Grandpa's Watch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  No Houses


I loved Grandpa's Yankees watch, but never dreamed it would take me to another time.

Submitted: March 01, 2018

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Submitted: March 01, 2018

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Grandpa handed me the box. It was wrapped in a generic paper with a baseball theme -guys hitting, sliding, catching, umpires making “out” signs. As I carefully unwrapped it, I saw a wooden rectangular case with the letters “N” and “Y” overlapping each other ever so elegantly; never to be confused for anything except the unmistakable logo of the Yankees. I started to open it and swore it seemed to have a glow emanating from the center of the box, as if there was a golden light being generated from inside. Now fully opened, I saw the relic wedged between a satin pillow and a matching satin interior, and my heart began to beat fast. Despite an almost uncontrollable enthusiasm I suppressed the desire to scream with excitement. I gingerly extracted the gold watch that was being hugged on both sides by a beautiful brown leather band. I put it on my wrist and stared at it. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Simple yet sophisticated, under the glass facade that ever-familiar Bronx Bomber logo and an inscription “1956 World Champions” on the underside. I looked up at grandpa, my face saying everything without even uttering a word. Dad grimaced and said “Oh look…great” which was obvious sarcasm despite a poor attempt at disguising his contempt. Grandpa gave dad a chastising glance and then panned down to me and said “You’re welcome David, always keep it with you and one day it may help you discover more than you would’ve ever thought possible”.

 

Grandpa loved my questions about the game. Typically on any given day I would be quizzing him on baseball trivia. Who were the greatest at certain positions? Which players were in certain landmark all-time record groups, such as 500 Home Run club, 3,000 hit club, 300 win club, etc. Grandpa would start each answer to my trivial inquiries with, “well David, you know when I was your age I saw (enter name of any Golden Age baseball star)…” and then have some anecdote about life and the players he watched as a kid. Then I would get his list, certainly correct and inarguable. In his mind it would have trumped a list created by God himself. I never disagreed. He had a slight grovel and a Western New York accent that felt like home. He knew just how to talk to people. I had never been to a restaurant or shop where he didn’t somehow make a new friend or negotiate a better deal with just sheer kindness and sincerity. Everyone loved him, and I have never witnessed someone who garnered more respect from his contemporaries for just being in a room.

 

Dad was different. He was more of an introvert that had a hard time communicating and didn’t have many friends from my recollection. There were two things in life my father was passionate about, his woodwork and baseball. Dad and my brother were usually in our shed: sanding, drilling, sawing, always covered in the dust of that day's project. I shared more interest in his obsession with baseball, although it always felt more as though he was placating me and baseball was more of a personal, private passion for him. He would humor me at times, but I always knew he would rather watch the game in peace, without my endless inquiries. I would pose similar questions to him that I did my grandfather. I would get a twinge of excitement at potentially being able to compare their answers, but dad would just impatiently answer “Ruth!” or “Mantle!” not even really hearing the question. Dad’s one big challenge was communication and he never connected to people on more than a superficial level. I like to think of it as less of a chip and more of a boulder on his shoulder. Not to go too much into it, I think my dad always felt like he could never escape my grandpa’s shadow. At times in his life he did things for no other reason than to try to make grandpa proud and at other times, from what grandma used to tell me, he did things solely to rebel and upset his pops.

 

These days dad’s zealousness has waned a bit, as he loves to preach from his fanatical pulpit about how the game is being ruined by free agency and steroids, etc. When he would yell at the TV it sounded as though he was speaking to me, looking for my assent, but he wasn’t, and I am sure it didn’t even mattered that I was in the room at times. I would attempt to maturely chime in with, “Dad do you think…”, only to be cut off with him screaming, “Nooo…that ump is blind, what kind of call is that?!” My mom was sensitive to this and while most wives would make comments like “settle down” or “hey it’s just a game”, she knew just how important it was to my dad and never complained or tried to change him. The only thing I would hear them argue about in regards to baseball was mom pleading with dad to let me into his world. It wasn’t personal or malicious as he shut everyone out. He would argue, “my dad didn’t engage me when it came to his passion, so why should…”, mom would cut him off, “because you’re better than that and David worships you. Your acceptance is all he wants in life.” He would sit in silence like a child in time-out. She would continue, “Do you see how he lights up every time you bring home some of the those ratty tobacco cards for him? You privately love that he shares in your passion for the old stuff, why is it so hard to share your world with him when it comes to games and the Hall trips?” Dad wouldn’t usually respond except to maybe say that he heard her “loud and clear!” They never knew I could hear them and while I appreciated my mom’s pleas, I understood my dad in a way that he obviously didn’t understood his own father.

