Baseball Great Heads Home
My grandfather’s property in Mountainside, N.J., looked massive through the eyes of an 8 year old when in fact it was just less than an acre.
My younger brother, grandfather and I would walk the land in the mornings, cutting up gypsy moths that were trapped in potato sack aprons that hung around oak trees and shooting blue jays away from sparrows nests with homemade sling shots.
We would spend the afternoons swimming in the pool, which seemed as big as the ocean, but now I know I could have covered its length in five strokes. My grandfather, a baseball player at Rutgers and a civil servant his entire life, taught us to dive—spring three times on the board and cut through the water without nary a splash.
When we were refreshed from swimming, it was time to put on the gloves and box. My grandfather, Anthony Glenn Harter, wanted his grandsons to protect themselves in the schoolyard.
“Uppercut to the stomach,” he would say. “That way you don’t break your hand. You can hit someone in the stomach all day long.”
He drove a Lincoln Continental with suicide doors and steered with one finger, boasting about the supreme vehicle’s power steering. We would go with him to the Stop & Shop and among the purchases we would buy several gallons of milk, deli meat, root beer and vanilla ice cream.
Dinner was eaten when the sun clocked out for the day. Bath time followed. And then we all gathered in the living room for Yankees baseball.
I was never a Yankees fan. My father grew up loving the Brooklyn Dodgers to oppose my grandfather’s beloved Bronx Bombers. So I naturally was steered to follow my father’s team.
But I was a fan of my grandfather. Whatever he did, I wanted to do. Whatever he said, I wanted to repeat. So it was during these hot summer nights, when my grandfather would teach me about Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Ed Figueroa, Sparky Lyle, Bobby Murcer—how easy it is to remember the names—Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson, Bucky Dent, Jay Johnstone, Roy White, Paul Blair and Billy Martin, I became a Yankees fan.
If Mickey Rivers stepped up to bat with runners on base and he was 0 for 3, my grandfather would say, “he’s due.” If the hitless streak was over two or three days, Anthony Glenn would add, “he’s overdue!” Inevitably, these slumping Yankees would find their stroke and I would believe he performed magic over them.
The seventh-inning stretch in Grandpa Harter’s house meant ice cream soda. My brother and I were responsible for making them—two scoops of vanilla and the root beer from the Stop and Shop.
I’ve never made or had better.
I was reminded of all of this a few days ago. It had been years since I thought in detail about my grandfather. But when Phil Rizzuto died, the great Yankees shortstop and broadcaster, “Holy Cow!” the memories flowed.
Anthony Glenn Harter passed away a couple of years before Rizzuto retired from the booth. Here’s hoping the two of them are sharing an ice cream soda and talking about how Alex Rodriguez is overdue.
OUT AT HOME: Jennifer, my wife, and I were dressed up and drove to a social event recently. I don’t know what it was, maybe I had a few seconds at a traffic light, or maybe her sheer beauty kept catching my attention, but I noticed.
“Honey, I just had a moment to look at you, and you look great,” I said.
She smiled and laughed. And it was the kind of smile and laugh that if we’re lucky enough to share more often, we’ll be happily married forever.
So the lesson I learned? Take time to check out the wife because she’s beautiful.
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: In honor of “The Scooter.”