50 shades of gray Allen, Days 10-13
And the beat goes on …
So here we are in my ninth year of life in 1973. I know this is Day 10, but that’s what ya get when you’re born early a in a year.
Third grade was pretty uneventful, as a whole. Mrs. Lovett was my teacher and all I really remember about her was a lot of grumpiness.
But this was the year that my dad began coaching my baseball teams. We were the twins and we had quite the rogues gallery. I could be mistaken, but I think this was the year that I met Greg Bond. Even if I’m wrong, we’re going with it because now I’m thinking of him.
Greg and I have had a unique friendship over the years, running into each other now and again. Of late we have re-connected via Facebook and he is one of the few people that I can have a legitimately in-depth political discussion with where I know that he will (A) make coherent arguments and support them, (B) won’t drop to name calling if things aren’t necessarily going his way, and (C) isn’t so died in his party’s dogma that he can’t see the other side.
Rare qualities in today’s faceless Facebook climate.
I also met Jay Young this year. Jay gave me my first instance of being knocked unconscious, which has happened twice in my life. I can clearly remember me playing second base and Jay being at third during a practice session. Our assistant coach, Mr. Brown, was hitting ground balls and sent one up the middle. Jay and I went for it and collided, with Jay’s knee going right into my stomach. I lost my wind, evidently blanked out and awoke to the team circled around me while Coach Brown pumped my right leg like and old-fashioned water spigot.
I guess that was ‘high tech’ emergency medicine back in the early 70s. Good thing John Gage and Roy Desoto came along soon thereafter to set us straight.
This was the year that I can honestly say that I really, really started following baseball. Thanks to my friendship with Jeff Johnson, I was quickly becoming a Dodger fan. And it was that year that I can really remember watching not just who the Dodgers played and how they did, but really paying attention to what they did. I watched how Steve Garvey hit, how Don Sutton pitched and how Davey Lopes turned a double play at second.
And I watched that World Series against Oakland where the Dodgers just didn’t have the guns to take down the A’s.
But no matter what else happened, that great catch and throw out by substitute outfielder Joe Ferguson. He was in right when Reggie Jackson hit a fly ball to right-center with Sal Bando on third. Jimmy Wynn was in center, but had a sore arm. Ferguson ran in front of Wynn, caught the ball and rifled it home to catcher Steve Yeager who applied the tag.
The Dodgers lost that series, but stole my heart.
1974 was also the year when I met the first of some awesome teachers in my life. In fourth grade it was Mrs. Cortichiato. Mrs. Cortichiato was just incredible in how she taught us stuff. But her greatest gift to me was reading. I like to read today, but she read to us in such an imaginary, enthusiastic and creative way that you could almost see what she was saying. We spent about an hour or so each day as she read from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, crouching down while singing the Oompa Loomps chants and using a variety of vocal inflections to impart every mood of each character.
Years later as Sports Editor at The Daily Independent, I was covering a Burroughs volleyball game when I noticed a Cortichiato on the roster. It was her daughter and I felt oh so old.
It was also this year that my mom took me to Mrs. Merrick to learn to play guitar. We showed for the first lesson and she started instructing me on how to finger the chords on the neck. When I told her it hurt, she informed me that it wouldn’t after awhile as I would form calluses later. Dismayed, when we left I told my mom I wouldn’t be going back as I couldn’t lose the touch on my fingertips for baseball.
Even on my non-throwing hand.
Yeah, I was a dork.
This was my first year in what Ridgecrest Little League called ‘AAA’. It was backward of what the big leagues did, but we didn’t care.
My dad and Mr. Cope took over the Senators. We were an OK team, but were very young. I had to big moments that year, the first coming at the hands of the league’s most feared pitcher – Roman Revels.
Roman was lanky, a year older and much taller than every other kid in the league. In the short 45-foot pitching distance, his stride seemed to put him within a few feet of the plate when he’d pitch. It was downright scary.
But one night as his Indians faced my Senators, I came to the plate determined to get a hit off him.
As I stood in, he gave me his typically scarey stare. I’m pretty sure he had pitches beyond a fastball, but I doubt he was about to ever waste them on me. I believe it was the second or third pitch when I connected with one, check-swinging the bat and never completing the cut. But the ball took off like a rocket and found its way over the 7-Up sign in left-center. I rounded the bases bases at full speed, not really sure what was happening. By the time I got to the plate, my team was all there like we had won the title.
Later that year I had another memorable encounter, this time in the field. We were playing the Indians again and I was at third base. Guess my dad figured I was a power hitter now, and back then those guys didn’t play second base.