 

Despite his more recent cynicism and the fact that I was an afterthought when it came to sports, I still enjoyed sharing in his undying love for the history of the game and the stories of the players who played during a time when, as he often said, “it was still just a game.” I love it all because my dad loved it all. The 19th century, the Dead Ball Era, when the ball became “lively” again, integration, expansion, all of it! Dad would regularly watch games, but only games where the stars were “throwbacks” as he would call them. That’s what made this year’s Hall of Fame class particularly special as three of the greatest ever at their respective positions were being elected. 1999 saw Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and George Brett be inducted and while they were some of my idols, dad was especially thrilled as these guys were maybe the last of the old school crew. I was a fan of the new era of players as well as the old school guys and saw them as heroes, but every time I brought up a current player he would scoff, “Son he couldn’t hold Ty Cobb’s jockstrap”. I would chime in, “Dad Mark McGwire hit a homer over 500 feet last night!” He would retort, “Every one of Mick’s homers went that far!” And don’t get me started on Ted Williams, it didn’t matter what feat a player accomplished, Ted always did it better.

 

Dad and I took regular trips to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. It wasn’t too bad of a drive coming from Williamsville, NY. Dad was never mean or malevolent about it, but I always knew it was mom that was pulling the strings to get him to bring me along. He would rather have not been bothered. This was more apparent when we were inside the actual building. In the car he had no choice but to humor me, but in the Hall dad would constantly zone off as if he was in another world, oblivious to what was going on around him. He would stare at inanimate objects as if he was imagining the game and time first hand. I remember one particular ball that had to do with a Ty Cobb record. I am not sure which one, but the amazing thing was my dad must’ve spent over an hour staring at this one piece of memorabilia. It was as if he could transport himself to anther dimension. He was always somewhat cautious as to not make me feel slighted. When he sensed I was becoming frustrated with our interactions he would humor me a bit and then go right back into his meditative state. Despite this I knew what his true feelings were. He loved me. I knew this and I would make sure never to complain or make disparaging comments, as when he had his moments I felt as though I was sharing them even without any acknowledgment needed from his end.

 

We always left at 4:30 am in order to beat the traffic. While he fretted about morning gridlock, I didn’t care as much about the stresses of the road or potential delays as I cared about our road trip customs. We would stop along the way for breakfast, usually in Syracuse, where we would eat eggs, bacon and pancakes. We pulled over constantly as dad had to pee frequently making the drive frustrating, but it added to the anticipation and excitement. Again, tradition dictated that I always purchased a can of Mountain Dew and a Charleston Chew and dad would get a Coke and some pistachios during those restroom exoduses.

 

Exit 30 off of I-90 for Herkimer/Mohawk always induced the same exuberant feeling in my stomach. That day as we exited the highway, I heard a loud crashing noise like a trash compactor and saw a flash like a Fourth of July firecracker. It didn’t make a sound, just a white burst of light. As I looked around, I could not place it. My dad pulled off to the side of the road and got out to check the car. Dad shrugged his shoulders in bewilderment as if to say “huh, nothing”. As he got back in I could tell he was annoyed. He said there was no discernable damage, nothing out of the ordinary. We sat there on the shoulder of the highway, sun shining, birds chirping and dad cursing in his trademark muffled grunt. Dad tried to start the car again and I heard the old beater attempting to turn over, yet not succeeding. I hated this car. It was a big piece of junk. As part of his relentless frugality, we always had crappy cars. I never understood why he insisted on always buying cars that had issues instead of just buying something a little nicer and having peace of mind. I felt in the pit of my stomach that our trip may have come to a premature end.

