Nick Nicoloff’s baseball bat may be the most sentimental possession he never missed.
His brother, Koster, made it for him in woodworking class at Orchard Park High School in 1945, carving the initials “O.P.H.S. Nick ’45” on the end of the barrel.
The bat is mounted on the wall of Nicoloff’s insurance office in Peoria, Ariz., today, but he hadn’t seen it in nearly 70 years.
How he got reunited with the nicked-up bat is a story that begins with Dr. Thomas Dilamarter, a physician with offices in Orchard Park who collects antiques.
“I like antiques that have some local historical significance,” Dilamarter said.
He found the bat in a back room at 3 Old Dogs, an antique shop in Clarence.
“I knew it was a bat from somebody who played for an Orchard Park High School team in the ‘40s,” he said. “I paid 28 bucks for it or something.”
Dilamarter also likes genealogy, and he decided to try to find out who owned the bat. He checked Ancestry.com and Google, and went to Orchard Park High School and looked at old yearbooks, where he found only the last names used to identify the baseball players.
Two players had the name Nicoloff, and he thought it was likely the bat belonged to one of them. A check of the 1950 census showed a Lackawanna family with two sons, Nicholas and Koster. Dilamarter Googled Nicholas Nicoloff and came up with two listings.
He called the Nicoloff in Arizona, and hit a home run.
“I thought ‘Oh my God,’” Nicoloff, 87, said, recalling that telephone conversation.
Shortly after that, Dilamarter went to a convention in Las Vegas, Nev., and took a side trip to Arizona to meet Nicoloff. He asked him if he would like his bat back.
“He got all teary eyed,” Dilamarter said.
He did not take the bat with him to Arizona, but Nicoloff came to Buffalo last month, and Dilamarter met him at his office at Chestnut Ridge Family Medical Care and presented him with the bat, 71 years after it was made, 69 years after he graduated from high school.
Nicoloff was lucky to play baseball at all. He contracted polio when he was 10 months old, a month after he started walking, he said. It left him with a twisted foot that surgeons attempted to straighten in 1935.
“I was able to get around,” he said.
He thinks he played in the outfield, and he said he doesn’t remember what happened to the bat. He thinks it may have ended up at his brother’s home, and was sold in a garage or estate sale after his death.
Nicoloff married the former Mary Ann Cosgrove, and they had four sons and one daughter, living on 30 acres on Rauber Hill Road in Allegany County.
He was a snow plow driver for Erie County, and later got a degree in mechanical engineering from Alfred State College. He worked at Carborundum and Blaw-Knox, and ended up at the Worthington Corp. in Wellsville in 1953, where he was supervisor of the methods and standards department until 1985, when he moved to Arizona. He also opened up a liquor store and worked in real estate in Wellsville.
Nicoloff opened an insurance office in Arizona, Desert West Insurance, where he works with his two sons. He still goes into the office daily, although he said he cut down his hours to 40 per week.
He admits he had long forgotten about the bat his brother made, but he was pleased to get it back, and, he said, “the kids are thrilled.”