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My baseball experience is spotty and without glory. Baseball doesn’t go well with poor eyesight and limited coordination. But you can learn to love it just the same.
Many summer nights as a boy, I sat next to the wood-grain stereo listening to Cincinnati Reds’ games. The radio signal was stronger if you were near it. Sometimes, my father would drag my sleeping carcass from the floor to the bed when I dozed off during the seventh-inning stretch dreaming of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose or Lee May.
Baseball means many things. It’s about spring and summer spent with a little dirt and grass stains on your pants. It’s about hot dogs and popcorn, competition and drama. Baseball captures tradition and nostalgia plus the opposite spectrum of dreams and aspirations.
But most of all, I think baseball is about fathers and sons.
For as long as I can remember, there’s been an image in my mind of a baseball moment which occurred long before I was born. That image was put there by my father’s telling and retelling of a historic event that he also only new about second hand.
And I just saw that event depicted at the movie theater.
Unlike his son, Dad was not given to hero worship. But he did admire Pee Wee Reese.
Of course, Reese is from Louisville and Dad being a proud Kentucky you might expect him to be a fan of Pee Wee.
But the story he told about Reese had nothing to do with fielding prowess, batting average or runs batted in. It wasn’t about World Series appearances or game-winning heroics.
It was about Pee Wee Reese the teammate and the man.
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and became the first black to play major league baseball in 1947 it was not popular in the white community. Segregation is hard to fathom today. As the new movie “42” captures distinctly, the racial slurs, threats, protests and physical intimidation were daunting.
History tells us that Robinson was selected over other exceptional black players because the Dodgers’ brass thought he could stand up to the taunting. It’s hard to believe anyone could take that type of treatment in stride.
At its worst, Pee Wee Reese famously walked over and placed his arm around Jackie Robinson — a physical gesture of support on the field before a packed stadium. As the movie shows, it occurred at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, coincidentally the first place Dad took me to see a big league game.
Reese’s act was brave and meaningful. In the movie, the character says he did it to show people who he really was.
It made history and now it’s there on the movie screen just like my father described it, just like I’ve seen it countless time in my mind.
Another famous Kentuckian, A.B. “Happy” Chandler, was baseball commissioner during that era. While treated as a bit of an oaf during his brief film portrayal, most people believe Chandler lost that job because he stood up to objections raised by baseball’s other owners and supported the Dodgers’ decision to sign Robinson.
Knowing hundreds of black Americans fought in World War II, Chandler famously defended the move by saying, “They’re on the battlefront fighting and dying for freedom, I just thought something how could it be judged as fair when they come back home and couldn’t play the national pastime.”
My father was a product of his generation. He was not without bias but he knew and agreed with Chandler’s words and respected Reese’s courage. Everyone deserves a chance to make a living, Dad would say.
Now allow me to relay an actual memory. This is not a Hollywood moment nor a idealistic mental portrait.
In the days when Kelly Vance owned a Volkswagen dealership in Radcliff, my Dad bought and traded several vehicles there. Driving daily from Vine Grove to Louisville’ Rubbertown factories, he liked the high-mileage Bugs and later owned a couple VW station wagons and even one of those hideous VW buses. Often when it came time to have the car serviced, I would tag along.
Every time Dad asked for the same mechanic. Even if he was busy and the request significantly extended our wait.
One time, I asked why.
There was one black mechanic at the dealership. Some customers in the 1960s still did not want him touching their car. Dad’s explanation included another retelling of the Robinson- Reese story.
My Dad’s been dead for 20 years. He didn’t play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He never met Jackie Robinson. But he did own VWs and I could see Dad on the movie screen Friday night, too.
Baseball is about fathers and sons and life lessons.
Ben Sheroan is the son of Junior Sheroan, a 1956 graduate of Vine Grove High School, and is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or email@example.com.