Tag Archives: baseball

The man who would be my father

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair after chasing them away to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

by Stacey Warde

I learned the best example of manhood from a guy who was—I thought as a kid growing up—not very manly.

My stepfather, who died in 2008 from kidney cancer, didn’t have the physique of a man who would easily intimidate. He looked more like a New Jersey Italian teddy bear, a Mediterranean Buddha with belly to match, who loved to pass out cigars and pour a good stiff bourbon when the occasion called for it; he worked hard and celebrated life with gusto.

He had a lot of fight in him, fearless in his way, and he was pretty good about knowing when to use it, without resorting to fisticuffs. You always knew where you stood with him. He never minced words.

He took us on, some 50 years ago—mom, my brother and me— as if we were his own. He quickly laid down the law, setting boundaries and establishing family as the beginning and end of all things. He had been raised in the old ways of a New Jersey Italian where family and loyalty to one’s clan are as sacrosanct as the natural order of the universe.


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.

Sure, we liked him—as a friend—but when mom told us she was going to marry him and that he was going to be our dad, we rebelled. We tested him. When the cops came knocking on our door only a few months after the wedding, he stood by my brother and me as we bold-faced lied.

“Did you throw rocks at the old lady’s window?” he asked us, responding to a complaint from the neighbor woman—a cranky old bag who hated kids—as the cops waited patiently on our doorstep for an answer.

“No, we didn’t do it,” we protested.

“If my boys say they didn’t do it, they didn’t do it,” he said firmly, closing the door on the cops and sending them away.

Mom came home later that day and got straight to the point with my brother: “Why’d you do it, Nathan?”

“They made me do it,” he wailed, pointing his finger at me.

We both got whooped pretty hard for making our new dad look like a fool in front of the cops. He made clear that his authority was to be respected, or we’d pay the consequences. That was our first taste of fatherly love, Italian style.

“You don’t have to love me, but you will respect me,” was the message, and as time passed I learned to both respect and love my new father.


Dad put a lot of stock into “playing the game right.”

One summer years later, after he’d gotten his licks in as a father, he put together a traveling baseball team, hand-picked the players and helped organize the league. It was forward-thinking at the time for teens our age who wanted to continue playing through the summer, an idea that came long before the now super-hyped, expensive and prestigious traveling leagues we see today with their fancy uniforms and fussy parents and spoiled players telling the coaches what to do.

It was a big treat for us kids, too, getting to play past the usual short season of organized youth baseball; it was a rougher and scrappier kind of game, more in the dirt, and with other talented kids from communities beyond our own whom we’d never met before, and who also loved to play hard and get dirty. It was just the boys and their dads, who helped with the officiating and coaching, steeped in the passion of playing the game.

My dad instilled in me that summer a love for the game that went well beyond just playing good baseball. It had everything to do with how I played, and the way I carried myself on and off the field—do it with class, he’d say.

“If you can’t play the game right, don’t play at all!” he barked at me once when I’d tried a cleats-to-the-face slide into third base. He didn’t like foul play or cheats; he wanted me to know and play the game well enough to take advantage of my opportunities without resorting to cheating or foul play. “It makes you a better player, and others will respect you more when you play the game right,” he said. “You don’t have to cheat to win.”

And he benched me to drive home his point.

During another game, while pitching, I got increasingly frustrated because I was missing the corners, and throwing more balls, and wearing myself down. I still managed to hold off most batters, but was working too hard at it. My frustration got worse and I let anger take over and started throwing harder, straight down the pipe, but still missing, and digging myself into a hole.

My dad saved me from myself and pulled me from the game. But I was angry and didn’t want to leave and, in a fit, threw my glove into the dugout as I came off the field and he glanced up at me over his scorebook and said, “Do you want to sit out the next game, too?”

That’s all he needed to say, and I stewed quietly until the game was over. On the way home, he said, “I pulled you because you were playing blind. You don’t play blind. You’ll end up hurting yourself, or worse, someone else.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I didn’t hit anybody,” I said.

“I didn’t say you were wild. I said you were playing blind. You got too emotional. You let your emotions get in the way of your abilities.” I knew he was right and thought about it for the rest of the summer and still think about it whenever I start feeling like breaking down and “playing blind.”

“You play smart, son. That’s how you win.”


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own. From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle MIck, Aunt 'Net at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach.

We were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.
From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle Mick Radice and his wife, Aunt ‘Net, at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach on their wedding day.

