directions – West went scurrying one way, trying to evade the long arm of the law – I went another,” he said.

Eventually both were securely encircled by the arms of justice when out of the clubhouse loomed the imposing figure of the Mets manager.

“What’s going on,” he inquired.

“Well, Mr. Hodges,” they exclaimed, “these boys were trying to sneak into your clubhouse.”

“Maybe it was the wild-eyed fear in West’s eyes or the tears in mine,” Finkenberg said, “but anyway Hodges must have quickly ascertained our predicament.

“Let’em go,” smiled back Gil. “These two are my nephews. They’re all right. They were just playing around outside waiting for me.”

“Certainly, Mr. Hodges,” the officers explained, “We didn’t know. Sorry about that.”
“Quite all right,” Hodges replied, “Come along boys.”

Finkenberg remembers the officers left, and Hodges suggested to us that it might be a good idea now if we departed.

“I thanked him for the both of us,” Finkenberg said, “scared as I was, I figured we’d gotten off lucky thanks to Gil Hodges.”
Maybe next time Mel Finkenberg will get to know his family members a little bit better.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR


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