As a young boy in the Bronx, I spent a lot of time hurling Spaulding or Pinky rubber balls to the bricks of my apartment building. A carefully drawn chalk rectangle served as a strike zone for my daily baseball games. And there was no doubt who I was, number 41, Tom “Terrific” Seaver. I copied him the best I could and back before the days of pitch counts, New York Mets manager, Gil Hodges, only lifted me for dinner, darkness or folding chairs. After dinner, neighbors would line up along the building encroaching my game. Unlike today, the pace of the game was never an issue. I never needed a pitch clock as I knew when Mrs. Rosenbarger from the second floor came out, I was done. She waved her cane and hissed like I was a stray.
A boy needs a hero and Lord knows how much I needed one back then. And Tom Seaver did not disappoint. He carried an average team on his back and whenever he was on the mound there was a good chance for magic. Confident, composed, determined he pitched the amazing Mets to a World Championship in 1969, defeating the once mighty Baltimore Orioles.
Tom Seaver, Hall of Famer, is 74 now and once again in the headlines, diagnosed with Dementia.
Upon hearing the news my heart sank, far deeper than the day he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.
I never got to meet my hero, but I came very close. Nearly twenty years ago at a professional development workshop, a long way from my brick backstop and Shea Stadium, I met an amazing gentleman who played ball with Seaver in his hometown of Fresno, California. A long-time friend of #41, he arranged an interesting correspondence. On day three of the workshop, he casually asked if I would like Seaver’s autograph.
Here is where we test our faith and trust in our fellow man. I mailed my beloved 1967 New York Mets yearbook to this gentleman with the hope that he would get it to Tom Terrific. And then hoped that Seaver would respond signed, sealed and delivered.
A short time later a package arrived. #41 had done what he always had: gone the extra mile. The packaged contained a note, an autographed picture, an autographed baseball, pictures including one of a special wall in his home embedded with baseballs from all his major accomplishments (many as you would suppose), and my 1967 Mets yearbook…
The last season I played baseball I got to wear 41. Just by chance, one would assume. And the last time I pitched I was a teen and still imitating Tom Terrific. At that time, I didn’t know the season and the start would be the last of my baseball life. It makes memories that much more poignant. Good times and not so good—just to be able to relive them enlivens the spirit.
In this life, we leave everything behind. It’s an inevitable process, but hopefully, we get to weave a long and beautiful story. But who are we when the pieces of the story disappear before we do? In my mind, Tom Seaver is still Tom Terrific. I hope with God’s grace there are moments he can feel the hearts that are fuller because of him, and the light he was for us young boys who needed a hero.