Sunday, August 29, 2010

Proud Moment For This Fan

Lately, I am sure you all have noticed my drift from cigars and my comments on real world events, deaths of famous people, etc.   I anticipate more posts soon that will revolve completely about cigars.  Everyone can look forward to a review I am working on for  I am also finishing up a piece on maduro leaves, wrappers and cigars.  My next post will more than likely be my re-telling of another tale from this smoker's corner. 

But, today I saw something in the headline that made me smile just a bit.  It has to be obvious what a huge baseball fan I am and that I make no secret that I am proud member of the Red Sox nation.  Through much of my youth and into the early years of adulthood I followed one ball player particularly close: Frank Thomas. 

While my brother worshipped Ken Griffey, Jr. and my father rooted for Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, my guy was Frank.  "The Big Hurt" got my attention as a kid, because he just seemed larger than life.  While that was supported by his 6'5", 250 pound frame, it was much more than that.  He just seemed to enjoy his time on the field more than most. 

In little league, I wore number 35 in honor of him.  While I never did him justice, he was the player I wanted to be the most.  I met him when I was 22 and asked for an autograph like I was ten years younger.  "Mr. Thomas, you've been my hero since I was real little...please sign this baseball for me."  It was not my proudest moment as a man, but for the kid inside it may have been the best day of my life.  Frank, of course, obliged me with a smile and no hesitancy whatsoever.  Not bad for a guy who only had one at-bat that game.  As he signed the ball, I went on and on about his one at-bat that ended in him advancing to first on a base on balls.  You see, Frank hung in for a 19-pitch at-bat.  Not impressed?  Well, Frank had come into the game to try and get something going.  The opposing pitcher and pitched a three-hit game into the 7th inning.  The pitcher had only thrown 78 pitched thus far and looked to be cruising.  He gave up that third hit on a bloop single just before Frank came into pinch hit.

On pitch 97, after Frank had battled off an array of pitches, carefully chosen his spots and swings, he took his base.  On pitch 98 of the evening, the next batter tagged a line drive to the gap scoring both runners.  As Frank slid into home plate I think I was the only who knew those RBIs belonged to him.  He wore down the pitcher at a key juncture in the game and allowed the game to be tied up.  They scored another run that inning to take the lead and after that there wasn't another base runner for either team.

Frank won that game and nobody knew it.  Nobody really cared.  The paper mentioned his name in the re-cap as the tieing run, but that was it.  I knew.

About 18 months later the Mitchell Report came out.  I was scared and deeply saddened by this hit to baseball.  I scanned the list Glavine, no Griffey, no Maddux, and finally no Thomas.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  In my mind there had always been no doubt, but still it scared me as a fan. 

And now, today has come. Frank has returned to the city where his career started and blossomed.  The city of Chicago, the south side's White Sox are retiring his number 35 today and will erect a statue in his honor sometime next year.

"It brought back a lot of memories, thinking about teammates and all the great times and bad times," Thomas said. "It just got to me. Emotion caught up. I'm a very, very proud man today, and this was probably was the proudest day of my life."

For this fan, I couldn't be happier, couldn't be more proud.  You were the best Hurt, we'll miss you on the field, but we'll never forget.  I still haven't.  Thanks.

Remember, be like Frank and know that there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Bobby Thomson is dead at age 86. 

So many times I listened to a recording of Hodges' historical call as a kid.  Whenever I think of baseball, I think of sunny afternoons, the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs with mustard, dirt never feeling dirty, and Bobby Thomson. 

Thomson, circa 1951
For this baseball fan, it never seemed to matter that I wasn't alive for his moment.  It never mattered that if forced to, I probably couldn't pick Thomson out of a crowd.  What mattered was the moment itself. 

"The Shot Heard 'Round the World," is a time traveling moment in history.  While the moment lasted merely seconds, it will continue to exist in our hearts and our children's hearts for all time.  

Thomson referred to himself as an "accidental hero."  In many ways, mostly by his own admission, Thomson felt dwarfed in baseball stature compared to some of his teammates.  After all he was surrounded by future Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays and Monte Irvin.  In fact, not many know that it was Mays who was on-deck during Thomson's famous at-bat.  

Nonetheless, while Mays had "The Catch" and Irvin's legend was staked in the Negro Leagues, it is Thomson who will forever be cemented in baseball lore.  

Over half of a century has passed and "The Flying Scot" still heard cheers on the streets of New York.  Old-timers would call out his name, fathers would tell their sons the tale as he passed them in diners, and Brooklyn still cringes when you mention his name.

A man of great composure and love for the game played 15 seasons with the Giants, Milwaukee Braves, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Baltimore Orioles.  The other half of the story, Ralph Branca (the man who threw that now famous pitch to Thomson) would later join forces with him on national tours to describe the moment from both perspectives.  

Thomson and Branca were a part of the "Dodger-Giant War," that existed before both teams moved to the West Coast.  But what was simply a historical rivalry, became legend overnight.  
The passing of this legend brings sorrow to the heart of this writer.  Fortunately, he's in a place where he can run and play again.  There really is something special about heroes.  

So, here's to Bobby Thomson, a humble man, but nonetheless, still one of the best. And there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best.