If not for a change in the draft age for World War II Tony Gianunzio might have been on the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field 73 years earlier.
Gianunzio, who now lives in Kalamazoo, went to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1942 for a tryout. Gianunzio says he hitchhiked there with $5 in his pocket, which he says didn’t last too long “even then.” He impressed the Chicago Cubs organization, but then the military draft age was lowered to 19.
The Cubs sent a letter, and Gianunzio says the words “cut his heart in half.” The baseball team advised him, to take care of himself and to get in touch after the war.
Gianunzio volunteered for the Coast Guard and served as a Gun Captain. He was in the Coast Guard - “too long” - the entire war. Gianunzio says he logged about 60,000 miles at sea in the Pacific – “that’s a couple of times around the world plus.”
After the war, Gianunzio used the GI Bill to attend Western Michigan University. He says going to college was his dream. That would lead to a career in teaching.
Last year, Gianunzio enjoyed “one of the greatest moments of my life.” He was being interviewed for the documentary film Salute to Honor produced by the Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids.
The interviewer told Gianunzio that he had the chance to throw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs home game at Wrigley Field. Gianunzio says the moment was “surreal.”
If he has any regrets it’s that he kept his glasses on and didn’t bring his leg up high enough. Gianunzio threw from the pitcher’s mound and the ball skipped twice before it making it to home plate. Gianunzio says if he’s asked back he’ll throw from the mound again, and vows to put it across home plate.