Sean Kirst: One of last of ‘Father Baker boys,’ at 95, wants only one gift

Colleen Phillips said her father's memory is a complicated thing. John Phillips can get up in the morning and forget where he put his glasses, or any appointments he planned for the day. He'll settle into a big chair in the living room of Colleen's house in South Buffalo, where great-grandchildren a solid 90 years younger than he is will present him with pictures they colored, then debate the shading nuance of their Crayolas if he patiently contends it's purple when they maintain it's blue. Colleen finds something beautiful in that good-natured back-and-forth. Phillips is one of the last "Baker boys," the orphans who actually knew the legendary monsignor known as Father Nelson Baker before his death, in 1936. The deeper you go, Colleen said, the more precise her father's recollections become. He can remember when a few of the boys in the dormitory at St. Joseph's orphanage in Lackawanna talked into the night about the world they'd someday face. "We used to take a chance on which one of us would live the longest," Phillips said. He won the bet. He turned 95 on Jan. 1, a day he's celebrated as his calendar birthday since he was a small child. While he believes he was born on New Year's Day, he can't be absolutely sure. In 1923, the mother he never knew relinquished custody at birth. The orphanage created his name. Sean Kirst: In Buffalo, who do we celebrate St. Patrick's Day without Joe Kelley? What's beyond dispute is that Phillips "is living history," in the words of the Rev. Richard Gribble, biographer of Father Baker. To the best knowledge of Monsignor Paul Burkard, pastor of Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna, Phillips is the last of the "young men who knew Father Baker personally." It is possible some survive who've lost contact with the parish, but there were only seven known Baker boys when Burkard arrived seven years ago. The courtyard at Our Lady of Victory, which at its peak housed hundreds of children in St. Joseph's Continue Reading

Boys & Girls edges Banneker with late heroics from junior Justina Smith

In the waning moments of Wednesday's game at Banneker HS in Brooklyn, Boys & Girls nearly saw its three-game winning streak come to an end. Boys & Girls trailed the Lady Warriors for nearly the entire game, but the Lady Kangaroos gained a 48-47 edge when senior Adjua Adan David keyed a field goal with 1:15 remaining. It was Justina Smith’s heroics in the final minute, however, that delivered Boys & Girls a 53-51 victory and extended the Lady Kangaroos' winning streak to four games. The junior wing knocked in a three-pointer with 58 seconds remaining, stretching the Kangaroos' run to five points. Banneker senior Kaylah Gholson notched two free throws before delivering a layup, tying the game at 51-51 with less than 15 seconds to play. But Smith and the Kangaroos weren’t ready to lose. "I couldn't let my team down," Smith said afterward. Smith halted Banneker's advance, making a layup three seconds before the buzzer halted Banneker’s advance and helped Boys & Girls to take an unbeaten record into the holiday break. “Justine had a killer instinct and a very big hand (today),” coach mark Baker said. Smith and David finished with 13 points apiece, while senior Sharelle Holder scored 12 points and freshman guard Shaquasia Fulmore added nine. Despite the even scoring distribution, Boys & Girls coach Mark Baker said afterward that the Lady Kangaroos hadn't played their best. “There were so many turnovers our team committed,” said Baker, whose team improved to 4-0 in the Brooklyn AA2 division. “All I’ll say is this: it’s a work in progress,” Baker said of his team’s error-prone passes. “We gotta go back to the drawing board.” Luckily for Boys & Girls, the Lady Warriors (1-3) failed to capitalize on the mistakes. “It was a total breakdown; we’d get the turnover and give it right away,” said Banneker assistant Edwin (Munch) Continue Reading

Mom outraged as bus driver bails on bleeding first-grader Armani Baker

A little boy with a seizure disorder was knocked down on a school bus this week, spilling blood all over the floor - and the driver never called for help, his distraught mother said.Instead, Armani Baker, a first-grader at special education Public School 369 in Brooklyn, was dropped off at his bus stop, crying and bleeding from his head, the boy's mom said."For him to get a trauma to his head and nobody calls EMS?" said Veronica Nixon. "I couldn't believe it."Armani, 6, told his mom he asked the bus driver for help after another boy knocked him to the floor of the bus Tuesday. The matron on the bus gave him a cloth, his mom said."There are two adults on the bus," said Nixon, 41. "You just give him a rag and push him off the bus?"Armani's grandmother, who met him at the bus stop, called 911 and an ambulance took the boy to Brooklyn Hospital Center, where he got two staples to mend the gash."When I got [home], I saw the blood," said Nixon. "I looked at his head. There's a hole sitting there."The bus driver told Armani's grandmother that he didn't call an ambulance because they were close to his home, Nixon said. When the boy's grandmother asked what happened, the driver told her to call the school for a report, Nixon said.The Education Department said it was conducting an investigation into the incident, which could lead to disciplinary action.A spokeswoman for Varsity Bus Company said it was working with the agency to investigate the matter and that Armani's route would be changed so he would no longer ride with the boy who pushed him.Nixon said she understands that kids fight, but she is much more concerned about the bus driver and the matron's reaction to the incident."I just want for people who have other people's kids in their hands to be accountable," she said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Daily News’ All-Bronx boys and girls high school basketball teams

