Aracri, Montella rose to the occasion

Roy Hobbs Baseball

The Anthonys on a boat
Photo by Tom Giffen The Anthonys: Montella (left) & Aracri coordinated boat transportation between Sanibel and the mainland in the weeks after Ian.

For Anthony Aracri and Anthony Montella baseball is more than a game, teammates are more than friends, and a diamond is more than merely a place with grass and dirt and bases.

That was always the case but in the wake of Hurricane Ian their baseball bond deepened, even cemented into a more profound connection.

The long-time friends reside in Lee County, near where the historic storm roared ashore on September 28, 2022, and a short drive from Roy Hobbs World Series sites.

Aracri and his wife, Melanie and teenage son, A.J., live on Sanibel Island and endured the full fury of the storm for more than 10 harrowing hours. That was also the case with Montella and his wife, Erin, and then 7-year-old daughter, Maggie. They rode out the storm in their waterfront home near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee.

In the weeks that followed with the Sanibel causeway washed out, the men teamed up to ferry residents from the mainland to Sanibel and back on a craft dubbed MLB. Not, you would think, Major League Baseball but rather “Melanie’s Lobster Boat.”

In the spring, about midway between the storm and the 2023 Roy Hobbs World Series, the two Anthonys talked about baseball in the Montella home. It was a quiet spring day as they looked out over the calm waters of the Caloosahatchee. No 140 mph winds or storm surge that day

One topic was baseball.

Montella, a retired New York City firefighter, recalled a time when a father and son came by a field where he was playing. Montella said he tried explaining the magic of baseball to the boy.

“When I cross over that white line over there, I’m 12 years old,” Montella told the youngster.

Ballfields are magical. So are teammates. Montella and Aracri view relationships with teammates as more than friendship or camaraderie. Teammates become family.

Montella considers the bond formed in dugouts and ballfields similar to that formed in firehouses.

Aracri is an avid hunter and sees similarities with hunting and baseball.

Anthony Aracri at the controls of MLB.
Photo by Tom Giffen Anthony Aracri at the controls of MLB.

“It’s like a campfire,” Aracri said.

They did not play baseball last fall. As first responders still hunted for the bodies of the dead, the men carried friends and strangers across the now quiet waters between Sanibel and the mainland.

Montella knows about loss on a scale that far exceeded Hurricane Ian. He was a New York City firefighter on 9/11. Fortunately, he was not in the city on that awful morning. He was on vacation driving away from the city when the planes hit.

He turned around and by time he was back in the city that morning the Twin Towers were down.

“By then everybody was killed,” Montella said.

Everybody means 343 of his firefighting comrades and friends. He knows the number precisely and emotionally. It’s not an arithmetical abstraction.

“My best friend,” Montella said. “My partner. A young man who was working for me on overtime. Just had a baby. He was killed. The pain never goes away.”

It’s now been 22 years. That baby is grown up. The pain still lingers for Montella.

Hurricane Ian was bad but not nearly as horrific as 9/11.

Aracri rode out the storm with his wife, son, guns and bourbon. When he visited with Roy Hobbs president Tom Giffen last fall in his living room, Aracri had a Kimber 9 sidearm tucked into the waistband of his shorts. The memory of Ian’s sound was fresh in his memory.

“Howling, howling – whoosh! – howling,” Aracri said.

Ararcri is a bourbon connoisseur who likes premium brands such as Pappy Van Winkle, WhistlePig and Blanton’s. They helped him get through Ian and its aftermath.

“I had a lot of bourbon,” Aracri said.

But he and Montella, who also has a fondness for bourbon, did more than sip WhistlePig in the fall of 2022. They helped people. They ferried them across mostly still waters in Melanie’s Lobster Boat.

It is now the fall of 2023. It’s time for baseball. It’s time for the Roy Hobbs World Series, 13 months after Hurricane Ian.