 

I looked down at Grandpa’s watch. He passed away in 1993 shortly after handing it down to me. It was his most prized possession. It was a 1956 Yankees championship timepiece that I looked at often. It was beautiful and a constant memory of a beautiful man. I only wore the watch on these trips. It felt special to don it in Cooperstown, plus I was afraid of losing it. I felt guilty sometimes because the watch reminded me that I would have rather taken these expeditions with grandpa. My dad meant well he just didn’t deliver on the emotion or excitement that made grandpa special. After a few more attempts dad looked at me and said, “well we seem to be having a bit of bad luck. I’m going to go ahead and see if there is a service station or a phone we can use up ahead. Do you want to come with me or stay with the car?” I thought for what seemed like a few seconds, but it must’ve been a bit longer as he snapped, “Hey! You in there, what’s it gonna be?” Dad always had this unique ability to be short and slightly brutish when talking to me, yet I knew he meant well and in his mind he was trying to treat me like an adult. Teach me independence and responsibility in his weird, twisted way. “I’ll stay back, if it’s ok with you”. He looked almost relieved, “Just lock the doors after I leave and don’t go anywhere”.

 

I was a few months away from getting my learners permit but still couldn’t drive. I was mature enough to handle being on my own for about an hour. As he walked away I broke out a few packs of the baseball cards my mom bought me for the trip. Roger Clemens, David Segui, Kerry Wood, Walt Weiss, Chipper Jones/Jeff Urban, Mark Mcgwire 68th HR Commemorative, Bernie Williams League Leader, Scott Brosius, a Checklist, BJ Surhoff and a Sammy Sosa Highlight. Nothing remarkable in collector's terms but players I loved to watch. I had a couple of packs left to open when my mind strayed. This was fun, but my real enjoyment was when dad would come home with a vintage card. Old Tobacco was my favorite. I had 46 of them and my most prized pasteboard was definitely my T206 Ty Cobb portrait with a Piedmont reverse. In the card he is just sitting there with a bright red background and a wry little smile on his face. These cards were truly beautiful and it felt like owning a piece of history.

 

Suddenly, I heard the purr of another car's engine and the gravel crackling under a set of tires. It had pulled up behind me, and I had mixed feeling of fear and hope. I turned around, and noticed it was an old Ford. A gentleman walked up to the window and I rolled it down about halfway begrudgingly, thinking about why we didn’t have electric windows. I noticed the gentleman’s three-piece suit and fedora. He looked at me as if slightly surprised to find a kid alone in a car and asked, “son, you need some help?” Respectfully I declined, “no sir, my dad went to go get help, our car won’t start”. He was an older gentleman, tall, skinny, with weathered skin and gaunt cheeks. He had an aura of simplicity about him, yet at the same time I had this sense he was important. I am not sure why I felt that way, but I couldn’t shake the familiarity of his face. He said, “I am on my way to the new Baseball Hall of Fame”. New? Had they remodeled since I was last there? I excitedly told him that that was where we were headed as well. “What’s your name?” he inquired. I paused for a second, briefly remembering all the old safety training most children are taught about strangers back in third grade. Despite my reservations I answered, “David, sir”. He smiled at me and offered, “I am Mr. Mack, if you make it over to the Hall bring your dad by and say hello”. He looked around, at nothing in particular, a formality for someone who wasn’t quite sure what the next step should be. “That old coot Clark, is trying to convince everyone we need a building to celebrate baseball's greatest players”, he said. “Trying to push old Doubleday as the inventor of baseball and other poppycock.” With a concerned look still on his face, he cautioned, “be careful sonny, have a super day”.

 

I got the strange feeling that he was more than just a fan, but let the thought leave as quickly as it came. As his car pulled past I noticed his PA license plate. I mumbled, “Mr. Mack? No…couldn’t be…that was weird”.

 

It had been a couple of hours and I was starting to get worried about my dad while also thinking about the coincidence of the older gentleman being named Mr. Mack.  I kept pushing away the feeling that it was THE Connie Mack; an old manager and one of the greatest team leaders of all time. He was a catcher in his playing days, but not nearly as successful as his managerial career with the Philadelphia Athletics. I knew this because a few years back my parents bought me a set of cards that featured fifty legends of the game. I liked to organize them in different ways: position, team, alphabetical and my favorite, by height. Mack was 6’1, tall for the time he played, so he was usually near the front or the back based on which way I organized.

