With all the recent death, suffering, sadness, disloyalty and regret, I’ve been just a tad down in the dumps. Can’t imagine why. Well, yes I can, I just wrote why. So to boost my spirits I decided to lay in bed last night and think about funny things. Stories I’ve experienced or been told that need to be put to paper, then typed on ’puter then posted onto Facebook and my blog.
I need to laugh, and in turn make ya’ll laugh as well. Next to hearing applause after I sing, making people laugh is my bestest , most favorite, most fulfilling, sound and feeling ever.
But, really? You know where a shit load of “the funny” comes from? My Dad. My Dad has NO ego. Just look at what he’ll walk out of the house wearing - Pink Floyd “Buttafuco” style, worn thin pants, a “Charlie Brown Christmas”, BBQ sauce stained T-shirt, and the brightest colored Nikes he could get his hands on……four years old - but bright as the day they were purchased!! (Yeah, Dad has boxes of unworn sneaks, he waits to wear when the older ones fall apart – childhood issues, we all have ‘em).
When I say NO EGO. I mean it. He really doesn’t care what other people think he looks like. Now, it helps he is still drop dead gorgeous and is charming as hell. But most importantly, the man IS FUNNY. And, a KICK ASS storyteller. And he’s lived an interesting life, to say the least. So once again, I reiterate, when I really need a laugh I talk about, think about or talk to my Dad.
(NOTE: Mommy is a shit-load funny too, she just gets the bigger award for being able to deal with Dad’s eccentricities all these years, but that is another story…..)
When we were kids, he was an awful tease, which, it turns out, really helped to make Sissy and I able to take a joke and make fun of ourselves with ease. He would threaten to “Rip out our lungs and make us eat them.” If we didn’t do something we were told. If he saw a bruise on our arms from any of the hundreds of sports we played, he would push on it - hard and say, “Does that hurt? That doesn’t hurt does it?”
He would tickle us until we peed. Really. UNTIL WE PEED. I absolutely love that. And I don’t give a fuck if any of you think it’s weird. To laugh so hard you pee yourself? Well, if you haven’t experienced it, let’s just say you haven’t fully lived.
So I am re-telling a story Daddy tells me whenever I beg him to, which is usually at least once or twice a month. You see, it includes some of my favorite and most treasured things in the world:
4- Comedic Regret
5- Young Hot Baseball Playing Guys
(I am prefacing this story by telling you guys I’m not going to be using correct punctuation for the conversation parts of this tale. I just suck at it. And, I find it slows me down. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to keep up. Just keep reading.)
1963. Pioneer league New York Yankees, Idaho Falls. My Dad Bob is pitching a gem of a game. He is on fire. Slider is sliding, Cutter is cutting. Fastball above 93 and moving. Seriously. My Dad was goooooood! The great Yankee left fielder Roy White once told me when I was just a little girl:
ROY WHITE: Gia, don’t you forget, your Daddy could throw a baseball through a brick wall.
I believed him. I had heard about Daddy from a lot of different family members and others who had played with him, and watched him play. Did I mention? He was gooooood.
In 1963 (and probably even a year or so before that) Daddy made two of his best friends he has ever had, and by coincidence played pro ball side by side with.
(NOTE: My Mom will always be Daddy’s best friend. Close seconds: Uncle Jimmy Bender, Peter DeMeo, My Uncle Ronnie Zito, and Bob DeMatteo, it’s just this is a baseball story and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel badly.)
So I continue. Outfielder Steve Whitaker and Catcher Frank Fernandez. Both made it to the majors. (Both terrific ballplayers – look up Fernandez’s career, especially his hitting, such a great read for all you baseball freaks/stat-heads out there!!!)
In the beginning, Daddy hit it off with Whit right away. Whit was affable, quick to smile, charming and had an all around likeable persona.
Fernandez on the other hand? Not so much. Staten Island born. Hard as nails. Quick temper. Intense ballplayer, intense guy. Why in the world would my Dad not like him? BECAUSE HE WAS JUST LIKE HIM. Neither of them had it easy growing up. They were both from New York. They both played like it was the last game they would ever play, and they did not like fucking around. They were there to play, not talk or make nice. (With the exception of fans that came out no matter what.) Kinda’ like Kevin Youkilis and Jorge Posada, I suspect.