Kennedy didn't seem like a typical city power, generating little buzz and lacking a star. Yet, when the dust settled on the PSAL season, the Knights had advanced all the way to the Garden, where they lost to Lincoln in the city championship final. That run typified a borough that continually defied convention. Touted Wings Academy fell in the second round of the PSAL 'AA' playoffs, but Scanlan, which went 6-15 in the regular season, nearly upended Blessed Sacrament in the CHSAA 'B' final. And while it's technically located a bit north of the borough, Iona Prep's season proved impossible to ignore. The New Rochelle school captured the CHSAA 'A' title while its coach, Vic Quirolo, was in the hospital, resting after an emergency appendectomy. MICHAEL ALVARADO, All HallowsThe 6-2 junior guard, who has verbally committed to Manhattan, averaged 13.2 points per game and nearly willed the Gaels to a CHSAA 'AA' Intersectional upset of Rice. SIDIKI JOHNSON, St. RaymondSophomore's 11.3 ppg barely show his true impact. The 6-8 forward dominated the glass and was a "defensive monster," according to Ravens coach Oliver Antigua. NAQUAN PIERCE, KennedyWhatever Kennedy needed, the junior guard did. He averaged 6.5 assists per game and exploded for 40 points to will the Knights past McKee/SI Tech in the PSAL quarterfinals. BRIAN VOELKEL, Iona PrepThe junior forward may not have been the most gifted Gael, but he led the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and emerged as the squad's emotional leader. DASHAUN WIGGINS, WingsFew players in the borough could knife into the lane as easily as this junior guard, who averaged 19.4 ppg. JOHNNY MATHIS, coach, KennedyThe 22nd-year coach recorded his 500th career win in February, just one highlight in a season that saw Mathis guide a largely anonymous crew of Knights to a 27-2 record and a berth in the PSAL title game. SECOND TEAMPete Aguilar (Mount St. Michael), Ronald Baker (Wings), Tyreak Johnson (St. Raymond), Jeffrey Short Continue Reading

Hoops Preview: Boys Top 10

Defending PSAL champion Lincoln and perennial CHSAA power Rice hold most of the city's wealth, but there's more to basketball than talent. St. Ray's, Wings Academy and Christ the King hope to nurse small investments into fortunes by season's end, and blue-collar clubs like Edison and Boys & Girls are also in the title hunt. Here's a look: BLUE-CHIP STOCKS 1) LINCOLN 30-4COACH: Dwayne (Tiny) Morton (14th year)STOCK WATCH: The Railsplitters are looking to win their fourth straight PSAL title and seventh in eight years - and they just may have the talent to pull that feat off. Phenom Lance Stephenson leads a loaded squad that includes Maryland-bound big man James Padgett and sophomore guard Shaquille Stokes, an impact transfer from St. Patrick's (N.J.). 2) RICE 25-4COACH: Maurice Hicks (15th year)STOCK WATCH: Miami-bound guard Durand Scott will miss the Raiders' first few games with a left ankle injury, and All Hallows transfer Shane Southwell must sit out until January in accordance with CHSAA transfer rules. When both hit the floor for Rice in January, the Raiders will become a legitimate threat to reclaim the CHSAA city crown they won three years ago. 3) JEFFERSONLAST YEAR'S RECORD: 23-8COACH: Lawrence Pollard (fifth year)STOCK WATCH: Senior guard Keith Spellman joins Joel Wright, David Coley and Davontay Grace for one more title run, and the entire team knows this is its best chance for a PSAL title. Falling short of a finals appearance, in fact, would be considered a failure. "Anything less than getting to the championship will be a disappointment," Pollard said. 4) LOUGHLINLAST YEAR'S RECORD: 24-6COACH: Rudy King (first-year interim coach)STOCK WATCH: Talented junior Doron Lamb transferred to Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, and veteran coach Khalid Green left to take a job with the New Jersey Nets. But the Lions will still contend for a CHSAA crown behind the frontcourt of Jayvaughn Pinkston and Trevon Hamlett. The system shouldn't change much, Continue Reading

