April 14, 2009

 I have never trusted history. I feel it is crafted by those who have won wars, have great influence or perceived events according to personal bias.

When I was a young boy, up high in my Dad’s chest of drawers, was a box…. stay with me, that stuff was up a little higher :)  This box was torn and tattered, barely able to stand on its own.  The best I can figure, the first time I saw the box and its contents, the box was probably 16 years old and I was probably 5.  I no longer have the box, I remember it being a worn yellow and red color with the the word Reach with a big cursive R that swooped down under the rest of the word.  The baseball the box contained looked as new as the day it was made, and the condition of its box was the only thing that gave away its age.

 My father was first generation off-the-boat Italian who grew up in Lodi, New Jersey.  He had a rare blood disorder as a child and was not expected to live.  My grandmother and grandfather sacrificed quite a bit to provide what was needed to give him the best chance.  There efforts paid off and my father grew to be an incredible athlete, who was recruited to play college baseball & football. Unfortunately, my grandparent’s lacked the resources for college to become a reality.  Instead of a college athlete my father became an incredible father and husband.

Nature vs Nurture.  While I physically & creatively  take after my mother, my father had a strange way of nurturing.  When I was about 15 and playing high school baseball, I asked my dad if he would throw a few pitches to me.  My dad worked 2nd shift so we were cutting into his sleep time.   Walking to the school ball field, we passed a few of my friends who were on their way to do something “fun”.  The batters box was the last place I wanted to be, I wanted to be with my friends.  After several half-assed swings on my part my father figured it was time to nurture.  Like I said I physically take after my mother not my father, he was 6’2” and approximately 240lbs at this time.  With me in the box, no batters helmet on and not really paying attention…. my father rares back and brings the heat.  By the time I figure out that the ball is coming at me it is way to late!  I just get my face turned away and the ball caught me in the ribs under my arm sending me to the ground.  He never said a word to me, he just stood on the mound with another ball in his hand waiting for me to get back in the box.  I dug back in fearing for my life not knowing where the next pitch was going to be.  While  not the most orthodox approach I learned several valuable lessons that day.  If you are going to do something do not half-ass it…. do it!  Value others peoples time and above all else do not piss off a 240lb right hander with a ball in his hand.

I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my father about the origin of the ball in the tattered box, but I knew its story.  Around the time my father was 13, he and his mother  ventured into the city see a double header at Yankee Stadium, I did not know what year it was or who they were playing.  Sometime during the 1st game my father catches a home run which I believed was hit by Roger Maris. Between games his mother drags him down to the Yankee dugout to see if they can get it autographed.  They are met with some resistance, my grandmother was a feisty woman, eventually she got her way.  A short time later the ball returns in a box, with 26 signatures.  Mickey Mantel, Yogi Bera, Ed Ford (he wasn’t Whitey yet) Elston Howard, Clete Boyer and many more adorn the ball. What a train ride home that must have been for him.  The following day there was a picture in the paper of him catching the home run ball.  I never saw the newspaper clipping.

When my father died in 1998 my mother gave me his baseball and a tool box.  I still have both, the tool box has some notes in my fathers hand writing that are eerily similar to my signature.  The ball is my most priced possession.  He watched me play countless ball games, we watched countless ball games together sitting in our family room and he took me to my very first ball game in Yankee Stadium.   I have never had the ball appraised or considered selling it, it will be given to Bobby when its time.

 Well… I thought that was the story of the ball in the box.  This past weekend Bobby and I were up at my mothers enjoying the Easter holiday.  She pulled Bobby aside and gave him a gold chain that my father had worn for years, purchased during one of his many trips around the world that always resulted in the most enjoyable stories upon his return.  She then told me that she had found the news paper clippings of Dad catching the home run ball.  I sat down with my mother at her kitchen table, what I saw when I opened the envelope just didn’t make sense. I thought for years it was a Maris home run ball, it wasn’t!  It wasn’t even a Yankee home run ball…. worse yet it was a Boston Red sox dinger….. my head was spinning.  The envelope contained 3 news paper clippings dated September 23, 1957.  The last thing in the envelope was an autographed photograph of Ted Williams.  Two of the three news paper clippings were also signed by Ted Williams, the third was a duplicate with and arrow drawn to my father and and inscription in the lower corner that said “I caught Ted Williams home run”.  The only saving grace was that the Yankees won 5-1.  Why did I not know it was a Boston Red Sox homer….. Ted Williams at that!  Like I said I can not remember ever having a conversation with my father about this ball, but I must have.  Did I put my own spin on what I wanted it to be?  I was a kid, I would have no way of knowing who Ted Williams was….  Did I believe it was a Maris home run for so long that it became the truth to me?  Or did I just know it was a superstar and assumed it was Roger Maris……

Either way, my father caught it, then my grandmother got the whole Yankee team to autograph it and then somehow got Ted Williams to autograph the news clippings and in the process got and autographed picture of him. This story is more unbelievable then I could have imagined.  The ball is and will remain a part of our family for a long time to come…. and the pictures and story will go with it. 


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