 

My thoughts strayed back to whether or not I should start walking or stay with the car. I was too curious and adventurous for this to be any kind of serious choice. After walking along the highway for about 25 minutes I checked my Yankees watch, but it had curiously stopped. Got to remember to get a new battery for the old relic. It was a sad thought because this was the original battery that came with it when grandpa gave it to me. Ah here we go. I saw the Herkimer exit up ahead and picked up my pace.

 

As I drew closer to the first crossroad off of the exit ramp I saw a Texaco sign. My father had to be there. As I got to the entrance of the station I saw another car that looked similar in age to the one Mr. Mack was driving pull up to a pump. It had trademark rounded edges everywhere, whitewall tires, big shiny hubcaps, etc. Three men jumped out of the main building and enthusiastically filled the car with gas while also checking fluids, and washing the windows. I walked into the convenience store attached to the service station and approached a woman with a heap of silver-gray hair, eyeglasses that seemed too retro for a woman of her advanced age and an apron. She reminded me of my grandmother in the kitchen on a holiday eve. She looked up, “can I help you young man?” I responded hesitantly as this was all starting to get stranger, “yes ma’am, has my father by any chance been through here? We broke down a couple miles back on the highway and he went to get help. He is a short stocky bald guy with bushy eyebrows and a pointy nose”. She just shrugged and said, “No, no one looking like that has been through here.”

 

I left the store and walked a bit. There was still no sign of my father and it was almost lunchtime. One of the service station employees, a skinny ginger guy who couldn’t be older than eighteen, offered me a ride as his shift was coming to an end. I took him up on his offer, but requested that we swing back by my car so I could leave a note in case my father returned.

 

We got to the car and still there was no sign of my father. My only thought, however hopeless, was that maybe he went ahead to the Hall. On the short trip over I kept wondering what had happened. The ginger kid asked, “is your dad missing kid? Should we call the police?” I wasn’t sure how to respond but with false confidence I said, “I am sure he is at the Hall of Fame.” I sat there quietly thinking why the events of the day been so strange and why had my father disappeared?

 

In the face of all these questions and odd coincidences my pondering turned into excitement as we approached the building that I had visited multiple times. It never seemed to get old and I never seemed to tire of seeing it in all its glory. The warm red brick façade, decorative wrought iron and classic overall look gave me a feeling of being in the present and in the midst of history at the same time. This may have been the sweetest feeling every year, maybe even more than actually being inside the building. As the car approached I noticed it looked slightly different. Renovations? The wrought iron grates below the windows were gone.

 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar face. It was the kind gentleman from the highway, Mr. Mack. I now realized I had no choice but to start accepting that he was the real Connie Mack. I felt nauseous. Cornelius McGillicuddy was his given name, but everyone knew him as Connie Mack. How was this possible? He had been dead for over thirty years. I had seen Field of Dreams and Back to the Future, but those were movies. I must be dreaming. This was the only explanation. My body doubled over; I was going to be sick. “Are you okay? Do you need some help?” He asked right before he jumped backwards as I hurled towards his wing tips. “Whoa!” was followed by a little chuckle.

 

Dream or no dream this was embarrassing. After a few minutes I composed myself and turned to see him still standing there with that same concerned look. “I am fine”, I told him, “just a queasy stomach.” Attempting to make things less weird for him I shook his hand and finally declared, “I am a huge fan”, while trying my best to look somewhat normal. “Let’s get you inside sonny”, and he motioned me toward the building, “someone will clean that up don’t worry about it”

 

As I slowly walked towards the main building I obsessed about what was happening and where my dad could’ve been? Slowly, my concern and fear was replaced by a cautious excitement. Mr. Mack escorted me inside and found me a chair in an empty room. I sat down. Not sure what this room was used for, but it looked like a cross between a closet and a small classroom. I think he felt it was out of the way enough that if I got sick again the other visitors wouldn't notice. Right as I sat I heard a voice say, “Hey coach!” Mack turned around and said, “Hello, Mr. Hornsby”, ever so formally, but endearing all the same.

 

Rogers Hornsby! I was not sure I could handle this. The impossibility of it all still haunted me, yet I wanted to take it all in. Hornsby was one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game. He was a walking combination power and efficient hitting; twice leading Major League Baseball in homers despite playing during Babe Ruth’s prime and disappointingly coming up just short of 3,000 hits.

 

“This lad was feeling a bit woozy so we are making sure he is okay”, said Mack.

