“An-dy, An-dy, An-dy,” 1-year-old Quinn Campanella chanted as he peered through the wire fence at Valley College waiting for his uncle, Andy Campanella, to step into the batter’s box.
With one powerful swing, Andy sent the ball flying over the left-field fence for a three-run home run. He circled the bases, then went into the Crespi High dugout, saw his brother, Joey, holding Quinn next to the fence and offered a high-five.
When their hands touched, it was a symbolic passing of the athletic torch from the youngest of the Campanella brothers to the next generation.
It’s the end of an era at Crespi, where senior center fielder Andy Campanella is the last of seven brothers to play sports at the Encino campus.
Andy, 18, and John, 20, a freshman outfielder at Glendale College, have been the baseball stars in the family. The rest were basketball players--Phil, 33, Robert, 31, Joey, 30, Dominic, 28, and Tony, 23.
Asked what he’s going to do without a Campanella around next year, Crespi baseball Coach Scott Muckey said, “Cry.”
All played at Toluca Lake Little League and were coached by their father, Joseph, an actor for 48 years and a baseball fan for even longer. But only John and Andy stuck with baseball through high school. Andy, in particular, has been known not only as the family’s “little brother” but its most talented athlete.
Whether playing Wiffle ball or touch football, whether racing to the refrigerator or grabbing the television remote, Andy has been forced to outhustle and outsmart his brothers. They have served as his protectors and teachers, his best friends and most loyal fans. They’ve influenced him morally, athletically and academically.
“It was like having more than one dad,” Andy said of his brothers. “It was real neat.”
The “little brother” has made the family proud. He has a 4.0 grade-point average and a scholarship next fall to UC Santa Barbara. This season, he’s batting .594 with 20 runs batted in for the Celts (8-0-1).
Nothing has been more important to Campanella’s senior season than his decision to finalize a college choice in November.
“It took a big burden off my mind,” he said. “All I have to do is relax and have fun.”
During winter ball, Campanella hit over .700. He hasn’t cooled off.
“He’s on fire,” Crespi catcher Tim Mathews said. “I’ve never seen a guy as hot as him. You throw him a strike and he’s going to hit the heck out of the ball.”
Watching from the sideline and enjoying every moment of his sons’ athletic experiences is Joseph, a longtime character actor who has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows.
Joseph’s deep, distinctive voice is still in demand for radio commercials and narration of television documentaries. But baseball has been his true love. As a youngster growing up in New York City, he remembers always carrying a glove in his back pocket “just in case I ran into a game anywhere.”
In 1963, he met his future wife, Jill, at a Broadway show. “He was the leading man and I was in the chorus,” Jill said.
Sports became a major part of family life, but Jill made sure the boys saw plays, listened to music and were exposed to more than just Dodger games.
“I think it’s real important they not just be athletes all the time,” she said.
The real surprise in the family is the lack of actors. Only Tony, who graduates from the University of Oregon this year, and John, who’s studying drama at Glendale College, seem headed for the entertainment business.
John recently rehearsed a scene in front of his mother. “He blew me away,” Jill said.
Andy wants nothing to do with acting. He’s planning to major in marine biology andloves animals. He once had a ball python snake as a pet, along with a toad, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, three cats and two dogs.
The boys come together on holidays, creating some real Campanella athletic competition. On Thanksgiving, it’s touch football. On the Fourth of July, it’s Wiffle ball. On Christmas Eve, it’s basketball.
“The main thing is they like each other,” Joseph said.
“I really like watching them grow up,” Jill said. “I know a lot of parents say they hate teenagers. My boys have been real good. Nobody can get a fat head in our house because they have brothers to shoot them down.”
Andy’s quiet, caring attitude reflects the influence of his family life.
“I’ve learned family comes first and everything else is second,” he said. “In order to succeed, you have to be a good person.”
Now Andy is passing on his knowledge to Joey’s son, Quinn, preparing him for the day he steps into the batter’s box to continue the Campanella family rite.
“He’s pretty amazing,” Andy said. “He’s not even 2 years old and he can already hit a pitched ball.”
Muckey can’t wait until 2012, when Quinn arrives at Crespi.
“The old coach may be still around,” Muckey said.
There’s plenty of incentive to wait around for another Campanella.
Eric Sondheimer’s local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.