In my constant challenge to come up with ideas for my scribbles, I always appreciate any help I can get from readers. Fortunately, over the years I’ve written for my hometown paper, I’ve often received that help and then some.
That was proved recently again when Spencerville’s Rick Wierwille got in touch with me and offered me a chance to take temporary ownership of a box containing some very special family mementos, a box he allowed me to pick up from Melissa Sanchez, my terrific support gal who works the phones as a customer service rep at the newspaper offices.
As to the box’s contents, it contained photos and newspaper articles among other artifacts that told the life of Rick’s uncle, Frank “Porky” Biscan, who once upon a time when baseball mattered so greatly in America, was the consummate baseball man. Biscan on sultry summer evenings electrified the Halloran Park regulars when he led the Class D Lima Pandas to back-to-back Ohio State League championships in 1939 and 1940.
In prepping for the two-part feature that ran in late April, I read virtually every syllable of the print contained in that box and looked at every photograph. The photo selected to run with Part 1 of the story was, without question, my favorite. It showed a grateful group of Pandas in Halloran’s dugout in their gray flannels with the Block “L” on their jerseys and the smaller “i-m-a” riding just above the horizontal line of the block surrounding a couple of cartons filled with single-serving boxes of Wheaties.
Unlike so many of today’s pay-to-play athletes who see their perks as entitlements rather than tokens to be appreciated, it was evident to me by their wide grins that these Pandas who were perched precariously on baseball’s lowest minor-league rung, perhaps one week-long slump away from looking for factory work and leaving the diamond behind, were twice thrilled, first, that someone cared enough to deem them worthy of a photo and, second, that they were receiving a Breakfast-of-Champions prize just for being a Panda.
Rick’s willingness to trust me for a period of several weeks while I got editorial approval, did my research, and took the process all the way through to final-draft form was reward enough.
How shocked I was when I received a call from Melissa telling me that Rick had also dropped off a gift for me at the newspaper offices when he came to get the box. When I picked it up, there was a note attached to a clear plastic bag that read, “John, thank you so much for writing about Porky. Here’s small token of gratitude.”
Inside the bag was a ball cap of a Major League team that hasn’t existed since 1953, the St. Louis Browns, that relocated to Baltimore to become Orioles in ’54. As to the significance of the cap, well, that was obvious. Rick’s Uncle Frank did indeed become one of three Pandas (along with Coldwater’s Ralph Weigel and Santa Fe native “Lefty” Settlemire) on those ’39 and ’40 squads to don a Major League uniform. Porky pitched for the Browns in 1942 and, following his four years in the Navy, again in 1946 and ’47.
Somehow, Rick’s hunch as to the fitted hat’s size, 7 1/4, was as accurate as one of his uncle’s well-aimed fastballs that helped him lead the league in strikeouts with 243 in 1940. For me, a bald guy whose love of caps long preceded the great follicle fallout, the gesture was as perfect as the fit.
Over time, I’ve received other ideas for pieces and appreciative tokens afterward, such as the one I see each time I sit at my computer and look at the revolving globe on the shelf above me. Following a feature a couple of years ago that I did on the globe trots of perhaps Lima’s most well-traveled couple, Denny and Kathy Gallagher, they gave me this beautiful globe that positively mesmerizes. Without the aid of battery, the globe slowly rotates by using natural light and Earth’s magnetic field. Like Rick’s token, Denny and Kathy’s was spot on as well.
Sometimes tokens even arrive anonymously, such as the one dropped off for me at the Knights of Columbus on a day I wasn’t slinging a few drinks and even more bull. I’d recently written a column about the era when culinary creators seemed to use a cookbook far more than today. In the column I referred to the one my mother used to use in my 1960s formative years, one of which I couldn’t recall the name, only the distinctive cover, one that resembled a diamond-shaped red-and-white tablecloth. Without bothering to leave a name, someone dropped off a copy of the very cookbook of which I spoke, Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cook Book, which I have since discovered published its inaugural copy in 1930.
Another K. of C. drop off came recently on a day I wasn’t in the house from a Mr. John Whitley, who attached a note telling me the paper to which the note was attached may be of some interest for a column idea. The crinkled and yellow copy is the May 17, 1941, edition of the Cleveland Press. Thanks much, John. You’ll see me do something with this soon.
Thanks to all who have reached out via email with ideas and compliments, such as one of my old Hover Park playground kiddos, Lisa Modica, whose email I used as the basis for a column recalling Lima’s and my own intersecting playground-leader days last month, and thanks to those like Mary Crider, who took the time to write me a nice note, which, when I pulled it out of my mailbox and opened it, positively made my day.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.