As mom says, we were lucky he took us under his wing, flawed as he might have been, and through him I learned the measure of a man, enough so that I grew fond of him, loved him, and eventually, as a boy of 8, started calling him “dad.”

His most manly asset, though, was his fierce devotion to mom, which counts for a lot in my book. That made him as big a man as any I’ve seen in my life. He took on the role of husband and father where most men might have fled in the other direction.

As an Old School Italian, he was intolerant of disrespect. Once, at the dinner table, my brother mouthed off to mom and dad reached over with his spoon and rapped him on the head. “You don’t talk to your mother that way, ever!” he scolded. While today that correction might be seen as abusive, we got the message loud and clear and never mouthed off to mom again.

He defended and protected her in ways that are only now becoming clear to me as I watch her adjust to widowed life after nearly 45 years of marriage. She seemed to have fewer cares then, he wouldn’t allow her to become anxious or worked up and made sure all her needs were well met. He doted on her.

I seldom heard dad argue with mom; their arguments, he’d say, weren’t anyone’s business but their own. That’s why, when they needed to discuss something that might get heated, they took their personal business behind closed doors. They never raised their voices with each other, at least not around my brother and me.

He assumed the full weight and responsibility of father for children who, at least in the beginning, were not his own, including major expenses such as making sure our teeth were properly straightened.

“There’s my new pickup truck,” he teased when friends came over, and he’d point at me, asking me to smile so they could see my new braces. “Show them my new truck.”

He’d have to wait a few more years before he finally got the truck he’d always wanted but in the meantime he took care of pressing family matters, sacrificing his personal wants, making sure we all had what we needed first.


My biological father, meanwhile, deserted us when I was four; he didn’t put any time or effort into getting to know me, or my brother. He paid us no attention. He was a ghost in my life, a non-person, essentially, whose only historical significance to me was that of sperm donor. As a young boy, I’d ask mom what happened to him.

“You’re better off without him,” she’d say. At first, I’d get mad at her for saying such things; I didn’t believe her. How could I be better off without the man who was supposed to be my father? A boy doesn’t understand these things. He assumes that by rights the man who made birth a possibility would also take an interest in his own children.

After a while, though, I figured she was right, that he probably didn’t care, and that indeed I was better off without him, so I forgot about him, except for the one random visit he made to our home when I was about 10 to discuss visitation arrangements with mom and my new dad.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I heard from him once more when I was in high school and he sent copies of the New World Translation of the Bible favored by Jehovah’s Witnesses to me and my brother.

I took my brother outside with our copies of the “bible,” and showed him how we would appreciate the gifts by placing them in the gutter, pouring on gasoline and setting them on fire. As we watched the thin pages of the bibles crinkle into twisted ash, my grandmother pulled up beside the curb to park her car. She sat staring over the steering wheel, horrified.

What are you doing?” she demanded as she got out of the car.

“Oh, hi grandma, don’t worry; it’s nothing, just burning those fake bibles Jim sent us.”

I’d gotten to calling him Jim because that’s what mom had always called him, never “your father,” whenever she talked about him, which was rare.

The strange thing was I hadn’t thought twice about burning those books, and didn’t realize the real horror of it until I saw grandma’s face when she drove up. No one in the family valued books more than she did, coming from a family of educators; her mother, Marie Harding Thurston, and aunt, Ruth Harding, both had schools named after them.

For me, it was a kind of purgation.

I wanted to be rid of those books, and the false religion, and the show of some kind of weak Christian love from a man who didn’t want to be a father to his children.

Not long after I was married, I thought of seeking him out, to ask him personally why he hadn’t taken an interest in his two sons, but it was too late. He died when I was 23. He was 45, and had started at least two more families besides the one he started with us.

At that point, it didn’t matter much whether we “hit it off” or got on well. I was more interested in finding out what sort of man he was, whether there were patterns and habits of mind that I might have inherited and whether there was anything about which I should be concerned.

But any such opportunity was crushed when mom spoke up casually one afternoon as she and my wife relaxed at the dining table drinking tea and coffee. I was cutting an apple by the sink. “Oh, by the way, Jim died.”

I didn’t expect it to hit me the way it did. I didn’t shed any tears, but it troubled me and left me feeling vacant. My wife graciously walked over and put her arm around me. I must have felt like a sack of potatoes.