Hornsby chuckled, “Hey kid, excited to be here for the opening?” I must have looked dimwitted as I sat and said nothing for a few seconds before finally giving a nod of assent. “Want an autograph kid, might make you feel better”, he offered. “Sure!” I exclaimed. My natural excitement seemed to diffuse some of the strangeness of the situation. “So kid whom do I make it out to?” Hornsby asked. “David,” I said, “and inscribe it HOF ‘42?” “’42? Come on kid. You think it’s gonna take me three more years to get in?” Oh my God was I at the inaugural induction? This couldn’t be happening. “Sorry”, I declared, “You must be right. How about just your name across the sweet spot?” I said sheepishly. “You got it kid.” He signed a ball he had in his pocket then looked to Mack and happily said, “great to see you coach”, and left. Still beside myself, I stood there not sure what to make of all this and still did not quite believe what was happening.

 

After another awkward pause Mr. Mack asked, “how you holding up sonny?” I let him know, “feeling much better sir”. He asked, “if you feel up to it we can walk to the main lawn and you can probably meet a few more of the players.” I perked up. “But steer clear of Cobb. He is a nasty SOB”, he warned.

 

Hurriedly we made our way out. As we strolled across the lawn an older, bow-legged, funny looking gentleman approached us. He walked with urgency, yet his demeanor would leave one to believe that he had nowhere to be at the moment. The man had a modest suit and a paunch belly. His tie was tied all wrong with the back lower than the front as though he was a kid wearing one for the first time. I thought I knew his face and it took only a few minutes to realize where I’d recognized him. His portrait, in younger days, was slapped front and center of a yellow background on the most famous (and expensive) baseball card in the world. It was Honus Wagner! The Flying Dutchman was considered one of the greatest shortstops of all time and here he was in front of me, smiling and displaying the eagerness of a toddler waiting for an ice cream cone. He said hello to Mr. Mack and left to speak with the others. He looked to be enjoying taking in the moment of being back in the presence of his former colleagues.

 

For a brief moment, in the middle of all the craziness, I thought about my dad and began to worry about him again. I looked at my Yankees watch forgetting it was not working. It had never stopped before today. I began to stress about it. What more could have gone wrong today? Where was I? Again my thoughts turned to this being a dream, or maybe I was dead and this was my heaven and that's why the watch had stopped. Another dimension? I thought remembering a lot of sci-fi I enjoyed.

 

A bustling from the crowd interrupted my thoughts. “Oh geez”, I gasped. Like a teenager seeing Michael Jackson or the Beatles in person, I started to feel faint. Strolling through, band in tow, playing a song that sounded like a superhero anthem. Following the man was an entourage like a modern day rock star. He was a legend and the idol of every baseball-loving American boy. There was George Herman Ruth, also known as “Babe”. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t think I could handle meeting him right at that moment, which was just as well as the Babe didn’t acknowledge most of the people he passed by and walked right to a spot where some chairs were being placed in two rows.

 

A photo was being set up. My guess was that some of the players were being memorialized for the initial Hall induction. One by one some of the greatest legends of all time lined up for the picture of a lifetime: Ruth, Wagner, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Mr. Mack, Eddie Collins, George Sisler, Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Cy Young and Walter Johnson slowly took their positions. As I sat staring in pure amazement, I saw Mr. Mack motion for me to approach. I slowly walked over to him and he asked “Do you want to take a picture with these gentlemen?” I insisted that I couldn’t possibly. He said, “Son, you seem to have been through a lot today. Go stand next to old Hon’ over there. We will take more than one.” I didn’t know what to say, so in pure juvenile glee it seemed apropos to just say thanks and walk to the spot he had motioned toward. I was sweating and the goose pimples on my arm reminded me of my watch and what my grandfather told me the day he gave it to me. “Always keep it with you and one day it may help you discover more than you would’ve ever thought possible”.

 

The photographer looked a little annoyed as he snapped the pic and then promptly demanded, “Okay, kid, get out of the shot”. I sure didn’t mind at this point. He put his attention back to his camera, which looked more like an accordion. I walked away stupefied and reassured myself that this couldn’t possibly be real and that I just needed to enjoy the moment.

