Seasons in the sunset - A seventy (+3) year old looks ahead and back

Seasons in the sunset - A 70 (+8) year old
looks ahead and back

Thursday, June 14, 2018

John, Red Schoendienst and me


June 7, 2018   New York Times
 
            Red Schoendienst, Cardinals Star and Oldest Hall of Famer, Dies at 95

When I read last week that Red Schoendienst, the St Louis Cardinals all-star second baseman,  had died I immediately wanted to call my brother John and talk about an incident from long ago that involved Schoendienst, John and myself. 
 
But my brother, an avid Cardinal fan, died two years ago, so I was alone with my thoughts.

The incident with Red Schoendienst happened during the early 1950s. My dad, John and I, were at the Polo Grounds, a stadium in New York and home of the then New York Giants. The Giants were playing the St Louis Cardinals, my favorite team as well.

We always arrived early, to watch warm-ups. Our seats were on the third base side, maybe twenty plus rows up from the field. John and I didn't sit long. We immediately raced down the stadium steps to the railing, next to the grass for a closer look at the players. Here we tried to get autographs, leaning over the railing, waving pencil and paper. I had a collection of almost fifty, which today, somehow, has vanished.
 
One day, as we stood there, Red Schoendienst  emerged from the dugout carrying a bat. He walked toward us and handed me his bat. I looked up at him in disbelief.  

Schoendienst's bat was - really - like none I had ever held or seen before. First of all, it was big, probably 35 inches and shaped like a milk bottle, overly fat at the hitting end. But holding it, it seemed light, especially for it's size. Schoendienst's name was engraved into the barrel.  

Brother John and I retreated to our seats with our treasure. As a scrawny eleven year old Red's bat was a bit large for me. John, however, was an adult size high school sophomore and the starting second baseman on the varsity.  He used the bat throughout the remainder of his season.

Over time the bat began to show signs of wear and tear. There were cracks, splinters in the handle and eventually it became a dreaded broken bat. Still, we didn't want to give it up. We examined it, surgeon-like, and decided that it needed "stitches." We hammered small brad nails around the splits and finished our  repairs by tightly wrapping  the handle with black friction tape. The bat was weakened, had lost it's power, it's pop, but it was still Red Schoendient's bat.  

John kept using the bat in his high school games.

Exactly when the bat became entirely unusable I'm uncertain. Nor do I know where it ended up. Of course, I wish we had saved it, but as children, with eternity before us, we had little interest in mementos, however cherished.
    
Which is why I wanted to call my brother. It's a feeling I have often, wanting to share a moment from my childhood, with a person who was there too. "Did you hear about Red Schoendienst?" I would have said, then, immediately, I'd mention  the bat: asking if he remembered it, what it looked like, how and when it broke, how long did he use it and finally what happened to it? That would take a few minutes, but after that we'd keep going, drifting back in time and rehashing old baseball (Cardinal) lore, Like, "Do you remember where Schoendienst batted in the order?" He batted second. Or we'd try to name the players at each field position. We'd mention that Stan Musial batted third, but who batted clean-up in the 1950s? I'd say Enos Slaughter.

Things like that: Just one of a thousand reasons I miss my loving brother every day.

Of course, we never know what to say about death, but we delight in making up little stories to give us solace. Here's one from me: "John probably met Red Schoendienst  in heaven and right now they're talking about the bat he gave us at the Polo Grounds."  
     
I'd bet on it. Thanks Red.    
        

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