For those of you who stay with me each week, you’ll recall at the end of August, I told you a tale about a border-crossing moment in Calais, Maine, that spoke to a classic senior moment and a temporary detention by border patrol agents who eyed Lady Jane and me suspiciously for what really was an honest mistake.
And, while the incident about which I told was a case of my literally being in the wrong lane, there are also those moments in life, at least for me, when, figuratively, I somehow don’t know enough to stay in the proper lane.
One such moment occurred at the old Cooper Stadium in Columbus, once upon a time, the home of the New York Yankee AAA Minor League Clippers, where I made a conscious choice to try to interact with one of those whose athletic talents placed him in a whole different subset of humanity than us ordinary folks.
I thought about the incident again for the first time in a long time last baseball offseason when one of the sports world’s most highly coveted managerial jobs came open for my favorite team, the Yankees, when Joe Girardi, their manager for the past decade, was told to move along.
One of the applicants for the job that eventually went to Aaron Boone, who had nary a day of coaching or managerial experience, was Hensley Meulens. Now, I realize that many of you probably don’t recognize the name, but, over time, he’s developed quite a reputation as a Major League hitting instructor, especially during a run of three San Francisco Giant World Series crowns achieved in a span of five years. While many years ago Meulens never really became the dominant player many predicted over a seven-year Major League career, often, those are the types that make the best hitting instructors.
Meulens, a native of Curacao, once a Major League player and now the bench coach for the Giants, is a polyglot, one so uniquely qualified to communicate with Major League players in what is now indeed a world game. Meulens speaks five languages, among them English, Spanish and Japanese.
Now, when I read of Meulens’ quest to don the Yankee pinstripes, that took me back to 1989 when he was a hot Yankee prospect playing for the Clippers. My team, as happens with most, was in a trough at the time, never really contending for the pennant, so I made the trip to Columbus to see a game to check out what I hoped would be a future Yankee superstar.
Often for my Clipper trips, I’d grab a pal, but I also wasn’t averse to going solo, which I did that day. I arrived, typical for me, a full two hours before first pitch, since I always find the players’ and groundskeepers’ pre-game preparations of America’s grandest game to be of great interest. As I wandered around the grounds, something doable at a Minor League game not possible at a Major League game, I saw a player in a netted area down the right-field line hitting off a tee.
I asked an attendant who it was, and he said it was Meulens, so I walked down, stood outside the netting and watched him practice his stroke. For whatever reason, I decided a little encouragement from me would help him, so I started saying things like, “Good stroke, Sherm” and “Nice follow through, Sherman” after he swung and began reaching into a five-gallon bucker for another ball. With each volley of my encouraging words, he’d look up with a quizzical look, shake his head slightly and go back to his pre-game rituals.
As I think back on it, the idea of some knucklehead whose highest level of organized play was Colt League back in the summer of ’65 acting as if he were some sort of coach during what should have been a private preparatory moment and saying anything at all was preposterous.
Oh, and there’s that other thing! If you found yourself looking back in today’s column and saying, “Sherman? I thought his name was Hensley,” you know the young man’s quizzical looks had more to do with my calling him by the wrong name than my intruding on his pre-game work.
In one of my greatest brain stinkers in an impressive compendium of such moments, I unwittingly supplanted Meulens’ first name with the first name of Sherman Hemsley, AKA George Jefferson on the highly successful “All in the Family” spin-off “The Jeffersons.”
Hmmm… Hensley Meulens, 6-foot-4 and capable of driving a baseball over distant fences, and Sherman Hemsley, 5-foot-6 and capable of, on a good day, driving a baseball onto the first blades of grass beyond the dirt apron of an infield, and I somehow began calling Hensley Sherman?
I don’t think what I had done dawned on me until the second inning of the Clippers game, when I heard the PA announcer give Meulens’ name as he came to bat.
Such moments, I suppose, can happen when the common Johns of the world try to leave their lanes and merge into lanes occupied by professional athletes. Despite the fact that Hensley Meulens speaks five languages, on one June Saturday afternoon in 1989 at Cooper Stadium in Columbus just off I-70, the language I was speaking was understandably Greek to him.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.