Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Getting Old

No, not me.
Although I really am feeling my age a little more every day, I am referring to this business of acknowledging the death of someone I knew. Damn, I'm not THAT old!
Last Tuesday the father of one of my dearest friends passed away. He was another hometown hero, but of a different sort. I wrote about Don Cardwell in my last post, who was a major league pitcher for about 13 years.
Bob Estes was not known on the national stage like Don, but he was beloved in this town. Bob anchored the local AM news station WSJS for many years. He started at the station in 1941, and stayed there until his retirement in 1979. During that tenure, he also spent 11 years as a TV personality, anchoring the WSJS Evening News at 6 and 11. When WSJS sold the TV branch, Bob stayed with the radio company, and residents of this area never tired of his eloquent voice.
I met his son Chris through my wife in the mid-70's. Like most teenagers, I didn't listen to the old AM news station much on my own, but I worked with a man who listened to nothing but WSJS. I actually came to enjoy the local personalities on the station, especially since their arrival on-air meant that damn Limbaugh guy's show was finally over. I knew Chris for some time before I finally made the connection between him and the Estes that I heard on the radio almost every day. Later I was fortunate enough to get to know Chris' dad a little better and occasionally did some work around their home.
Bob was the quintessential gentleman. He loved poetry, and to hear him recite was a privelage.
He was able to recite Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Wreck of The Deutschland" in it's entirety even at 93.
This past fall Bob lost his wife of 68 years, Carol. I can only imagine how tough it must be for my friend Chris to lose his father so soon after saying goodbye to his mother. I attended Carol's funeral. During the service, mention was made of her gift of writing poetry. They played a recording of Bob reciting one of Carol's poems. It was incredibly moving. By the sound of Bob's voice, I assumed the recording had been made years before. After all he was 93 now. His voice was so strong, so vibrant, so powerful, reading the writing of his nearly life-long partner. While talking to Chris and the family after the service I found out the recording had been made the day before. What a gift, to have a voice like that! He had apparently considered doing the recital live at the service, but he was a perfectionist, and he was afraid he would get too emotional to do it properly.
His voice was his art.
Bob Estes was a gentleman's gentleman, he will be missed.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

On the Passing of Don Cardwell - A Hometown Hero

A true hometown hero, Don Cardwell, passed away on Monday, Jan. 14. Cardwell was a major league pitcher for about 13 years, playing for 5 teams in the NL.

Cardwell was born and raised in Winston-Salem and attended Gray High School on the south side of town. He raised his own family in the suberb of Clemmons, where I grew up. His son, Gary, and I were friends, as were all kids the same age in Clemmons. We all were in the same class at Clemmons Elementary, as there was only one class per grade. We played together, at recess and on the Little League field, although Gary was a much better ball player than I. Imagine that! Of course, Don himself was hardly ever around, but I didn't notice that. None of our dads were very visible. The mothers pretty much handled everything that had to do with the kids.

Gary's mother, Don's wife, was a Den Mother for our Cub Scout pack one year. I'm pretty sure it was the "Bear Cub" year, which would have been about 3rd grade. That was when I first realized that Gary's dad was the real deal. Gary was very humble about it, and did not talk about his dad much. It was when I saw the pictures and cool stuff at their home that I really connected his dad to "real" baseball, and I started paying attention. Then, lo and behold, there he was on one of my Topps baseball cards! Oh, the excitement! Of course, he played for Pittsburgh, who I hated, but I still rooted for him to do well. I soon learned that not only was he a "real" pitcher, but he had thrown a no-hitter even! It was back in 1960, when I was barely 2. Then he got traded to the Mets, which was like baseball purgatory, but at least I knew I could pull for him and it wouldn't be affecting my Red Sox negatively.

Imagine our surprise when, in 1969, the Mets won the NL pennant. They came from way back to take the NL East in the 1st year of divisional play when the Cubs went into a massive late-season slump. Then they surprised everyone by sweeping the Braves in the 1st NLCS. Cardwell did not get to pitch in that series, but the Mets won despite the great Hank Aaron who hit home runs in each of the games. We were at school during game 3 and came home to get the news that night. Mr. Cardwell's Mets (that's how we thought of them by then) were going to the World Series. And now they were going to be on the Big Stage. And we might get to see Gary's dad, the Major League pitcher, on the TV - WOW! Still, nobody really gave them much of a chance against the powerful Orioles, with the Robinsons, Frank & Brooks, and big Boog Powell. After all, they only made the postseason because of this funky new division system and the Cubs meltdown, but weren't they just special for getting that far!