 

As I walked away I felt a jolt on my back and an arm draped around my shoulders. A voice said, “Ain’t this great kid, gotta thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee. Otherwise, I might not have been able to come today.” No way! I have heard that line before. He was just a kid. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was sure I was dead and this couldn’t be anything other than heaven. He let go and walked away, followed by two guys that looked a lot like him. They were both lanky and goofy looking with one wearing spectacles. Joe Dimaggio was just as cool and charismatic as all the stories I had ever heard about him. He walked over to Babe, something no one else seemed to dare do, and the two started jostling lightly as Joe looked like any other star-struck kid in the presence of the legend. I think I was dumbfounded as well. Mickey Mantle would be just a boy this year, but I kept thinking if he had been here it would have made the Yankee legend trifecta complete. It was at this point I gave into the joy and let the disbelief go.

 

As amazing as all this was, I still knew I needed to find my dad and figure out what to do next. I reached the building’s rear doorway and walked through looking for the main entrance in order to leave and resume my search for dad. As I walked outside I saw in the distance a bright red Ford with a tall, bulky young man leaning against the door. He had a surprising confidence to him for a guy his age. I knew that grin anywhere and just had to go meet him. Even though I favored the Yankees, I always conceded that Ted Williams was the greatest pure hitter of all time. He was so young and would be just beginning his rookie year. In a few months there would be no getting this close to him let alone having some one-on-one time.

 

I walked up and said, “Mr. Williams, I am a huge fan.” He looked at me with surprise, yet the overabundance of self-assurance had never left him. “Kid you might be my only fan”, he said humbly. “Did you see me out in San Diego or are you a Sox fan?” he asked. I just gave a nod so as to not look stupid again as I had most of that day. “You hungry kid?” he asked. I wasn’t, but I excitedly stammered, “yessir!” He was going to a diner to grab a steak and said I could tag along if I wanted. His car was modest and simple, but cool. The red exterior was sharp, but the white interior with red lining was something special. He flipped on the radio. When the Saints Go Marching In by Louis Armstrong was playing and he marveled at what a great new song it was. I considered the possibility of staying here forever. It wouldn’t be so bad I attempted to convince myself.

 

As we pulled into the parking lot my stomach began to rumble. The neon lights in the diner windows shined “Archies”. It was captivating and the hostess inside was as equally warm and inviting. It was crazy to think that no one yet knew what Williams would accomplish in his career. He was a young guy, professionally green, who may not have even known himself what he was capable. As we sat the waitress came up and asked if we were ready to order. Williams ordered a coffee, a rare steak with fries and a salad with ranch dressing. I went with the club sandwich and a chocolate milkshake. The waitress collected our menus and set off.

 

At that very moment, Williams looked me dead in the eye and asked, “You know what the secret is kid?” “Secret to what?” I responded. “Secret to life kid”, he said coolly. I was taken aback by his conversation topic. “No”, was the only word out of my mouth. He sat back, grinned and in almost a whisper he preached, “It’s baseball kid. It’s important to so many people. Everyone cares about baseball. Why do you think that is”, he asked rhetorically. “Because it mirrors life. The struggle at the plate is a confrontation between pitcher and batter that only one can win. The pitcher looks at you and then to first base where your teammate is attempting to commit grand larceny. The hurler is sweating, knowing he can’t allow you to reach base. The catcher drops a pitch sign, no. Another sign coming from the backstop. Another no. Finally he sees what he wants. He sees your eyes grow, knowing the pitch is coming. You succeed with a hit and you hustle and run hard in order to be safe. The coaches are there to help you, guide you to your ultimate destination and safe place. Your brothers cheer on from the dugout. The other team works to get you out so they can take their turn trying to succeed on offense. You are a family out there and what is the ultimate goal...to get home! When you think about it, life is the same. People work and they struggle, but in the end what’s most important is going home and being with family. Am I right kid?”

 

I wasn’t sure what to say or if I should say anything as it sounded like more anecdotal rhetoric. Luckily our food arrived and I kept quiet.

 

He went on, “Where’s your dad kid? Where’s your old man?” I wasn’t sure how to answer, but it dawned on me that I hadn’t told him about my dad. Right then I got an overwhelming and eerie feeling of sadness and despair. “Kid, family is what it’s all about; go find your dad. Where is he? Where’s your dad kid?” I sat there not knowing what to say. This was way too personal for coincidence. How did he know about me not being able to find my dad?” Sir...”, “Kid, call me Ted,” he interrupted. The irony of The Kid calling me kid was slightly humorous. “Ted I’ve got to go. This has been a most amazing experience. Thank you for lunch and your insight”. He gave a small smirk and nodded. “Get going kid”.

