REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

THE ROAR OF THE CROWD


I like baseball. I know, I said that last year in October during the World Series. I have liked baseball since my father placed a wood bat in my hands and told me to hit the ball he tossed to me, and then run like heck for first base. My father was a Yankee fan, and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was his man. Listening to the games on the family Philco, I memorized the stats so I could impress him. I played sandlot ball whenever the neighborhood boys let me in, but I never made the first team. I had frequent dreams of hitting a home run with the bases loaded, but they were only pipe dreams. Living as we did, in many places across the country, we never actually went to a game together, but my Dad often fit one in when he could.

Alameda was a baseball town and turned out a few stars of the game. Joe Kaney, Bob Wuestoff, and Don “Ducky” Pries made baseball their careers, whether in playing, coaching or scouting.

October always gives me a thrill, when the best of the best struggle for supremacy. The crowd’s roar, the steely eyed pitcher working out what his pitch will be with the catcher, who is squatting like a silent toad behind home plate, giving pre-arranged finger signals to the pitcher. The tension builds. The moments during this silent exchange must be agonizing for the batter, wondering what his fate will be. This is a time for confidence, but does he feel confident? The pitch is a slider, and the batter swings and misses. Do that a couple more times and you’re out. There are so many pitches, and so hard to anticipate which one you will get.

Watching a game on TV can be nerve-wracking too. Your team is behind, it’s the top of the ninth, the bases are loaded, two outs, the batter, whom you don’t like very much anyway, has two strikes against him, the pitch is thrown, and he strikes out. It’s like a deflated balloon.

I remember visiting my parents during a World Series game many years ago, and the game was on TV. My mother, who was the least likely to sit and watch a game, was watching intently and making knowledgable remarks. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised, given my Dad’s interest in the game.

THE CRACK OF THE BAT


Balk
“Balk” original watercolor by kayti sweetland Rasmussen”

I like baseball. My father was a big fan and when he was home and there was a game, any game, on the radio, we listened and cheered at the appropriate times. He went to the ballpark whenever he had a chance.

He put a baseball bat in my small hands when I was about eight years old, and shook his head in disgust whenever I missed the ball, which was often. Dr. Advice and I bought two of our grandsons small plastic bats and were entertained on many sunny afternoons watching them learn to play the game. They were pretty decent players by the time they were on their high school teams. Another grandson who lives in the Northwest, did not benefit from our coaching, yet he was a superior player of the game.

A pitcher can commit a number of illegal motions or actions that constitute a balk. In most cases it involves a pitcher pretending to pitch when he has no intention of doing so. If the umpire calls it a balk, each runner takes another base and the batter remains at bat. It could be dangerous indeed depending on how many were on bases. The painting above was taken from an article in the newspaper after a “balk” was called.

I loved the expressions on the faces of the catcher on the left, and the pitcher on the right. Righteous disbelief at its best! Meanwhile, the large bulk of the umpire stands unperturbed and unyielding in the middle, with just the top of the manager’s head peeking out from behind. Unfortunately, I did not write down the players names in my records, but the manager was Tony La Russa, who has recently been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and who managed the Oakland Athletics from about 1986 to 1995. But the painting is proof that the cardinal rule of baseball is ‘never argue with the umpire’

GAME DAY


Well, baseball is over for the year, and college football nearly so, and now it’s on to watch those overweight and overpaid   professional behemoths trying to break one another’s bones each week.

I was a cheerleader in high school, but I never learned the rules.  It was easy, I just did the routines when all the others did.  It worked, and I wore the uniform;  and then I never missed a ballgame for twenty years with Dr. Advice, whose advice was “don’t talk during the game.”

We met with friends for the weekly tailgate party at 9 or 10 in the morning, and ate great snacks and drank good wine, and then at the sensible hour of 12 or 1, we traipsed into our seats in whichever stadium we were.  And I sat beside other women who didn’t know anymore about the game than I.  We braved it out for 3-4 hours and then told each other we would see them next game.  Today’s games don’t begin until 7:30 at night, so that TV can present them to people who stay up later than I.

Then my daughter got engaged to a football player at his university.  For some reason I forget, I went to the game with my other daughter, who really WAS a cheerleader and who knew all the rules.

My daughter is kind, thoughtful and patient, and gave me a 3-4 hour primer on the game of football.  I have to say, it makes the game infinitely more interesting when you know what’s going on!  I still am unfamiliar with all the finer points, but I can live with that, and Dr. Advice is very proud of me anyway.

But one thing is still ridiculous to me.  In baseball, so as to confuse the opponents, the catcher does strange things with his hands in front of his groin as he is squatting, so as to tell the pitcher what to throw, and even sillier in football is holding one’s hand over the mouth to whisper the plays.  Some quarterbacks even wear a small electronic cheat sheet on their wrists to remind themselves of plays.

I have favorite teams I root for of course.  The University of Washington, Cal and Stanford, though not when they are playing one another; then it’s a draw.  Dr. Advice would disown me for rooting for Stanford, but I can’t help it, after all, they are just around the corner, so they really ARE the home team, and red is a great color!

Wearing the other team’s

colors is a no-no!