Albion Recorder & Morning Star Columns

Looking Out: The Mick

Two days ago I met a guy from Chicago.  He was trying to sell me a car and must have thought it was important to tell me that he used to be a major league baseball pitcher.

I needed new windshield wiper blades, not a new car, but he wrestled me to the ground, hosed me down with sales lingo, stomped on my chest, threatened to throw a high inside fastball at my head and told me what a good deal he could give me on a new car that would come standard with brand new windshield wiper blades.

It’s really not fair of me to paint him that way—he was a really nice guy who sent me to the parts department where I obtained new wiper blades for my old car. 

Later in the day, I was talking to my great old buddy Tikins, and told him the greatly embellished story. He’s such a sucker to believe greatly embellished stories.

Even though Tikins and I have been close friends for many decades, he rightly accused me of lying about the high inside fast ball and the chest stomping part of my story.

Then, I told him an absolutely true story which he immediately classified as more fiction.

It wasn’t. It isn’t.

He also accused me of never having told him that story before, saying that if it was true, I would have told him about it years ago.

Certainly, he simply forgot.

What story?

When my brother and I were kids, we went to St. Petersburg, Florida for a family vacation, joining our grandparents at a motel they had chosen.

Our grandfather, an immigrant from England, while working on a Ph.D. in New Jersey fell in love with the game of baseball and specifically the New York Yankees. It was no coincidence he had chosen a motel near the field where the Yanks held their Florida spring training.

Not only was the place close to Al Lang Field, it was the same motel where most of the team stayed during spring training.

My brother Bill and I, during our week there, played catch daily with a rubber ball with Mickey Mantle in the swimming pool. Other greats were there too.  Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra. One day, manager Casey Stengel showed up poolside to talk to his gang.

Afternoons, we’d walk down to the stadium to watch the games. Whenever The Mick was on deck, Bill and I would go stand right behind home plate, our fingers laced through the chain link fence. As Mickey would approach the plate, he’d turn and holler at us.

“Billy! Jimmy! Get your hands off that fence! If I hit a foul tip, it could break your fingers!”

It never once occurred to Bill or me to ask any of those guys, some of the greatest baseball players in history, to autograph anything. For that matter, I don’t think at the time it ever occurred to us to consider that playing catch with Mickey Mantle in a swimming pool was special.

End of story.

Now why, I ask you, would Tikins think I’d make up something like that? His cynical nature? Is he a Doubting Thomas by nature? Jealousy?

I don’t know. Our friendship should be strong enough to guarantee my credibility.

Such a thing should not be tested. It is not good for friends to harbor such questions about the character of the other.

That’s why I’m not going to tell Tikins about being repeatedly summoned to the White House by JFK to advise him about the Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs invasion when I was just a boy. He’d claim I made it up. That’s just the way he is.

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