 

As I walked to the entrance, he called out to me, “Kid”, and threw his keys in my direction. I smiled as I tried to ignore the pain in my palm. He threw hard even just tossing a set of keys. It was an exhilarating feeling catching anything from him. Even though I wasn’t old enough to drive I knew how and I guess because nothing else seemed to add up there wasn’t much to worry about anyway.

 

I hopped into the car and took off. I wasn’t sure where I was going so I decided to first check our car back on the highway. As I pulled off the road onto the shoulder behind the old lug, I noticed a small piece of paper flapping underneath the wiper. I carefully opened the door and rushed over to the front of the car. As I glanced at it, I recognized the chicken scratch handwriting right away.

 

David I met a nice old man and he invited me

to chat over at this little peach stand. I couldn’t

find you and was worried, but I knew you would come

 back to the car so if you get this message come

find me and we can enjoy a peach together.

 

The address was at the bottom. That was about as strange a message as my dad could have left and given the events of the day, that was saying something.

 

Still in Ted’s car I asked a girl walking on the side of the road if she was familiar with the address and she pointed me in the right direction. I drove for about fifteen minutes toward the address and saw a sign in the distance. It read “Fresh Georgia Peaches 4,189 feet.” What an odd number to put on a sign. A few more minutes and I arrived, slowly pulling off onto the gravel drive that housed the stand. In the distance sitting at a table under a big umbrella were my dad and a faintly familiar old man. I was sure I had a tobacco card of this man. I walked over and my dad smiled a huge Cheshire grin and said, “David, look who I met”. I shook the man’s hand as he said in a strong southern accent, “my name is Tyrus, but people usually call me Ty.”

 

Despite my continuing inability to process the events I was experiencing, I still could not believe my eyes as I was standing in front of possibly the greatest hitter of all time. His hits mark stood for an eternity before Pete Rose, helped by rare longevity, had broken the longstanding record. I had heard the stories about Cobb's surly personality, the dirty play and the racism, but right now in front of me was a smiling old man who had a lifetime of stories and nothing but time on his hands. I knew they were waiting on him at the inauguration, but it seemed as though it wasn’t a priority to him at the moment. “Mr. Cobb it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I chirped. “Come son sit down with us”, he insisted.

 

The conversation that afternoon was surreal as we chatted for a good two hours. Baseball, cars and his love of soda pop were some of the eclectic topics. I had heard somewhere, after his retirement, he worked in some manner for Coca-Cola for the rest of his days. In the end we bid Mr. Cobb farewell and got back into the car.

 

My dad asked where I got this car and when I told him he didn’t sound surprised or excited. In fact what was truly amazing is that not once did we speak about the otherworldly situation that had befallen us that day. No, we didn’t really speak at all as a serene feeling seemed to envelope the both of us. There was no mention of the players, the Hall or anything that couldn’t be answered. We decided to get our car and head back to the Hall. We wanted to return Ted’s car and head home. It had been an unbelievable day with so many highs and lows. I had a brief thought about whether or not home would be there when we got back.

 

As we approached our car I heard another bang and dad groaned, “not again”. He promptly pulled to the shoulder and parked Ted’s car behind ours. As my dad got out I began to feel dizzy and lightheaded. All of a sudden everything around me began to go white and I felt myself begin to panic, but strangely the feeling coincided with one of peace at the same time. I know it sounds crazy, but I couldn’t describe it any other way. All of the sudden the white light started to fade and I wasn’t in the car anymore.

 

As I opened my eyes I started to see blurred images of people all around me. “No, no, no”, I thought. How cliché was it to wake up in what looked like a hospital after my experience. My mom was there as was my brother, but where was my dad? Was he okay?