But, as time went on, they realized how incredibly fucking good they each were. Whit was the bridge that linked them all together, but the talent and intensity and most importantly THE LOYALTY was what KEPT them all together. So close, the three of them. They were three peas in a pod. Dad, however, had the most playtime, and on field interaction with Fernanadez, well, because he was Dad’s catcher. My Dad still talks about how no one caught like Fernandez. No fear. The man had no fear. They had that perfect chemistry. Fernandez put down the signs, Dad threw and they rocked it together. How Fernandez kept Dad calm in those days if he had to visit him on the mound, I will never, for the life of me, understand. Mommy and I laugh. Oh, do we laugh.
Once my Dad gets (and I’m talking much more “back in the day” - he’s calmed down a lot since them - ahhheeeemmm) frustrated, annoyed, perturbed. Well, needless to say we had a lot of weird art hung on even weirder locations on our walls in Centerport. Dad, however, would warn you……..
DAD: Walk away now I’m gonna punch that Goddamn wall.
US: ‘Kay…… (BOOM – Plaster sort of explodes)
MOM: Happy Now? Feel better you maniac?!!!
DAD: YES, as a matter of fact it did.
So we laugh, ‘cause Fernandez had to calm Dad down. In a ballpark. In 110 degree heat. On the field. With lots of people watching. And, no wall to punch. Fernandez, well, he had a gift.
On that day in ’63, Dad is pitching his gem. A guy gets up against him (from now on called #77), in like the second inning, and Dad strikes him out on three pitches. Dad thinks nothing of it. He’s in the zone. He’s feeling good. He is doing his job, Fernandez is doing his. All is right with the world.
Couple innings later #77 gets up again. Dad strikes him out for the second time! Not on three pitches, but none-the-less, it happens. Dad does not give #77 another thought. See, it was only the 2nd out of the inning, and there was a guy on first that had looped one into shallow center. Dad was interested in getting the 3rd out. That was all.
Okay. So couple innings after that. #77 back up. Fernandez throws a sign, slider, outside, Dad throws the pitch. The guys taps a little roller down the first base line, Daddy jumps off the mound, scoops it and flips it to the first baseman for the third out.
And THAT is when Dad hears it.
#77: Fuckin’ fat pig.
DAD: (In his head) Did that guy, that hack, that no talent piece of shit just call me a fat pig? Because I got him out three times, with no fan fare or showboating? Jesus Christ! No. Nonononono.
Let me digress for one moment here. If you read any of the great baseball columns written about my Dad during his career, he was most likely described as, well, “The Stocky Right Hander” , “The Hefty Righty With A Rocket Arm” “The Yankees Top Pitching Prospect A Bit Chunky, But The Real Deal”. You noticing a pattern here? Yeah. My Dad was a big guy. He had been a chubby kid, but, was always an outstanding athlete. He defended any awful names referring to his slight girth, that mean kids could come up with, with either beating them in whichever sport they were playing, or knocking them the fuck out. Because, even though Kid Daddy was a bit stocky, he was strong as fuck. And, because he had such a tough childhood, thanks to his FUCKING INSANE FATHER, he had some pent up anger that he could unleash at any moment as needed. It also made him a tough competitor. And, let’s be honest, the man loved to eat. Still does. (While we’re speaking of this, thanks for the lovely genetics Dad. Thunder thighs are all the rage.)
I continue. Daddy walks back to the dugout and he is STEAMING!!! He sits next to Fernandez, who had not heard the rather cruel and unnecessary comment #77 had made. He glances at my Dad for a moment, his eyebrows kind of furrowed, chewing like a maniac on bubble gum. But, Fernandez says nothing. My Dad sits quietly but breathing pretty heavily, for give or take a couple of minutes just stewing, marinating, fermenting in some serious anger.
Finally Dad spoke.
DAD: You see #77? (Fernandez glances to the outfield, nods once). Next time he’s up. I’m gonna’ hit him right in the fucking head.
FERNANDEZ: (Pauses, spits some bubblegum juice)…… O.K.
Not another word said. Not one word.
Game continues and I bet you can see where this is going.
Ninth inning one out. #77 gets up to the plate. Frank puts down no sign just kind of sits his glove a little between his legs skimming the dirt. The rage in Dad has hit epic proportions.
(In Dad’s head…LOUD) He called me a fat pig! I didn’t do nothing to him. Mother fucker!!!!
And Dad lets it fly.
Daddy explains it like this.