I might not have picked my stepfather as the “ideal” model of a man for a young kid looking for a strong father figure, which is what I wanted as a terrified little boy. I would have picked someone like my biological father, whose pictures mom kept showed a man with a powerful, muscular build. My one earliest memory of him, in fact, is of him putting his fist through the bathroom wall.

I learned quickly, however, that my stepfather cared with the kind of devotion that shows real backbone. He made a lot of sacrifices, and paid us a lot of attention. He was our protector, even without the intimidating manly presence a young boy might want in a father.

I’d seen him fearlessly go after people who wronged him or who showed the slightest disrespect, people, for example, who parked their cars in the handicap zone he’d had the city paint on the curb nearest the front door so that grandma could get to her car without trouble.

He’d run out, no matter who it was, and he’d confront the offenders, directing them away from the painted curb. Even the scary looking guys complied.

CULTURE.me-and-dad“Dad, you gotta be careful these days,” I said once during a visit to the old neighborhood, “there are a lot of gang bangers passing through the area now.”

“I don’t care,” he said, “they don’t belong there.”

I seldom heard whatever he said to people as they rummaged through his trash on trash days; but he’d shoosh them away and off they’d go.

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

As a father myself, I determined as much as possible not to be like my biological father, who it seemed to me, quit when the family he created put demands on him that he wasn’t ready to meet. He became a flyboy. He fled, spawning more families along the way, leaving more abandoned, fatherless children in his path.

I swore that I would never do that to my child; that I would never flee from my responsibilities, that I would break the cycle, as much as possible, and try to be a meaningful manly presence in my daughter’s life. I failed on many levels to give her what she needed but she knows that I love her and will not abandon her. She’s the apple of my eye.

Without my stepfather’s example, though, I might never have known what it means to be a father. Over the years, I’ve tried to emulate his commitment and respect and love for family. Mom was right. We were lucky to have found him. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.


Pacific Coast League Reunion

Oldest living New York Yankee recalls early Southland pro baseball

by Dell Franklin


Irv Noren threw and hit gracefully left-handed, led the league in just about every offensive category, and went up to the big leagues in 1950 and had an accomplished career until 1960, including three World Series victories with the Yankees.

While attending the Pacific Coast League reunion down at the Huntington Beach Library, and browsing through old photos and scrapbooks guarded by fanatics who followed and felt the PCL of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s was indeed the golden age of baseball, somebody told me Irv Noren was in the house.

I had been talking to aged diehard PCL fans and pointing out pictures of my dad engaged in the biggest, bloodiest brawl in the history of baseball between the Hollywood Stars and LA Angels in 1953, and when I spotted Irv across the room I instantly became a dog frantically wagging his tail and made a beeline toward him.

Irv was on a cane and as he conversed with several old geezers (that’s all there was at this gathering) I waited patiently beside him until he turned to me and I said, “My father, Murray Franklin, played with you on that 1949 championship team.” Then I showed him the ring awarded those champions that I had inherited from my father, and he shook my hand.

“Remember Murray very well,” he said. “Great guy.” And it was apparent right off that Irv, though in his nineties, was spry, mentally acute, and still inspired. I told him that in all the years my dad played pro ball (from 1937 until 1953) the Hollywood Star team of that era was his favorite. Of course, on that 1949 team, Irv could have been the inspiration for Robert Redford in “The Natural.” He threw and hit gracefully left-handed, led the league in just about every offensive category, and went up to the big leagues in 1950 and had an accomplished career until 1960, including three World Series victories with the Yankees, who got him in a trade with the Washington Senators after he had two solid years.

As soon as we were alone, I said, “You must be 92.”

“I’m 91. Going on 92.”

“You hit .319 in 1954. I had your card.”

“That was a pretty good year,” he conceded.

He said he roomed with the great hall of fame pitcher Whitey Ford from 1952 until 1956. They were still tight. He said Yogi Berra never got credit for being a great athlete, because of his squatty build. “I don’t think Yogi had three passed balls a year. He was as good as they come behind the plate.” A few enthusiasts began hanging around, for, with most of the old PCL players now deceased, Irv, along with Paul Petit and Dick Adams, were the only celebrities left. Before I moved on so others could pose for pictures with Irv, an admirer asked, “What about today’s players, Irv?”

“Bigger, faster and dumber,” he said, a twinkle in his eye. “I think Jerry Coleman told me that.” Coleman was his team mate with the Yankees and later a San Diego Padre broadcaster.