In Game 1 it happened. Tom Seaver started, and then Don Cardwell got called in to pitch! Now I must admit that I needed Retrosheet's help with some of the details that follow, but I distinctly remember the emotions. I remember the excitement of seeing him take the mound, and I remember the disappointment when he only got to pitch 1 inning, which we were greatly upset about. Seaver had pitched the first 5 innings. He gave up 4 runs before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the 6th. Cardwell pitched the bottom of the 6th, sitting down 3 straight. We felt surely he would be back out, but in the top of the 7th, New York loaded the bases, then scored a run on a sac fly. With 2 on, 2 outs, and down by 3, Cardwell was replaced by a pinch-hitter, who promptly grounded out. Boy, were we mad! The O's held on to win with Seaver taking the loss.

On Sunday Jerry Koosman pitched. I have always thought Koosman pitched the whole game, but the Box Score shows the fraility of the human memory. He actually went 8 2/3 before walking Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. Ron Taylor came in and got Brooks Robinson to ground out for the save and a tied series.

On Tuesday, with one of our classmate's father in the big game, we got to go to the auditorium and watch the game on a TV that someone had brought in and set up on the stage. That afternoon we stayed at the school and watched together, even though school ended before the game did. The Mets starter was Gary Gentry, a rookie - surely we would get to see Cardwell in this game. But when he was pulled another youngster, some guy named Nolan Ryan, was put in. That was in the 7th inning. Well that couldn't last long, we thought. Ryan proved us wrong, finishing the game out for the save and a 2 games to 1 lead.

We got to watch the next 2 games as well, but Cardwell never got another chance. First Seaver, then Koosman threw complete game gems to end it in 5 games. Seaver had to go 10 innings after giving up 2 hits and a tying sac fly in the top of the 9th, but held on for the win. In game 5 Koosman gave up 2 homers in the 3rd inning and fell behind 3 - 0. We thought this is it, we would get to see Gary's dad for sure, which would be even cooler than game 1 since it might be for the series win. Koosman came back strong, though, and only allowed 1 hit and 1 walk after that to finish out the game. Although we (most of us, anyway) wanted the Mets to win, we also secretly hoped that maybe Koosman would falter, or the Mets wouldn't come back and there would be a 6th game, giving our local hero another shot in the spotlight, but it wasn't to be. The Mets scored 2 in the 6th, 1 to tie in the 7th, and 2 in the 8th. Koosman gave up his first walk of the game to lead off the top of the 9th, but then sat down the next 3 to end it and complete the upset. Cardwell only made the 1 appearance, but it was a huge moment for us all, and he got a hero's welcome when he returned home, even though he played for "one of those yankee teams"!

Of course, Cardwell's career was much more than that 1 inning in 1969. He started in pro ball straight out of high school in 1954, and made his ML debut with the Phillies in 1957. He never broke the .500 mark with Philly and was traded to the Cubs in May of 1960. Imagine, someone I knew had played on the same team with the immortal Ernie Banks! Just two days after that trade he pitched his no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals. In that game he walked the second batter in the 1st inning, but that was it. He faced just one batter over the minimum. He struck out 7, with 2 of those K's coming against the tough Clete Boyer, and he struck out the great Stan Musial when Stan pinch-hit for Curt Flood in the 8th.

In 1961 Cardwell had what was probably his best year. He went 15 - 14 for the Cubs, with an ERA of 3.82 and 156 strikeouts, which was 9th in the league. His 38 games started was the most in the NL. In October of '62 the Cubs traded him to the Cardinals for Lindy McDaniel, who was his opponent the day he threw the no-hitter. But the Cards traded him in November and he pitched the next 4 years for the Pirates. He was a starter his first 3 years there, but in 1966 spent most of his time in relief. He was then traded to the young Mets club, where he was predominately a starter again. He posted respectable ERA's with the Mets, but never had a winning season with them. This was surely at least partly due to the fact that, prior to that second half of '69, the Mets were just awful.

After the World Series year Cardwell didn't see much action in 1970, and was traded to the Braves that summer. He pitched in 16 games for Atlanta, mostly in relief. When the Braves released him that winter he retired and returned to North Carolina and his family.

