Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Passing of a Ballplayer, a Friend, a Hero

"Every player should be afforded the opportunity of at least one season with the Chicago Cubs. That's baseball as it should be played - in God's own sunshine. And that's really living" - Alvin Dark, Ballplayer, friend, hero

Hi guys, remember me? Yes, it's been a while since I've sat down and written in RWA, mainly because there's not a whole heck of a lot going on that I think might hold somebody else's interest for longer than 2 seconds. I'm running fairly well. The fabled ankles, though stiff as cement pylons, haven't been too sore, and with our Alabama trails covered with a thick layer of leaves hiding the roots, rocks, and ruts, ol' Al is pretty thankful for that. And I've had no rants lately and I'm sure the world is breathing easier knowing Al will let it spin smoothly for a while more. I have been writing weekly in my other blog, TRAINING WITH AL, about training for the marathon, mostly directed at those in the Birmingham area training for the Mercedes Marathon, being run on February 22, 2015, so check it out if you're training for a full or half marathon and want some basic guidance getting to that finish line based on my thousand years of successes and failures.

One of the things I do just about each evening when I get home from work, is sit down with my tablet and cold beer (or hot coffee, depending on the temperature) and read briefly through Facebook (I have selectively very few "friends", so don't try) about what my running friends are up to. Also, I'll quickly rifle through a couple a hundred posts on Twitter. Most posts are garbage, but I get a kick out of the few that are funny or point you to interesting sites. 

Last Thursday night there was a short post on Twitter (has to less than 140 characters afterall) that read that Alvin Dark had passed away at 92 years old in South Carolina. Alvin Dark was a baseball player of moderate success (was Rookie of the Year in 1948 with the old Boston Braves, and later played with the NY Giants, Cubs, and Phillies. He was an All-Star three times, played in three World Series, and managed 5 teams). Never heard of  his passing mentioned on Sports Center or the news, so I was glad I was looking at Twitter that evening. You see, as a child, I knew Alvin Dark personally. My dad was an automobile dealer in New Jersey back in the early 50's and sold a car to Mr. Dark. A friendship ensued and for a few years, Alvin Dark was my hero...I knew a professional ballplayer! When he left the NY/NJ area, we still stayed in touch for several years. And as an adult, I collected all his baseball cards, not because I was a collector, but only to have them. Let me share some of my memories:

-- He gave me my first real baseball glove. I was about 8 years old and it was one of his just discarded pro gloves (he was a shortstop). On the back of the glove was written "#19". I used that glove throughout High School.

-- When I was around 6 years old, my dad took me to my first pro game. It was at the now-demolished Polo Grounds and I remember it so clearly. We walked out of the dark runway under the stands into the bright sunshine and I clearly remember two things: how green the grass was, and the red on the opposing player's uniforms (the Reds or the Cardinals?). Looking back, I realize any ballgames I saw on TV were in Black & White, so this color thing was crazy exciting. We got to wave to Mr. Dark as he warmed up before the game.

-- In 1961, the Giants had moved to San Francisco and Mr. Dark was now their manager. My dad and I drove down to Philadelphia one night to see them play the Phillies and were going to have dinner with him after the game. Unfortunately, the game went 15 innings and ended in a 3-3 tie because it went past midnight. So, sadly, no dinner. But, I did get to meet Orlando Cepeda and Jose Pagan, two SF stars, after the game in the locker room. 

-- In 1967, I was going to Jr. College in Miami, which happened to be the Spring Training home of the Baltimore Orioles. Mr. Dark was then managing the Kansas City A's, so when they came to Miami, I went down to see the game. I wasn't sure he would remember me (hadn't seen him since that '61 non-dinner). I snuck down to the rail next to the dugout before the game and called for Mr. Dark to come over. I introduced myself and immediately he smiled and recognized me. Surprised the heck out of me. He leaned up against the rail and talked to me for 20 minutes about my dad and what I was doing. I sure felt like somebody.

That was the last time I saw him...47 years ago! And, though it's been so long, his passing hit me. Obviously brought to the surface many pleasant memories. Maybe it's that next piece of childhood that we have to let go of, or realizing how fast time flies, or just realizing how much of life we have filled up...I dunno. I'm glad I was reading Twitter last Thursday or I might have missed it. Mr. Dark's passing is sad to me, but not knowing...that would have been very sad.

I'll see you on the roads - Al

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"  


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