Friday, March 19, 2010

A Magic Memory ...

As an impressionable young boy growing up in the hills of West Virginia, I remember many life altering events which took place around the globe ... many in the form of blurry images beamed into the living room by way of an old, black and white RCA TV ... we were able to receive a breathtaking total of eight stations from an antenna positioned at the crest of a briery knoll ... in those days that TV was my primary window to the world ... I listened and watched in disbelief as CBS's Walter Cronkite brought news of the tragic and untimely death of our promising, young President John F. Kennedy, and the seemingly endless days which followed as he was finally put to rest in Arlington National Cemetery ... nearly as shocking was the fatal shooting on live TV of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby as Oswald was being led from a Texas jail ... later on the airwaves were filled with news of the assassination of the great Martin Luther King, Jr., then a couple of months later JFK's brother Bobby Kennedy would meet with the same fate ... I saw the arrival of The Beatles to America, and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show ... I watched in confusion as dying and dead Americans were carried away on stretchers and in body bags from the dense jungles and rice paddies of Viet Nam, while long-haired protesters marched and masked rioters burned our cities to the ground ... and I believe I saw a man walk on the moon.

The following is one of the more memorable and cherished images ... among those eight TV stations that we were able to receive was WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh PA ... that meant the Pittsburgh Pirates were aired each evening on nearly a daily basis ... I hardly missed a game, and would listen intently to every word as Pirate's announcer Bob Prince called the games ... the Pirates had very good teams during a span of several years back then, good players too, such as Bob Robertson, Manny Sanguillen, Mudcat Grant, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and a young fellow by the name of Roberto Clemente ... Roberto Clemente was something else ... born in the small barrio of San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Roberto was the youngest of seven children ... I would watch with amazement at how gracefully and effortlessly Clemente played the game, his movements were deceptive, his natural talent and abilities made it look easy, but Clemente always gave his all, and at full speed ... he played right field, could catch a fly ball at the wall, then in one smooth motion fire it all the way to the catcher behind home plate ...yes, he was something else ... I'll never forget game six of the 1971 World Series between the Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles when slugger Frank Robinson came to the plate and launched a 300-foot fly toward Clemente that would have surely scored Merv Rettenmund who was standing on third base ... as soon as Clemente pinched the ball in his glove, in a flash he ripped it out and rifled a strike straight to the catcher ...  Rettenmund was forced to scurry back to third base unable to score, and the Orioles were held at bay ... the Pirates went on the win the '71 World Series in seven games ... Roberto Clemente was named the 1971 World Series MVP ... yes, he was something else.

Roberto Clemente was not only a great player on the baseball diamond, he was an even greater person off the field ... Clemente was a hero, especially to the Latinos ... tragically, on December 31, 1972, while endeavoring to personally direct a relief mission to earthquake torn Nicaragua, but unknowingly bound for destruction, Clemente and four others loaded a small DC-7 plane with much needed food and supplies ... the group never made it beyond the San Juan border as the over-crowded aircraft immediately crashed into thirty feet of water in the Caribbean Sea ... speculation that cargo shifting during flight had caused the plane to go down ... rescue efforts began immediately, but there were five fatalities including Clemente ... his body was never found ... the entire world was in shock, especially an impressionable young boy growing up in the hills of West Virginia ... those days are long behind me now, but the magic memory of Roberto Clemente, and game six of the '71 World Series are forever etched in my mind.  

"He played the game of childhood dreams, with humble grace of mountain streams. He learned so early through his time, the selfless purpose of his life, His human pride, his elegance, not in a hundred years surpassed. From far away gave us a gift, too valuable to leave adrift, Some saw the game as being the end, he knew the end and played, he played! When in the face of human pain, some wasted time, he ran and helped, For all who knew and didn't know, they were in front of royal grace, a modest place where rivers wed, saved us a wall of right field fence, On holidays of cheer and joy, when smiles abound for girl and boy, there is a town down by the sea, where grown men cry on New Year's eve, Remind me game of boyhood dreams, that men of grace knew how to play. The game's true leaders learn early in time, the selfless purpose of their lives." ... Juan A. Perez


--sja

12 comments:

stinky said...

Walter Johnson - helluva flame thrower.

Walter Johnson, III said...

What a great story about one of the best as seen through the bright eyes of innocence and packed with honest, heart felt emotion!

More than a baseball player - a true hero in every sense. We should all strive to be more like him!

SJA, you're a gifted writer - thanks!

Yes, my name is Walter Johnson but no relation to maybe the greatest pitcher of all time, though my middle initial is also "P" - but for Parks, a family name.

Bob, Stinky - when the Big Train pitched, opposing hitters had best not be asleep at the switch! It was a time when the game was played as it should - Clemente played that way too!

sja said...

Thank you Walter ... I'm glad you liked the story ... and who knows? ... Bob just might have babysat Walter Johnson III when Walter Johnson III was but an infant! ...

BOB said...

Walter's response showed up while I was on line but couldn't find him or any profile ... seems okay, better than that!

that is to say, I agree with him!

Don't think I ever knew any Walter Johnson ... first, second or third ... or pitcher neither.

I worked for the Johnsons back in the late 1950s and early 60s, but no Walters.

sja said...

Walter Perry Johnson (November 6, 1887–December 10, 1946), nicknamed "The Big Train," was a right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball between 1907 and 1927. One of the most celebrated players in baseball history, Johnson established several pitching records, some of which remained unbroken for nearly a century.

BOB said...

I wasn't saying I didn't know who Walter Johnson was ... have referenced him more than once in the Shop but he was before my time ... do remember when he died in 1946, folks called him a real gentleman.

The Babe was before my time too but I remember him in the newsreels as he battled cancer, and well remember his death in 1948 following publicized experimental treatment and surgery.

Ruth, Johnson and Cobb ... we all knew about them!

BOB said...

... yes, he was something else

... and so too are you, mein Freund

What a wonderful expression ... misused, abused, and its essence now almost extinct, methinks.

nothingprofound said...

Fine tribute! I remember Clemente well-a sweet man and a great athlete.

sja said...

Our thoughts and prayers are with Barbershop Bob ... his dear wife and best friend Carol passed away this morning after many months of bravely battling illness ...

sja said...

Nothingprofound ... folks like Roberto Clemente are few and far between these days, much less among athletes ...

Bill Smith said...

SJA, Nice memories. I enjoy getting lost in yours and other's articles about life outside of government and politics on which I focus on daily. What a relief!

Growing up poor and rural living didn't afford us an opportunity to go to ball games. But I remember laying on the floor on hot days (there was no air conditioning) listening to ball games on the radio. Thank God for radio back then.

Also, in the "olden days," not only did we respect adults but also we seldom had reason to fear any adults. So, during the school recess, we (the boys) would run outside and across the street to where some friendly adult listening to the World Series would depending on the weather either bring a radio out on the front porch or open window so we could hear the game and cheer on our selected team and players. Looking back now, we must have been a raggedy bunch and for the adults, we might have been the show of the day.

Ozark Guru

sja said...

Thank you Bill ... makes me want to keep trying to write this stuff!