For his career he was 102 - 138, with a 3.92 ERA and 1211 strikeouts.

He went to work, as so many former ball players seem to, for a local car dealership. He was their top salesman several years. He was also well known as a very good golfer, playing in a lot of the local pro-am events. Every so often he would pop up in the news, commenting for the local station on things like the strike in '94 or speaking at local events. Mostly, though, he shied away from attention and the spotlight.

He stayed active and only retired this past year, in the spring of 2007. He was still married to Sylvia, Gary's mother, at the time of his death, after 53 years. He was 72 years old.

Don Cardwell has left us, but I still have those memories of watching a local boy who made it to the show.

Thanks! :)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Southern Sox Fan?

I'm a Red Sox fan. In North Carolina. From North Carolina, even. It's actually a pretty serious part of my identity. It takes up way too much of my time, just ask my wife. During the season I get very far behind in paperwork, especially since I discovered "GameDay" on my computer (it's not like we actually get to watch Red Sox games here) and even more so since I found "The Joy of Sox". I got a call from a friend just last week who actually said "Hi, I just passed a car a lot like yours in a bad wreck, and it had a Red Sox sticker on the back. I instantly thought of you, and just wanted to make sure......Swear.

When I tell people who don't know me well I'm a Red Sox fan, or sometimes just when they see my hat, I inevitably get one of two reactions

A - What part of New England are you from...or

B - (if they've heard me speak) Oh, how long you been a Sox fan?, with that look - the one implying that I climbed on the magic bus in or around 2004.

My love for all things Sox actually goes back to my early childhood.

No, I wasn't born there. I was born right here in Winston-Salem, NC, and have never lived more than 8 or 10 miles from the city limits.

No, I didn't go to school there. I attended a tech school here.

No, my parents aren't from the Northeast. My mother is from northern Indiana, and my father grew up in very rural Tennessee, south of Memphis, near the Mississippi line.

My fanatic enthusiasm is the result of a confluence of circumstances, memories, and a lack of obvious other choices.

I guess one reason I am a Red Sox fan is that my parents never had, nor do they have, any affectation for any particular sports team. Neither of them went to college, so there was no loyalty to grow up with there. There were not any pro teams anywhere near either of their hometowns, so nothing there either. Not only that, but before I was born they moved to an area that was a barren wasteland for pro sports fans. When I was a child, college sports was the only game here in NC, and even though we have the NFL, NBA, and NHL here now, college still rules.

So it's no surprise that my dad was not all that into watching sports, although he liked to play. He played softball for the commercial league team at Piedmont Airlines, where he worked. I used to go to a lot of his games. He was a pretty darn good pitcher, actually. He also bowled in the company league.

He did take us on numerous occasions down to the local ball park, Historic Ernie Shore Field. (A post on Ernie is forthcoming!) I also went at least once a year with the Cub Scout pack I was in, and also with the families of various friends. One of the years in Cub Scouts, our den mother was Mrs. Cardwell. Her son Gary was in my class at school and his dad, Don, pitched in the Major Leagues! We went to several games that year. I loved the ball park. There we watched the Winston-Salem Red Sox play in the single A Carolina League. My local pride insists that I must add here that the Carolina League, while just A ball, was and still is considered the top single A league around. The team was the Red Sox A affiliate from 1961 to 1983. I was born in 1958, so I don't remember the prior years, when they were a Cardinals team. And I was too young to realize they were a "Minor League " team. I don't remember going to watch "A" ball.

This is what I remember.

We sat in the stands with our Red Sox mini-bats, waving our Red Sox banners, cheering for the Red Sox. I was too young to grasp minors vs. majors. I just knew the Red Sox were the good guys. They were the ones who were always in the 1st base dugout we sat behind. We got their autographs. We chanted "Let's Go Red Sox" and "Charge!" with the organ and the PA announcer. One great thing about it being single A is that we sat practically on top of the dugout almost every game. If the game got tight, and it wasn't late in a good season, you could always go find some empty seats right against the backstop behind home plate and razz the opposing batters.

