John Grindrod: Fathers … sons … baseball

Each year during the run-up to Father’s Day weekend, of course, many of my thoughts are invested in my own dad, who left me at what now seems the impossibly young age of 58 some 46 years ago. He was hit by a train at a cross-buck crossing just outside of Paulding on a Monday work day while driving his roads going about the business of selling some of Central Steel and Wire’s products. Dad sadly never was able to inhale a deep draft of retired air at Lost Creek Country Club and plunge a tee and Titleist into the ground on what would ordinarily be a work day.

In reflecting on the myriad of Dad’s gifts, the charisma he had in spades, his work ethic and the support he provided for Mom, sis and me, I think perhaps his greatest forte was his ability to make up for lost time with his family to push back against one of the realities of his trade, which were the two-or-more overnight work trips he took most weeks while covering a territory that included both Ohio and Indiana.

Since Father’s Day arrives each year at the same time, when Major League Baseball is still fresh, one of my memories of Dad I replay each early June is when on a special Father’s Day weekend, he left those golf clubs in the bag, foregoing one of his weekend rounds to take his only son to his first baseball game.

It was in Detroit in 1960 in a stadium still called Briggs Stadium, at least for one more year before being rechristened Tiger Stadium, and it was where my visiting Yankees and the hero of me and many other 1960s boys, Mickey Mantle, patrolled the vast expanses of greensward in centerfield.

My first gaze at the expanse of perfect deep green, dandelion-free grass when we cleared the concourse and walked up to steps, I remember six-plus decades later. Equally memorable is the sound of balls impacting Louisville Sluggers with resounding cracks and also the aromatic commingling of the strangest of combinations, hot dogs and Dad’s Dutch Masters Panetela.

While I’ve wondered over time whether other men remember vividly their boyhood trips with their dads to see their own favorite boys of summer, recently in talking to my friend Tom Wiechart while heading into St. Charles for mass, I got my reaffirming answer to the question I really didn’t need to ask.

Realizing my great love of the sport once America’s most important before ceding that title to football some years ago, Tom told me a story of his own very memorable baseball experience with his father, Tom, who along with his wife Maralyn, started one of the go-to pharmacies in Lima’s north end.

On a Father’s Day family getaway weekender, while Tom’s sisters Claire and Sue opted for shopping with their mom, Tom and brothers Eric and John were all about going with Dad to Riverfront Stadium on that Friday to see the great Tom Seaver with the coolest of epithets, Tom Terrific, pitch for the hometown Reds against the invading St. Louis Cardinals, and Tom’s memory was time-stamped 1978.

Seaver was widely acknowledged as a top five pitcher in baseball when he was traded the year before by the New York Mets. While he’d already won three Cy Young Awards, given to each league’s best pitcher, been selected to several All-Star teams and been a World series winner, the one achievement that had thus far eluded him was pitching a no-hitter, that is until the very day that a busy pharmacist took some time off on a Father’s Day weekend, bringing that day’s attendance to 38,216.

The final score was 4-0 in a game Pete Rose drove in a pair of runs. While that was just the second straight game in which he got a hit, he would go on to hit in 42 more. The 44-game hitting streak is still the third-longest in Major league Baseball history.

But, that day it was all about Seaver, not Rose, and, for young Tom Wiechart, the excitement of Seaver’s accomplishment.

“From the fourth inning on, we were on our feet and never sat down until the final out, which was a grounder to first.”

Tom went on to tell me that when they arrived home, Dad collected the ticket stubs, telling them he had an idea. The idea was to mail those ticket stubs along with a self-addressed envelope along with a note requesting Seaver’s autograph to Riverfront Stadium. A week later the envelope returned with the autographed ticket stubs.

Tom proudly told me that he still has that signed cardboard ticket stub. While I’m pretty sure there’s a sports memorabilia guy out there who would pay a pretty good chunk of change for that artifact, I never asked if he’d ever sell it.

The somewhat distant look on Tom’s face and the sentimental smile that creased his face as he concluded his reminiscence surely told me the answer to an unvoiced query.

Fathers … sons … baseball …

Happy Father’s Day.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].