Deceased May 15, 1992
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Before we arrived at Amherst in the fall of 1961, Jim Hazen and I had already spent much time together, playing on many of the baseball fields in New Jersey and a few in other states. It was a time to be immortal, and we were fresh from winning a Central Jersey championship at Somerville High School in 1960. John North ’63 also played on that team. (John was an All-State halfback on the 1959 football team at Somerville, a team on which Jim played halfback and defensive safety, and I played quarterback.)
Jim was a year behind both John and me at Somerville but, while John went on to Amherst and Jim finished at Somerville, I was directed by Amherst to Suffield, CT, Academy, in what turned out to be a fruitless effort to improve my study habits.
At any rate, Jim and I had a lengthy pre-Amherst history and, when we caught up to each other at Amherst, we roomed together for two years. In our sophomore year, Chuck Bunting ’65 became the third roommate.
Great friends we were, but about as imperfect a trio as could be, fitting together like pie slices from three different dishes. Chuck probably won’t forgive me for saying this, but he was the “correct” student of the three. I was no student at all—being rooted in football, baseball, music and bridge—but Jim was serious about his studies. He pitched for the freshman baseball team but developed puzzling problems with his control that no amount of work with Paul Eckley could fix. (Chuck remembers it a bit differently, that Jim didn’t care for the fact that Eckley wanted to change Jim’s pitching motion, and that Jim became miffed when Eckley did not include him on the traveling roster that was to go to Florida for the start of our sophomore season.)
Whatever the reason, with intellectual interests moving to the fore, Jim gave up the game and did not play seriously again.
As I recall, Jim didn’t care much for English 1-2 of our freshman year—he didn’t require that kind of soul-searching—but he was all over the physics-math octopus that strangled many of us. Long after I had heaved my books against the wall (if I could find them), Jim would be puzzling over something, scratching and sniffing at his work.
I don’t remember whether I ever saw Jim do more than sip a beer while at Amherst. But there was a time when Jim, Chuck and I were at AD, and I was introduced to the drinking game, Whales’ Tails. It’s a game I still don’t understand, and the introduction was either very poor, or very good, since I seemed to be the only one drinking. After I fell off my chair, Jim and Chuck carried me back to Pratt.
As the fraternity rush approached in the spring of our freshman year, we all three decided to join the same house. Theta Delta Chi was the object of our desire and, as we made the mandatory stops at all the houses, there seemed no change in plans.
At TD, the fateful moment arrived, but Chuck began showing signs of stress. After some discussion—and quite a lot of heat applied by the brothers at TD—Chuck said he would join TD but that he first owed a trip of explanation to friends at Alpha Delta Chi.
Like the man who rode the Boston MTA, Chuck never returned. After a while, with fire in our eyes, we went to rescue him but found he had already slipped over the edge, pledging at AD. I began to waffle at this point but Jim, ever steady, said he was going to stick with TD, and I did, too. Early in our sophomore year, however, I dropped out and joined what was left of Beta Theta Pi.
The choosing of a fraternity made for an emotional time, with the pressures of prestige and friendships. But, if Jim thought Chuck was a rat for splitting our resolve—or me, for my move later—he never said so. He wouldn’t have, if any case, but I sense he thought all of the flipping and flopping humorous. In any case, our friendship remained intact.
I had known Jim long before Amherst. He was an exceptional athlete, and as formidable a pitcher as you would ever dare to face. If he had been less intellectually inclined, I’m certain he could have pitched professionally. He threw very hard, with an effortless, long-limbed sweep directly over the top that produced stunning velocity. In the New Jersey summer leagues, and again at Amherst, I was Jim’s catcher. He was one of only two pitchers that I ever caught who sent me searching for an extra sponge for my mitt. (The other pitched in the major leagues for the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies.)
I first heard of Jim when he was 12 years old and dominating the Bridgewater Little League. I was a couple of years older than he and, social dictums being what they were, and are, for that age group, I had to look down my nose a long way to find anything interesting about Little League baseball. But, by what I counted as important, Jim was something special and quite famous.
I have no idea how many no-hitters he threw in his Little League career, but there were several. Overmatched hitters could count themselves lucky for even a loud foul, and Jim’s strikeout totals sometimes reached 18, the maximum number of outs that can be recorded in a Little League game.
A couple of years later, my brother James ’59 taught Jim how to throw an overhand curveball. In the late ‘50s, it was a pitch that we still called a drop.
The drop became Jim’s “out” pitch. Coupled with his imposing fastball, the looping curve was an apparent moon-sized missile in its appeal but proved nearly unhittable—promising everything but delivering nothing, falling like a rock just about the time it reached the plate. Amherst classmates will remember Jim as a gentle young man, quiet and reserved, and he was all of that. But he was also tenacious and dogged, whether with an intellectual challenge or a physical one. When he pitched, he was no bargain to hit against.
In the summer of ’59, we drove to Princeton in my 1950 Ford a couple of times a week for games, while also playing in a league in Somerville. It was always dark by the time we returned to Bridgewater from Princeton, and Jim pointed out once that sparks and flames were shooting out of the exhaust pipe of the car. On another trip, we were pulled over by a motorist who told us our tail lights were out. We assumed he had spotted us because of the flames from the exhaust.
The next summer, we played for an AAABA team centered in Middlesex County that qualified as the New Jersey representative for a double-elimination tournament in Johnstown, PA. There was a long bus ride, two quick losses, and another long ride but, what I remember most was Jim’s perfect imitation of our coach, exclaiming, “This is your wast twip, Cofarwro.”
Being immortal, with flames in our tails and such, it always seemed we’d play baseball forever—road warriors armed with power and another baseball field just around the corner.
We may have been searching for the perfect game or trying to define ourselves through a game we viewed as perfect, taking ourselves to the limit. But, whatever the stakes, death was not part of the game.
In all of the ways that I knew Jim, he remained well-armed, and always came over the top. I last spoke to him in the spring of 1963. I didn’t know I’d never speak to him again. I thought I’d be back at Amherst in a year or so or that there would be another game and another field, somewhere, somehow, sometime. Twenty-nine years without contact with a good friend who shared rich times and wild rides makes no sense but that was the way it shook out. I was lost for a while, he was busy. I like to think that, though we lost contact, we stayed connected in ways that went beyond Amherst and beyond the years.
When I did try to reach out for him a couple of months ago, I learned he was terribly ill. Twenty-nine years was too long but, as it turns out, not long enough; I could have held out for several more years without talking to him if only the promise and the possibility were still there, if only he were still alive.
On May 15, Jim Hazen died of cancer. He was 48 years old.
Jim received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1969 at the University of Rochester and held postdoctoral positions at the University of California-Santa Cruz and at the Swiss Federation Institute in Zurich. For 17 years, he worked for American Hoechst in Coventry, RI, as a group leader in research chemistry. For the most recent 2 1/2 years, Jim worked for Chew Design in Fitchburg, MA, as a manager of process development.
Jim’s daughter, Stephanie ’93, obviously inherited her dad’s athletic genes, as she played for the softball team which won the Little Three title this spring. Jim’s son, Eric, enter Brown University in the fall.
Jim met his wife, Bonnie, while at Rochester, and they were married in 1968. He played tennis and softball for recreation. While Stephanie was moving through the playing ranks, Jim was often her coach. Recently, father and daughter had turned to umpiring games, which both enjoyed immensely.
Mike Guetti ‘65