In my youth, I didn't recognize the difference between a city 700 miles away (Boston) and a city 300 miles away (Atlanta). Heck, I even played little league ball for the Clemmons Red Sox! Why wouldn't I be a fan? Most of my friends were Braves fans. This was because their parents were Braves fans. Later I would realize why their parents were Braves fans. The Braves were from the South, as were they. My mom's Indiana roots kept that from ever being a real issue to me. The Braves had Hank Aaron. The Braves were the team they might actually drive to see a couple of times a year, even though the Senators were actually about the same distance away. But why would anyone go to DC when they could go to Atlanta cheaper, and stay in the South? Of course, we never did either one.

Another big reason for my devotion to the Sox was just me. I was not particularly athletic, so the rather laid-back pace of vacant lot baseball suited me just fine. If the kids on the Little League teams I coach now knew just how abysmal my batting was, they wouldn't put a moment's trust in anything I say! And my fielding was worse. But I loved the game, and baseball was the one sport where even over-sized guys like Babe Ruth or Brooks Robinson could be a star, so my fantasies could remain alive. Therefore I grew up more of a baseball fan than football or basketball, although as I got older I was drawn into the very rabid world of college basketball in North Carolina, and am now every bit as much a fan of UNC's Tarheels as I am of my beloved Sox.

Since athletics were not my strong suit, and I never experienced much success on the field, I felt a real attraction to the underdog in all things. I always felt like I was that underdog. Underdog was even one of my favorite cartoons! (God bless Sweet Polly Purebred) As I grew older and learned about the "real" Red Sox that "my" Red Sox were related to, I relished in the fact that they had not won a World Series since around the time my grandfather was born. That was a badge I could relate to! That's not to say I didn't want them to win that ultimate prize. I pinned my own hopes on them. I probably would have been better served to work on making myself better, but I just watched and rooted and bought heaps of Topps cards. I scoured the backs of the Red Sox players' cards to see which ones had played in Winston-Salem. I compared stats, and argued with all the Braves fans about Yaz vs. Aaron. I read about the Greatest - Ted Williams, and anointed him almost a god because he had gone to fight the Germans, just like my own Daddy! I adopted Yaz as my personal hero in the 60's, the savior who would bring the ring back to Boston and break the curse. I felt the crush as a 9-year-old when he won the Triple Crown, led us to a pennant, but fell short to Gibson's Cardinals.

By the time I was old enough to grasp the things that made all those around me fans of whatever teams they were fans of - family roots, schools, proximity, etc. - it didn't matter. I was a Red Sox fan, a defiant one, and damn proud of it. I remained a Red Sox fan, although I did go through an extended leave of absence. Not just from the Red Sox, but from practically all sports. By the early '70s I was completely distracted by...well, by the 1970s! If you couldn't strum it, smoke it, or lust after it, I wasn't that interested.

But I still followed from a distance. I watched them in the World Series in '75, and I revived my despisal of the Yankees as they won back to back in '77 & '78. I came back to baseball through individual heroes more than through my Sox. I loved Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, George Brett, Ozzie Smith, and Andre Dawson. When Wade Boggs came on the scene, I was back. After all, he had played in Winston-Salem. By the mid-80s I had 2 sons of my own, I was thinking T-Ball, Greenwell and Boggs were lighting it up, and Red Sox baseball ruled once again.

That passion came back even though I never got to see them play a game in person until 1999. (A post on that game is also forthcoming! It was VERY special) I remain one to this day, despite the fact that in 2004 the team changed my identity forever. I had always referred to myself as the "long-suffering Red Sox fan". You have to be a real die-hard to pull for a team with the history of the Sox for as long as I had before that year, especially when you're not even from there. Now I'm just another guy in a Red Sox cap, and most people assume I've been a fan for all of 3 or 4 years now. I must say - that really hurts.

However, I'll take that hurt as long as the Red Sox keep winning!

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Wow - it's now January 3rd, 2008. I opened this blog on August 25, 2007, just to get access to a blogger identity so I could post on another bloggers site. I quickly decided that I too could use the internet to spout a few viewpoints and put some things down on "paper" that I had been meaning to share. However life, work, the Red Sox, and my Little League addiction have consumed my existence since then. I have now resolved that, although I will always have something more important and more pressing to do, I WILL make the time to sit and write.
I will start with myself........tomorrow.
1st story will be - How the HELL does a guy born in Winston-Salem, NC end up a die-hard, love 'em or bite me, there is no other team, Boston Red Sox fan.
Stay tuned