Home > Uncategorized > My Pee Wee. My Jackie

My Pee Wee. My Jackie

I think about my late father a lot. Every few years I re-read Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer”. It makes me smile.

Kahn’s book is in the baseball section of stores. But it’s so much more.

It’s the story of fathers and sons…..of newspapers and newspapermen, of living with staggering gifts when you’re young, and seeing those gifts disappear before you reach middle-age. Thus, it;’s a story of aging, gracefully perhaps, but often flat out against your will.

It was my Dad’s favorite book. The Brooklyn Dodger’s were his favorite team. Pee Wee Reese was his favorite player. As I type these words I’m wearing my vintage Brooklyn cap and my Pee Wee dark gray away jersey. I’m thinking of Ebbets Field and Flatbush Avenue and Billy Cox at third base trapping grounders between his small glove and the dirt, like a man trapping a bug. I’m thinking of Snider desperately trying to hang in there against southpaws. I’m thinking of the peculiar genius of manager Charlie Dressen inspiring his troops in the 8th inning….”keep it close, I’ll think of something”. He often would, Oh but these Dodgers drove Charlie mad some days…”I wish they wuz all Reese’s and Robinson’s” is how he summed it up.

Jackie. The only man who could have done what he did. As much a pioneer as Martin Luther King. Just happened to be the most exciting ballplayer who ever lived. Could beat you with his bat, his glove, his legs, his mouth, or his fists. And he did it all while facing down America’s original sin. Died young. Hair turned white. His burden killed him in the end. But he opened the door, and it can never be closed. He belongs on the side of a mountain.

And Pee Wee. The southerner who grew up with racism ingrained in his DNA. But Pee Wee was a strong man, and strong men could flush out such things with their own common decency. And so one day on the field deep in the south, with Robinson being subjected to the most vile abuse small minds could muster, Pee Wee wanders over to second base and puts his arm around Jackie, his friend. The southern boys went crazy….calling Pee Wee “nigger lover” and worse. But that was that. A turning point. Robinson wasn’t alone anymore.

I don’t think there were 2 baseball men my Dad admired more than Jackie and Pee Wee. And my Dad loved Brooklyn. Talked to me about those afternoons, when for 65 cents you could sit in the grandstand and watch Furillo throw from deep right field to third base……with no bounce. The ball on a line….like a 300 foot fastball. Or Campy hit the ball a mile with that squat, weightlifter’s body that seemed impervious to….well anything. Rex Barney on the mound. He might throw a no hitter and strike out 10 or last 2 innings and walk 6. It was said he pitched like the plate was high and outside. But it was said he could throw as fast as Feller too.

I know why he loved the Dodgers. I know why he loved Kahn’s classic book. My father was the most decent man I knew. He was my Pee Wee. My Jackie.

And I’ll never stop missing him…

In a bit..

–tf

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