Caesar Polichetti Paddleball Profile by Dave Siegel
Remember the children’s storybook, “The Little Engine That Could?” In baseball, it’s José Altuve, the diminutive American League MVP who led the Astros to the World Championship. Remember Pete Rose, the ball player (not the gambler)? He was hard-nosed, hustling, fighting for every edge, and always playing all-out. Put them both together and you have Caesar Polichetti who, despite being very far from a tall man, has a very big heart and all his life said, “I think I can! I think I can!” just like the little locomotive. And, like Pete Rose, he played every point of every game fiercely, striving for the ultimate goal: winning. Caesar’s athletic ability and dedication, combined with his persona, enabled him to become one of the best paddleball players from the late 70s and 80s, the golden era of paddleball.
The story of Caesar Polichetti goes back to Brooklyn in the mid-1970s when Caesar, who was then a handball player, saw paddleball being played at Seth Low Playground. It looked like a game he wanted to try and, along with his friend Rocco, he bought a $3 paddle and started practicing. A month later, thinking they were ready for competition, they went to the park under the Verrazano Bridge where they had heard there were good games. Guess what? Caesar got crushed. But this man with the big heart would not be fazed. (I think I can!) He went back to Seth Low, determined to learn the game and become a good player. He bought a Black Beauty, found a mentor, an experienced player named Howie, and practiced and practiced, his game quickly developing. He and Howie returned to the Verrazano a few months later and as they entered the courts, they gazed at the faces of the players. They were all silently saying “Oh no, this guy’s back!” But it was a different story this time. No, they didn’t beat everyone, but they were competitive, winning and losing. He was now welcome and the Verrazano courts became his home park.
A few years later, Caesar, now one of the finest players around, heard that the best players in Brooklyn were at Bay 8thStreet. So he and most of the guys packed up and moved to Bay 8th. Some of the better known competitors that moved from the Verrazano to Bay 8th were Patty Ranieri, Andrew Grosso, Sal Gargiulo, Paul Coscione, Alex (Batman) Cordani, Frank Calabria, and Anthony Russo. There, they met up with Donnie Ciaffone, Bob Kessler, George Helmerich, Jerry Resnick and Eddie Pino. Caesar teamed up with George and they played in many tournaments together and became one of the top (and toughest) teams in the game.
Reflecting now, Caesar says that his stature was an asset to him in paddleball, propelling him to go all out on every point of every game against the top players. Never giving in to any physical advantage they had, nor complaining about rough play, he is proud to say he was “not a crybaby.” “Get inside, you bump me, I bump you.” He was never in awe of any of the greats he competed against, even playing singles in tournaments against the likes of Bobby Schwarz and Mike Melendez. He was an offensive player, always looking to get front position. His favorite shot? the Killer, of course.
Another factor in Caesar becoming the man he turned out to be is that he grew up in an era which was far different from today. There were no video games! He and his friends were always playing sports or city games, like stickball, stoopball, punchball, boxball and eventually turning to handball. It was these sports activities that kept him on the straight and narrow and probably a major reason he became who he is.
Later in his career, now an older player, Caesar teamed up with Alex (Batman) and played in Masters competitions. Back then, during paddleball’s heyday, the Masters drew large numbers of top players, many of whom were still playing open competition. Caesar and Batman won the 1988 and ’89 Budweiser Masters, beating Marvin Haberman in the finals both years.
Is there a soft side to Caesar Polichetti? Yes, speaking first hand, he is a gentleman (off the court!). Caesar related to me that when he watches a game, though he may want a particular person to win, he never roots outwardly, showing respect for all the players. Plus, he was not only one of the best paddleball players from the golden era, but he was a mentor. Go back in the PFA archives and check out what Donnie Ciaffone had to say about Caesar: “While coming up in the sport at Bay 8th, a great legend named Caesar Polichetti took me under his wing and taught me discipline, technique and how to use my left hand.”
Caesar’s success in sports goes beyond paddleball. Overlapping his prime years, he was a serious and successful marathon runner. He competed in five NYC marathons, finishing them all, achieving a best time of 3:33. He put in many hours and miles training for these events. In his earlier days, he played table tennis competitively, winning a city-wide tournament in which there were over five thousand entries! After he wound down in paddleball, Caesar went back to handball where he was a good competitive player in this very demanding sport. It’s obvious that when Caesar decided to take up a sport, “I think I can!” would kick in.
Caesar goes down as one of the best and well-known players in paddleball history. He played against the great players from his era. He highlights these legends (but notes there were many others): Steve Rothfeld, Barry Scheiber, Bobby Schwarz, Andy Krosnick, Howie Solomon, Anthony Fiorino, Robert Chielli, Richie Miller, Glen Winokur, Andr’e (Hop) Hopkins, Craig Ruiz, Ralph Capogrosso, Bobby Fiorentino, Whitey Faber, Ray Gaston, Mike Melendez, Donnie Ciaffone and Anita Maldonado.
Present day, Caesar lives in Hollywood, Florida and continues to play in Garfield Park a couple of days a week. His regular partner is Phil Leone. Remarkably, he has had two knee replacements and three rotator cuff shoulder surgeries. Now playing the big ball game, he considers himself a “decent right-side defensive player.” And do you believe this? “No more arguments!” Also he still plays table tennis and even plays pickleball now and then.
Caesar loves the direction that paddleball has taken in the last few years with the PFA, led by the “sensational” work of Mike Melendez and his team and its emphasis on developing the children. “The kids are very lucky to have the role models that the Paddleball Family Alliance provides for them. Thank you Mike!”
Remember how “The Little Engine That Could” ended? “I thought I could. I thought I could.” Yes, that’s Caesar Polichetti and he sure could! (And still can!) If you have a young child or grandchild, get “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper. Read it to them, they’ll love it! Think of Caesar.