Rangers prospect Max Campbell battling the big boys at W. Michigan

Max Campbell was this close. On the road against Notre Dame, a team that played in the NCAA championship game some eight months ago, Campbell scored his fifth goal of the season 11:06 into the second period to give Western Michigan a 3-2 lead over the Fighting Irish on Saturday night, 24 hours after the Strathroy, Ontario native scored his team's lone goal in a 4-1 loss to the Irish. It was the last of three unanswered goals by the Broncos, and it gave them a lead that lasted into the second intermission. As time ticked away in the third, WMU appeared on its way to its biggest win of the season, and with a first-period assist in addition to his potential game-winner, Campbell was poised to be the hero. "When I scored that goal, we were all feeling good," Campbell said. "We were high on ourselves." It was not to be, however, as Predators prospect Ryan Thang scored with 6:27 gone in the third period, a goal that would eventually send the game to overtime. Campbell and his teammates were forced to settle for a tie, with the Irish picking up an extra point in the shootout. If the Broncos could have held on, it would have been the end of Notre Dame's nine-game unbeaten streak, a major coup for WMU, and a memory to last a lifetime for Campbell, not to mention a strong case for Player of the Week honors in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. As it is, the Irish are the No. 1 team in the country this week, the Broncos are headed back to the drawing board, and Campbell will have to settle for a "Notable Performer" nod on the CCHA's weekly press release. Such is life in Kalamazoo. Competing in the CCHA can be a hard road to hoe at a school like Western Michigan, with opposition from perennial front-runners Michigan and Michigan State, emerging powers at Miami University and Notre Dame (the latter coached by former Islanders assistant Jeff Jackson), and former national championship programs at Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green. Continue Reading

Hoboken baker Buddy Valastro rises to the occasion in his new TLC reality show, ‘Cake Boss’

Buddy Valastro was already a perfect prime-time subject: The head of a classic clan of Italian-Americans, he and his mother, his wife, four sisters, a few brothers-in-law and various cousins trade barbs, pull pranks and make pastry together at Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop, the 100-year-old Hoboken outfit Valastro's father took over in 1964. But the 32-year-old star of a new TLC reality show called "Cake Boss" can really cook, too. Along with serving decades-old regulars who stop by for the Washington St. shop's beloved biscotti or a cappuccino and crumb cake, Valastro has sculpted Britney Spears' circus-themed 27th birthday cake and appeared in plenty of bridal mags. He recently wowed Rachael Ray on "Good Morning America" with an amazingly colorful food-themed creation, and won $10,000 for his work in a recent Food Network challenge. His skills with the sweet stuff, as well as a high-volume, low-humility, perfection-driven personality ("the orders go from God to me to you," he says at one point), helped score this Jersey boy his show. The second episode airs tomorrow night at 10. In typical Valastro fashion, when the family debated whether to air their bickering, the baker says his final decision was basically "no guts, no glory." Part of reality-show fun, natch, is watching Valastro get peeved in the pursuit of fine pastry. Take what happens to poor Stretch, a shaggy-haired staffer who doesn't take responsibility for breaking some buttercream decorations. "You know what, Stretch, it's time you learned a lesson," says Valastro in his confectionary confessional, right before we see him and a colleague dump a bag of flour on Stretch's head from the roof of the bakery. Yet Valastro's cake-baking crew is eminently show-worthy. They use the same techniques and recipes that were passed from the original Carlo to Valastro's father, whether making elegant flower-topped wedding cakes or the rustic Italian Easter pies that appear on next week's episode. Continue Reading

