When David Criscione was playing in a Grape Belt League all-star baseball game in the mid-1960s, he belted a three-run home run to left-center field at the then-Municipal Stadium in Jamestown.
He was all of 13 years old.
It was merely a sign of things to come.
For in an athletic career that also included success in high school football and basketball, rec softball, tennis, bowling, golf and coaching, the Fredonia resident made his most indelible mark while playing America's pastime.
From his record-setting 25-home run season while playing for the Columbus Club in the Dunkirk Little League to his nine years in the professional ranks, including a month-long stint with the Baltimore Orioles in 1977, Criscione is on the very short list of Chautauqua County's finest baseball players.
His accomplishments speak for themselves.
A four-year Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association all-star second baseman and catcher at Dunkirk High School, Criscione signed a professional baseball contract with the Washington Senators in 1969 after being drafted in the fifth round. His minor league career with the Washington and, later, the Texas Rangers organizations, included stops in Geneva (New York-Penn League), Anderson, South Carolina (Western Carolina League), Burlington, South Carolina (Carolina League), Pittsfield, Mass. (Eastern League), Spokane, Washington (Pacific Coast League) and Sacramento, California (Pacific Coast League).
Among the highlights of Criscione's minor-league career were leading the Western Carolina League in home runs (25) and sacrifice flies (17) in 1971 and making the all-star team; earning a spot as a catcher on the Carolina League all-star team in 1972; being chosen to the 1973 Eastern League all-star team where he played against, among others, future Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter, Kent Tekulve, Dave Parker, Ed Ott and Mario Mendoza; being a member of the Pacific Coast League-champion Spokane team in 1973 and again in 1975; and being the catcher for Steve Dunning's no-hitter in 1976 while they both played for Sacramento.
During the 1976 season, Criscione had a 29-game hitting streak and finished the season with a .295 batting average and belted 15 home runs.
But the best was yet to come.
In 1977, Criscione was traded to the Baltimore Orioles and started the year in Rochester of the International League. When catcher Rick Dempsey was injured on July 7, Criscione was called up to fill the roster spot and stayed in the big leagues for about a month.
While playing against the Milwaukee Brewers in the second game of a doubleheader, Criscione got his first major league hit, went 2-for-3, set up the winning run with a sacrifice bunt and received three standing ovations from the Orioles' fans. The next night, with his brother Pete- also a Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee - and family in attendance, Criscione turned in his most memorable baseball moment against the Brewers. A late-inning replacement when catcher David Skaggs was lifted for a pinch-hitter, Criscione followed Brooks Robinson to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning. With one out and a two-ball, one-strike count, Criscione hit a game-winning walk-off home run that put the Orioles into first place in the Eastern Division of the American League, ahead of the New York Yankees.
Criscione, who counts among his personal highlights the chance to play for legendary managers Billy Martin and Earl Weaver, returned to Rochester in 1978 and played one final season before retiring.
Two years later, he became the assistant baseball coach at Fredonia State under Dale Till. In 19 years as the assistant and, later, three years as the head coach, Criscione was part of more than 450 victories, including a school-record 31 in a season. In addition, the Blue Devils won two SUNYAC championships and one state title.
Three Fredonia State players were signed to professional contracts under Criscione's watchful eye, including Jeff Shaver of Fredonia, who was signed by Oakland in 1990, and Jamestown native Chan Galbato, who was signed by Montreal in the 1980s.
After he turned his attention away from baseball, Criscione became a fine tennis player and won numerous local tournaments, and was active in slow-pitch softball, golf, bowling and hunting. He also coached Little League and Babe Ruth League softball and conducted clinics for kids.
Criscione has also been involved with fundraising for the Special Olympics through the Major League Baseball Alumni Association. The last two years, he played in the Cal Ripken Senior Golf Tournament in Baltimore where it helped to raise money for under-privileged kids.
David Criscione was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.