DAD: I let it go and I swear, I wanted to hit him dead center in the head. Now, I didn’t go full blown. I held back just a little, but within the tiny little speck of time the ball left my hand, I knew it was going to hit him straight in the fucking head. And just a like a millisecond after that, I literally saw the ball rotating in slow motion right towards this fuck’s noggin, (not unlike the way Ted Williams could see the seams, turning) And I knew right then I should have never done it, and would never do it again. ‘Cause honestly, I thought, I just killed that guy.
Batting helmets were about as sturdy as Saran wrap back then. And Goddamn if Dad didn’t bean that fucker……..hard. So hard, the ball came back to the mound after it bounced off #77’s helmet.
#77 slowly got up, and, he was pissed. He shook his head briskly, like clearing out the cobwebs, and started to charge the mound. Except, Fernandez was right there to get in front of the guy, stop him, hold him back.
FERNANDEZ: Don’t go out there you fucker. You walk down and take your base.
Dad picks up the ball and moves towards #77.
DAD: Come closer muther fucker. I’ll hit you twice as hard before you get half way to me. Count on it. Let’s go.
Fernandez guides #77 down to first. #77 is brooding, stunned, but #77 knows he made the right decision. Because #77 looks, well, scared.
The umpire almost does something, almost, but changes his mind because there are only two more outs in 110 degree heat on the field, and, Dad gets them on a double play on the next pitch anyway
Fernandez walks out to the mound to shake Daddy’s hand and they start to head toward the clubhouse together. They pause to wait for Whit. He runs in from the outfield. Everyone hits the showers. No one says anything, except along the lines of “Great game Spanky”, (Dad’s nickname, did I mention he was stocky?) “Good game guys”, “You hit the shit outta’ that ball!” ya’ know, regular baseball chatter.
Later on, the three of them are sitting at a local bar. Drinking ice, cold mugs of beer. Fernandez is flicking peanuts into his mouth. Dad, inside, is still feeling kind of shitty.
(Inside Dads Head: I’ll never do that again. That was stupid, that was dangerous. Can’t let my temper get that crazy. Fuck.)
DAD: (To Whit & Fernandez) Hey you guys. Know why I fucking hit that guy in head?
WHIT: No. I was going to ask, but I figured you had your reasons.
FERNANDEZ: No. And I really don’t care. You musta’ really wanted to.
DAD: (Pausing) Well, as he ran down to first he called me a fat pig.
WHIT: (Bitterly Laughing) What? NO SHIT? That stupid little prick!! He fucking said that to you? Muther fucker. Sunofabitch!
Fernandez wasn’t laughing. He was kinda’ red in the face and squinting, breathing heavy, much like Daddy had earlier in the dugout.
FERNANDEZ: (Sputtering) That fucker called you that? He said “Fat Pig”? He said that to you? You should told me I woulda’ kicked him in the fucking dick after he went down. You didn’t tell me that? Why?
DAD: You didn’t ask.
FERNANDEZ: I’M NOT SUPPOSE TO ASK.!! That’s the game! I’m YOUR catcher, your teammate. Fuck, I’m your FRIEND!! I don’t ever need to ask!! But if you HAD told me…..
DAD: You know what’s weird? I feel bad about hitting him in the head. I will NEVER do that again.
FERNANDEZ: Spank, I got news for you, If some muther fucker ever says anything like that to you again, and, you DO NOT hit ’em, I’ll fuckin’ knock him out where he stands. I don’t give a fuck. I wish that fucker walked in here right now. He’d be done. Over. No one talks that way….
WHIT: Never say never Spank. He’s right, just throw right at his balls. Cup doesn’t do shit. Or, even better, his fucking elbow. That hurts like fuck!
FERNANDEZ: Hmmmmm. Yeah, that could work. I accept that.
DAD: Okay. The fucking balls, or elbow. Just not in the head.
WHIT: Well, let’s drink to the most precise pitch I’ve ever seen a fucking guy throw! Spanky, you couldn’t do it again if you tried!!! Actually if anyone could? It would be you!
DAD: (Laughing) Probably not guys. Probably not.
FERNANDEZ: (Chugging down his beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand) Okay. But I’ll still knock a guy out if I ever hear anything like it. I hear anything CLOSE to that! I swear to fuckin’ God I will.
And, that night they drank, ate, laughed, talked the game and cruised girls.
And, the next day, they played another game together. And the day after that. And the day after that……
It was the best time of their lives.
What’d I tell you? Doesn’t the story have some of the best, most favorite, treasured things in it, like EVER?
Friendship, Baseball, Loyalty, Comedic Regret, Young Hot Baseball Playing Guys, and Revenge.