Bronx PSAL Boys Basketball Preview

Wings Academy has won six straight division titles and the last three borough crowns. But the 2007-08 team features eight new players and will have to fend off battle-tested Kennedy if it wants to keep both the division and borough streaks alive. The Knights return all but one player from their 2007 squad, which lost to Lincoln in the PSAL quarterfinals. Wings is 5-0 against the Knights over the past three seasons, but that streak could be in jeopardy on Tuesday when the two teams face off in the season opener at Gauchos Gym. Wings ready to fly sky high Seven Wings newcomers sprinted, jumped and dribbled their way through drills on Sunday at the Forest Houses gym, trying to get in a few extra hours of practice before Tuesday's season-opener at Kennedy. Last season's starting five is gone, but Wings coaches and players believe it's only a matter of time before this year's group gets off the ground. The general sentiment at the gym? Billy Turnage's squad will be at top cruising altitude by January, just in time for its annual ascent to the borough crown. "We have a lot of new players, but they're good and they all bring something different to the team," starting point guard Kevin Opoku said. "It's just getting used to playing together. We should jell after Christmas, and by then we'll be a very dangerous team in the borough." Opoku takes over for all-city point guard Jamie Harris, who's now starting at Drexel, and Ronald Baker shifts from sixth man to starting shooting guard. Harris and Kidani Brutus staffed one of the most productive backcourts in the city last season, but Opoku insists Wings won't miss a beat withouth them this winter. "People keep saying we're going to miss Jamie and Kidani, so me and Ronald came to the gym to work over the summer," Opoku said. "It's gonna be the same backcourt as last year, just two different names, Kevin and and Ronald." Turnage will count on Baker to boost his scoring (14 points per game last season) and help offset the loss of Continue Reading

Doc: More of the same from Dusty Baker; Goodell misplaces his spine

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, Mobsters ...CUBS WIN NLDS, CREDIT MOLD ... October tortures Dusty Baker. Weird stuff happens, some inexplicable, some inexcusable, all SMH-worthy. I wasn’t going to lead TML with a Washington Nationals story two days in a row, but Baker’s Boys forced my hand.Nobody running the Nationals seems to know what’s going on.There was a question after Tuesday’s rainout as to who would pitch a postponed, elimination Game 4 vs. the Cubs. The rain seemed a literal gift from heaven. Stephen Strasburg would make the start, on normal rest.Then Baker said he wouldn’t.The rainout gave Baker a perfect reason to skip Tanner Roark. Instead, he’s sticking with Roark:"Well, we decided to stay with Tanner because, No. 1, you know, he was slated (to pitch Tuesday)," Baker said.That’s a perfectly insane reason, of course, when facing elimination from a season you spent six months producing.(Update since this column was written: Reports say Stephen Strasburg will start NLDS Game 4 for Nationals after all.)USA Today reported Strasburg asked out of the start because he wasn’t feeling well: The Nationals were all set to pitch him Wednesday in Game 4 at 4:08 p.m. ET (TBS) at Wrigley Field, trailing 2-1 to the Chicago Cubs, only for Strasburg to decline.He told them he’s under the weather. He informed the Nationals’ staff that he ran a half-mile Tuesday afternoon, was wheezing during his run and simply isn’t prepared to start Wednesday, even though he’d be on regular rest, according to a person with direct knowledge of the Nationals' pitching plans.What?Forget the fact this has football players howling coast to coast. (Not to mention piano players, card players and players of chess.) Try to forget the fact that this is an elimination game for D.C. Focus on the notion that Strasburg isn’t pitching because he wheezed while jogging.Someone Continue Reading

Doc: Dusty Baker just can’t make it work in October

The charitable take on Dusty Baker’s ongoing October sadness is, the man is just unlucky. The not-so-charitable answer – the one no doubt preferred by most around here – is that he makes bad decisions when seasons are on the line.I think it’s both. Baker has taken nine teams to the postseason since 1997. Nine in 21 years, and two of those years he was out of the game. Baker’s easy steadiness is a big help in the Big 162. It’s not in the flash of October.The Washington Nationals have the best roster in the NL: third in runs, first in OPS, a made-for-October starting rotation, a recently acquired shutdown closer. And yet here they are, a game from the offseason, down 2-1 to the Cubs.What is it about Dusty?His teams have lost spectacularly in October:It has to be more than a coincidence, right?Game 3 of this year’s DS offered a small clue. With one out in the seventh and his team up 1-0, Baker pulled Max Scherzer. Scherzer had allowed just one hit, a double to B. Zobrist earlier in the inning. Scherzer had thrown 98 pitches, but hadn’t worked in 10 days and had often topped 100 pitches this year. He’d also been held out of starting Game 1 or 2, because of a tight hamstring.Left-handed hitting Kyle Schwarber up, Scherzer out. For someone named Sammy Solis. Question: Would you rather have righty Scherzer, reigning Cy Young winner, big candidate to win it again this year, facing lefty Schwarber? Or lefty Sammy Solis, ERA 5.88?Baker chose the latter.It was a very Book thing to do.Baker is a very Book If there’s one thing you can ding Baker for, it’s going to Solis in his most crucial moment. The last two years of the postseason have upended the bullpen hierarchy, and this year’s playoffs are hard at work erasing all boundaries between starters and relievers, but Baker remains committed to an older script. The Nationals’ best reliever is Sean Doolittle, but he was not ready in the Continue Reading