Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heroes to a fault

Dusty Morgan is a former deejay friend of mine from Sacramento. We’re about the same age. We lived through the wonderful fifties and sixties together in total ignorance of each other’s existence until we grew to be old and worldly — twenty something.

With his approval I’d like to share the note I got from him recently. He sends these out to friends like Anita* and me who appreciate his perspective and his voice.

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morgan musings

the kid from summer …

You might have already heard the news that one of the Dodgers storied legends passed away recently. The press release read: “Former Brooklyn Dodgers Star Johnny Podres dead at the age of 75.” Well, beyond Johnny’s contribution to Dodgers lore … I thought I’d take-up a few lines here and with a little ground level recollection.

I can’t tell you what a baseball god Johnny Podres was to a 4 foot nothing Little Leaguer when those Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. As one of the original ‘58ers and game winning pitcher of the Dodgers first ever World Series Championship in ‘55 … John will always be a hero in the eyes this former 98 pound catcher for the Palm Springs Red Sox.

I’ll never forget the night I managed to get his autograph after a game at the L.A. Coliseum. My buddy Dennis and I were running all around the player’s enterance and grassy area; trying to chase down anyone we’d I.D.’s as an actual player. I remember spotting Johnny walking by himself; heading toward a parking lot (probably where his car was) then taking off in a dead sprint to get to him before he got to that lot. With Dennis right beside me, we managed to “plead him to a stop” (he did) and then graciously signed a couple of autographs for a breathless pair of 4 foot nothings.

One of these days, from some earlier e-mails, messages and family history recollections I sent to my cousin Claudia, I might tackle a longer Baseball Musing about those Graffiti summer nights, chasing down players for their signatures, how some of them responded (or didn’t) and what it was like for a kid who’s dreams of baseball and stardom were hatched in a small trailer park just off North Indian Avenue in the less than rich end of … The Springs.

It’s not a unique story, but one that became dream seeds for the future.

It’s a little difficult to describe how the news landed in my stomach when I heard about Johnny’s passing. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Or as my dear friend Anita Garner recently wrote in an e-mail: * “Now, maybe 75 years old doesn’t seem as far off as it did back in ‘58.”

A few months ago, I saw a photo on the Net of Podres, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine and (I think) Clem Labine in the dugout at a Twins game; all decked out in their old Brooklyn uniforms as they were there to help celebrate another baseball milestone. Looking into the eyes of those grand faces, it was tough for this old Little Leaguer to realize that these were once … “The Boys Of Summer.”

Of course, as we all know, and as Sonny once said to Cher: “The Beat Goes On.”

Now, I think what I’ll do today is take a memory stroll through some of my old baseball stuff, remember back to a few of those warm summer nights … then put on my old Brooklyn Dodgers cap and wear it around the neighborhood all day. Yeah, it’s probably silly. Then again, maybe one of the kids on my street will stop and ask: “Hey, what’s the B stand for?”

morgan musings / a production of tws north america

(* With acknowledgement to Anita Garner www.theagingofaquarius.com)

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Now, my reply to his note:

Morg,

My heart is smiling as only empathy will allow. I know where you’ve been and from where you come.

I was a Giants fan in those days. I remember virtually the same story you shared but it had a different ending.

I was eight or ten. A security guard at Candlestick Park thought I was cute, I guess. Among the dozens of fans hanging around outside the fenced-enclosed Giants players’ parking lot, he allowed me and only me inside the gate. My dad stood outside beaming with excitement. I watched, befuddled, as the players passed out of the locker room. I didn’t recognize any of them out of their uniforms!

But then I saw him.

Willie Mays!

Everybody started shouting and yelling for Willie’s attention. He ignored them and walked toward the car with the personalized license plate: WHM 24. I nervously approached him. “Mr. Mays, can I have your autograph?” He didn’t hear me. I shouted again. I was only about fifteen feet away. Surely he heard me that time!?

And after shouting a third time I realized yes, he did hear me. He was ignoring me. Blowing me off.

He got in his car and drove away. Took my heart with him.

Sometimes life’s lessons hurt and are not necessarily useful.

But somehow the kid in me still loves and idolizes the man.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

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