When summer rolled around, my dream as a kid of eight or nine was to join some pals on a lake somewhere in Wisconsin or Indiana to see how the rustic half lived and played. I spent my formative years in an urban neighborhood of crammed apartment buildings on the north side of Chicago. A time away in an overnight camp for a few weeks seemed like an idyllic interruption. But being the only child of a Jewish mother whose hobby was planting and nurturing fears, I was lucky if I was allowed to cross our street by myself.

An “away” summer camp was out of the question. My only recourse was a day camp, about three blocks away on Touhy Beach, a four-mile broken stretch of sand along the shore of Lake Michigan in the North Rogers Park section.

The day camp schedule consisted of lessons involving boats, ropes, beach volleyball and sandlot baseball. We had two camp counselors, Jack Annetti and Sam Leone. Jack handled everything out of the water and Sam was in charge of everything in the water.

Impressing his bosses with his vigilance and rescues, in 1925 Sam Leone was named Touhy Beach director, a job he held for 40 years until his death in 1965. Nearly 20 years ago, after Touhy Beach was renamed Leone Beach, the Chicago Tribune paid him a tribute: “Along the way, Leone took on the role of second father to thousands of Rogers Park youngsters and earned the reputation as Chicago’s greatest lifeguard.”

But back then what did I know? I wasn’t collecting trading cards of lifeguards or second fathers. I was there to play baseball.

One camp morning we were playing a few innings on the sandlot diamond. Jack and Sam had other things to do. Unsupervised, I was up at bat. From out of nowhere, a man about the age of the counselors strolled toward me.

“Mind if I show you a few tricks to improve your batting?”

In short order, the guy demonstrated how to hold the bat, how to stand in the box and how to size up the pitcher and the pitch. The next thing I knew I hit a triple. Soon every kid was asking the stranger for advice. Soon every kid was batting better. Why hasn’t this guy been our counselor, we wondered.

“I’m not working for any camp,” he said. “Just happened to see you kids playing while I was walking the beach.”

I came home and told my father about the encounter. His first response was wide-eyed concern that I actually allowed a stranger to play with us, and an adult at that. Then I told him the guy’s name was Mike Kreevich. My father’s concern burst like a cartoon thought balloon.

“Mike Kreevich? He played for our White Sox. He’s retired. Must live somewhere in the neighborhood. Show me what he showed you.”

So I showed him.

A former coal miner, Kreevich was a right-handed outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, 1935-41. In 1937, he led the American League in triples. In 1938, he was on the American League All-Stars. He retired in 1945.

Mike Kreevich turned out to be my angel in the outfield. He came and went like the tooth fairy and I never saw him again. But every camp morning after that I couldn’t wait to show off my bat grip and my stance. I may never be ready for the nautical life but I was ready for baseball.