Tag Archives: Baseball

Almost Five Years….

The older I get, the more I find myself acting like my mother or father – especially my father. This is good because even though he’s been gone for almost five years this month, I still have parts of him with me. You see, some memories have begun to dim a little and I cling to those I remember with crystal clarity.

My pops was a baseball player, umpire and minor league manager. He was with the Yankees, Braves and Brewers in various capacities over a 14 year career, yet never made it on the field in the majors. (Thank you Lou Gehrig.) I bring this up because when I was five, pops and I were in the backyard and he was teaching me how to throw and catch a ball. Apparently my aim at a young age was spot on and his catching sucked because I felled him like a giant Redwood. We didn’t play any more games after that, but I learned the inadvertent power of an accidental curve ball at an early age.

Thought: Dad’s favorite movie was “Pride of the Yankees.” He loved “Hogan’s Heroes” and couldn’t stand watching anything bloody or gory in movies or TV.

At thirteen, when I was nearing the peak of teen angst, my father morphed into a big, bad knight in shining armor. Now, he was an actual knight – bestowed on him by King Peter the Second of Yugoslavia. But this day was awesome. I had a teacher who believed yanking my hair when I got an answer wrong, spoke up/out or under my breath or even silently wished her dead was a good idea. As a result I cut my hair ridiculously short and punky (as it was the 80’s) to mitigate the damage. She actually pulled my hair out this one day and when I told pops, he marched on the fortress of that school and threatened to throw her out of her 3rd floor, un-air conditioned classroom window. She never yanked my hair again. My hero.

Thought: Pops did this one other time at his agency located near the top floor of a bank building. This led to an early “note to self” – don’t lie, cheat or try to steal your way to success.

Sixteen brought an accident on Halloween night. I BADLY burned my hands at work and the man that couldn’t deal with medical stuff sat in the room as the doctors helped heal my hands. The night he brought me home, he set a green glo-light next to the bed so I could see so as to not bang my useless appendages against anything and sat in his office outside my door for hours. He helped with a lot of things I had taken for granted.

Thought: Pops HATED purple with a passion – especially lavender. Mom and I occasionally wore it to tick him off. Purple became my favorite color.

The man that drove more than 2.5 million miles before his first accident taught me to drive. He was not a patient man and I STILL hear his voice in my head while parallel parking, breaking or backing up.

Thought: He loved Obsession cologne and I can’t ever smell it again without his face coming to my mind.

He walked me down the aisle when I was 23 and held my first daughter the following year. Eldest was soon followed by Youngest and he loved the girls in a way I couldn’t imagine until five days ago when I held my grandson for the first time. I just wanted to scream to Heaven, “Hey Pop! I get it now!”

I saw my pop slowing down, his back stooping over and his gray hair turning silver then white as time trudged on. His once big frame leaned out as he couldn’t really eat much any longer. He lived on milkshakes from Malcolm’s. I remember the day my dad became like my child and I loved him even more. I no longer took the knight for granted. It was my turn to care for and save him. But you can’t save someone from the grave.

When it came time to say goodbye, we had his friends come by hospice. My mother came. My sister Chris and her husband came. But…My oldest sister came and together we stayed with him at the hospital. We told him stories and sang to him for a couple of days. The night the nurse brought in a roll-away bed was the first night I slept in days. Dad waited until Ker and I were asleep to whisper his last breath.

I have hundreds of memories and moments throughout any given day when I suddenly do or say something that is “him.” God knows he wasn’t a perfect man nor a perfect father. He tried though and I think that’s what counts. But I wanted to share these with you because memories are better when shared.

Continue reading Almost Five Years….

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Icing the Iron Horse

“For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? That I may have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

~Lou Gehrig~

Photo Credit: Willie Zhang via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Willie Zhang via Compfight cc

Lou Gehrig was a gentle soul with a wicked sense of humor and was also a humble man. He was taken too young by a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As Lou died pre-“me,” I never had the opportunity to meet the baseball legend. However my father did when he was with the Yankees during Spring Training in 1936 and 1937.

Pops was a pretty good player, but never actually played a game as a first baseman. The problem? Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” himself.  Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games – games where he was ejected (after receiving credit because he was already up to bat), injured (including being knocked unconscious), and ill.  But dad was in training with Lou (and Joe DiMaggio, Kemp Wicker, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickie, Red Rolfe and other great Yanks) for two seasons before transferring to the minors.

Lou Gehrig impacted dad’s life quietly. He wanted to emulate the legend in many ways and Pops told me how Lou and Joe helped change his life not only on the diamond, but on the train rides to St. Petersburg, FL. Pops was a smoker on and off during his life. Trying to be “cool” like some of the other ball players, he was lighting a cigarette up on the train. Lou leaned over to my dad and instead of reading him the riot act, he softly explained to him, “If you keep that up, you’ll lose your wind.”

Dad kept in contact with Gehrig after leaving the Yankee organization and there is a letter tucked safely away written in 1938 or early 1939 (I can’t remember) to pops explaining Lou’s illness and that Eleanor, his wife, was taking care of him.

75 years after his death, Lou Gehrig seems to be finding himself in the spotlight again, not for his baseball prowess, but for the disease that took his life.  I’ve been watching the ice bucket challenges on social media to raise money and awareness for ALS. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or just plain Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is a neurodegenerative ailment that is as debilitating as they come to the human body and someone with ALS does NOT have a good quality of life.  Gehrig died when he was just 37 years old. You don’t have to do the challenge to help a really worthy cause. To make a donation today:  http://www.alsa.org/

If you want a weekend in, check out a movie called “Pride of the Yankees” starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig as well as real members of the Yankee organization: Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig and Bill Dickey. This was my father’s all-time favorite movie – most likely because of the representation of Lou’s character. To find out more about my father’s friend, Lou Gehrig: http://www.lougehrig.com/about/bio.html

Neither dad nor Lou are here today to witness the ice bucket challenge. I personally think both are probably sitting in a dugout in Heaven looking down and wondering what we’re all doing. However, I just know that as silly as dad would think the concept is, he’d agree it’s a brilliant piece of marketing in bringing awareness and funding to ALS research.