 

The doctor came in and informed me that I had been in an accident and suffered a concussion, broken ribs and a dislocated elbow. My elbow hurt the worst. “Where’s dad?” I asked through a sore throat and hoarse voice. The doctor continued to spew medical jargon. After a few more minutes I asked again and still the doctor deflected. Finally, I mustered a yell and for a third time demanded, “WHERE IS MY DAD?” The room went silent as the doctor looked at me and declared, “David your dad has been in a coma the last few days. His injuries are pretty severe.” When can I go see him?” I demanded. The doctor looked at me and said, “we need you to just rest up and get healthy”. But I cut him off mid sentence and sternly pressed that I wanted to see him.

After insisting, I finally got my way. While waiting for the nurse to navigate a wheelchair to my room I loosely grabbed at my wrist and felt an emptiness where my watch should have been; it wasn't there. The nurse finally arrived with a wheelchair and gingerly helped slide onto the seat.

 

As we approached the ICU I saw my father through a window. I was shocked at how normal he looked. He just seemed asleep. When I inquired about his status I was told that his injuries were mainly internal. I wheeled up to him and the nurse quietly said, “I will give you a few moments, but you really need to be swift as bed rest is imperative for you”. I nodded without turning my head around. I grabbed his hand and felt my eyes start to well with tears, but I did not want to cry. I leaned over and said, “I’m here dad, I am not sure if you remember anything that happened or if in fact if it happened at all, but I can’t wait for next year’s trip to Cooperstown.” I told him I loved him and that I would be back later. Despite his current state I hoped with all my heart that he could hear me.

 

When I returned to my room, I began to ponder exactly what my dream was or meant or represented, just anything I could gather. Like any dream I had trouble recalling a lot of the details, but slowly I pieced things together.

 

Later on that evening, I noticed some commotion out at the nurse’s stand and my heart sank. I knew almost immediately.

 

My dad passed away just before midnight. For a while I was totally inconsolable. I will spare the dramatic details, but I shed a lot of tears. Maybe if I hadn’t gone with him he’d still be here I thought. As the days turned to weeks and then months I cried less and memorialize my father even more. I vowed that I would make that pilgrimage every year in his honor. Even though at times I felt as though I was an afterthought it was one of my greatest joys in life. I felt fortunate that I was able to wake up and see him and talk to him. I got to say “I love you” one last time. I thought about my dream and what Ted said about finding my dad and going to him. It gave me comfort, and even though I knew it was symbolic, I still treasured the thought.

 

As the years went by I didn’t keep my promise of going back every year, but in 2007 I went back for the first time since that final trip with my dad. I was very excited as it was the year Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were being inducted, who were two more of my favorites. It was a super class and I was able to take my own son with me for the first time. We had named him Burton after my grandpa. He was just four years old now and even though he could not understand a lot of what was going on, I felt it was the right time to re-start the tradition. I wanted so badly to have passed my grandpa’s watch on to my son but we never found it and the hospital assured me that they did not remove a watch.

 

As we were strolling through the halls something caught my eye. There was a photograph I loved but hadn’t seen in years. It was the famous photo of the original inauguration at the Cooperstown building. I sat there and studied the 10”x14” black and white picture for a while and vaguely recalled the dream I once had had in the hospital. All of a sudden the coffee cup in my hand slipped out and dropped to the floor spilling coffee all over my shoes. I stood there in disbelief. This couldn’t be. I leaned in close and on the left side of the picture right next to Honus Wagner there was an arm that just made it into the shot and at the end of that arm was a recognizable watch attached to a leather band with an all too familiar logo. I had to sit down. I did not want to look like a crazy man. I hadn’t seen the watch in years, but there was no mistaking it. Curators and others visitors had probably overlooked this particular detail over the years. Was what I was seeing real? I wasn’t sure how to process this, but I got up and looked again. I looked around to see if anyone else was noticing my strange behavior. I stared and stared at the photo moving closer and closer. As the minutes passed I was sure that it was Grandfather's watch. I am not sure why I knew this, but I did as if someone or something had been guiding me to this picture after all these years. After a few moments of silence I decided to look at a few more photos next to this one. I was curious if the other photos had any similar familiarities.

 

Two pictures down a long shot taken of the 1940 enshrinement ceremony and as I looked at this photo closely I saw it. In the middle of the crowd I saw a man with an unmistakable baldhead and set of bushy eyebrows. My dad sat in the midst of all the fans; hands in the air cheering, an unmistakable timepiece on his wrist, huge Cheshire grin on his face and looking like he was in pure heaven.

 

 

 

 


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