There was a man on third when a screaming grounder headed my way. The runner broke for home and I rocketed it to Mark Cope at home plate. The runner turned to retreat to third and Mark whipped the ball back, arriving at the same time as the runner. I remember him being bigger than me and lowering his shoulder as he tried to get to the bag. We collided a few feet in front of third and I went down like a sack of potatoes. It stunned me and when I looked up I saw two things – my mom hovering over me, having somehow gotten onto the field faster than the Flash, and the ball still cradled in my glove.
Later that summer I remember the epic World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox. It was a classic, what with George Foster’s laser to the plate after catching a foul ball and Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer.
Even though I was Dodger fan, I grew a greater appreciation for the Reds and their manager Sparky Anderson that year.
As far as baseball went, this was one of those incredible years. And not all of it was on the field.
When Spring came my dad and Mr. Cope were back at the helm, this time with my dad as the assistant. When they had tryouts, they called me in to help evaluate the talent and they really listened to what I had to say.
During that session my mom decided to try out this new-fangled thing we had just bought called a microwave. She decided to make brownies in it, putting them on the table in the dining room that had been turned into the Senators’ Draft Central. Being a kid I quickly downed several of them as we looked over players, barely chewing enough to taste them. Brownies in 10 minutes? Are you freaking kidding?!?!
My dad and Mr. Cope got around to trying them about an hour later. When they tried to pick one up they were as hard as rocks. I silently wondered what might be happening tome internally.
We went 17-1 that year, running through our league schedule like water through a sieve. The only loss came at the hands of team where the opposing coach’s older son was umpiring the bases. Needless to say that there were several calls that were highly “questionable”.
In the City Championship Game that pitted Ridgecrest’s best team, us, versus China Lake’s best team, it was a classic. David Wooten was their ace pitcher and we sent Jay Perry to the mound. The game was scoreless until the sixth, when I think they scored four runs. We answered with four in the bottom of the frame to extend the game. I believe they scored once in the eighth (which we answered) and they won it in the ninth with another tally. It was a classic game and still the best baseball tilt I’ve ever been part of.
I made my first All-Star team that year and we played in Bishop. We didn’t do as well as we thought we should have, but it was still like taking that next step.
Later that summer the Jersey Maid Milk Company ran a baseball trivia contest on its cartons, with the winner getting tickets, airfare and everything else to the World Series. I enlisted my mom to help me research the answers, and so off to the library we went. We came home with about a dozen books and dug in.
As we turned page after page, I noticed that my mom was looking at one book rather intently. She had stopped skimming and was reading some story she found. And when she turned the page, she broke into a small stream of tears that steadily grew.
“What wrong mom?” I asked.
“I … I know him,” she replied.
I walked over to look at the book, a large picture of some old guy on the right-hand page. He had a nice smile, but I didn’t know him.
“His name is Jack, Jack Rothrock,” she siad as she sniffed. “I lived with him and his wife when I ran away from home as a kid.”
“Wait! You know someone who won a World Series? I sarcastically queried. “Come on!”
“I did. I really did.” she said.
I left it at that and went back to my own research. But as that summer drug on, she was relentless in researching this guy and where he might be. And one day, she found him living just a few hours away in San Bernardino.
We drove down and found his home, a small trailer in some park. She knocked on the door and it slid open. Tears were shed as they hugged on each other. Finally my mom introduced me to Jack and his wife, Ardith. We shook hands and Ardith offered to let me sit in their living room to watch Saturday morning cartoons as they reminisced.
About an hour or so later Jack limped out of the kitchen, his replaced hip giving him some trouble.
“Your mom says you like baseball,” he said in a gravelly voice. “That true?”
I said yes and he asked me to follow him. He stopped at the first bedroom in the small trailer, opening the door and clicking on the light.
The smell of infield dirt poured out of the room as I walked in, seeing boxes of various things covering the floor. There was a mit in one and many had newspapers and clippings. As I looked around the room I saw a team picture unlike anything we had ever taken in Little League. Each player had his own image and at the top is said “St. Louis Cardinals, 1934 World Series Champions.”
I looked at Jack and he smiled, then pointed toward one side of the image. “That’s me right there. You know any of these guys?”
“Yeah,” I said in wonderment. “That’s Dizzy Dean, and that’s Rip Collins and that’s Frankie Frisch!”
“That’s pretty good,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not even sure I know them all anymore.”
We must have been in that room for an hour looking at papers, gloves and anything else he wanted to show me. In a subsequent visit he confided in me that his kids didn’t really care about his career and that it was nice to get to share it with someone who cared. He had made a decision that he wanted me to have his World Series ring in his will, but he died before he could get it changed. His kids then suddenly cared, as they came in and sold it all off. It was truly sad.
Jack always seems to keep coming back up in my life. He was the one who gave me the ability to see history, and especially sports history, in a new light. It was more than just the wins and losses. It was the love of a game that he gave me and that I’ll never forget.