Another man who was part of the crew running the reunion came up with baseball card-sized black-and-white photos of Irv standing beside a famous singer as part of the local lore of the entertainment and film culture that surrounded the Hollywood Stars. Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Kim Novak and Anne Bancroft, among others, regularly attended their games. I instantly recognized the photo as one I kept among my dad’s archives.

CULTURE.Franklin, Murray - Detroit 1941

The author’s father, Murray Franklin, played with Irv Noren on the Pacific Coast League’s 1949 championship team.

“My dad’s in the picture,” I said. “And so is Sandlock, Frank Kelleher and Maltzburger.”

“We cut your dad out,” the man confessed.

“You know what my dad was like,” I said. “He’ll rise from his grave and kick your ass.”

“We know that. We’re sorry.”


One had to be around to appreciate what the old Pacific Coast league meant to kids my age, which most of these people running and attending the reunion were when the league was all we had out here, the games were televised, the rivalries were rabid and tribal. I was at the game during The Brawl between the Angels and Stars, and since my father was in the thick of it, I told these geezers how I was out beyond the ropes in the outfield for the crowd over-flow, fought with Star knot-hole kids, and ran across the field and through the stadium and into the clubhouse, where, after the half hour brawl that took 50 LAPD to stop, the clubhouse looked like a field hospital in a combat zone.

One man in a wheel chair told me, “Those were the days. I loved the San Francisco Seals. That’s where I’m from. I’m still pissed off the Giants and Dodgers came out here. What they call the PCL now is a crock of shit.”

The big leagues were what we got on Saturday’s televised “Game of The Week.” The PCL was a quality league full of veterans who’d played in the big leagues and those moving up (Joe DiMaggio, Bill Mazeroski, Ir Noren, Gus Zernial, etc). Games were televised at night Tuesday through Friday with a day game on Saturday and a doubleheader on Sunday. The ball players on all the teams along the coast—from Seattle down to San Diego—were heroes to us kids, and since I was the son of one of these men, to come to this reunion was a nostalgic journey and a thrill unparalleled.

Wherever I went, with my three friends who came with me, I told stories. Dick Adams, 96, former Hollywood Star, player-manager, high school teacher-coach, professional musician, sat at a table with his baseball cards, a few teeth missing, bright and jovial, telling stories. I told him of the time a pitcher named Bear Tracks Greer with Houston of the Texas league dusted my dad, who played for Beaumont, four times. Dad was ready to charge this scary backwoods monster, when the catcher warned, “Bear’s crazy. He’s not like other people, he’ll drill you with that ball from five feet, right between the eyes, dehorn you. He can’t get you out, so he figures if he’s gonna walk you he might as well knock you down four times—nothing personal.”

“Knowing your dad,” Dick said, “I’m surprised he didn’t charge him.”

“He was backwoods, Dick. Crazier than Bobo Newsome. Only reason Bear Tracks Greer wasn’t in the big leagues was because he was too crazy, tearing up bars at night—uncivilized. He met dad in the clubhouse at the Texas League All Star game, drunk as a skunk, put his arm around him and said he loved him and offered him a slug of the jug he was holding. He was supposed to start the game but passed out on the training table.”

“Yeh, if he’s crazier than Bobo, I can see it.”

Dick then told me and my friends about a woman in an elevator who informed Joe DiMaggio, who was with two pals, she could make him happier than his wife of the time—Marilyn Monroe. When Joe refused, his buddies asked if she’d mind taking them on instead. She told them to get lost.

Dick left us with this one: “I never drank much and I’m still kicking at 96, but I only got one year in the big leagues. My brother Bobby drank like hell and got in 14 years!”


Later, a good Samaritan found the glossy of the original photo that had left my dad out. My pals and I wandered over and met with Noren. He was still standing, cane discarded, asked one of my pals, Dave, if he could get him a glass of water. Dave took off. When he returned, Irv thanked him, drank, and we got him to talk. The man was a star athlete at Pasadena High and Pasadena City College, actually played professional basketball for Chicago in the NBA during the 1946-47 season.

He talked of his baseball teammates, guys like Hank Bauer and manager Ralph Houk, who served in WWII. “Seems like all of us served, and a lot of those guys saw heavy action, but they never talked about it. Mickey Grasso, a catcher, my teammate with the Senators, was a tank commander, in charge of a bunch of those cracker-box tanks we had, and they were no match for those damn Panzer tanks, and they were out-numbered. It was toward the end of the war, so Mickey had his guys jump out of their tanks and give the heil Hitler salute. You were better off captured by the Germans, because they weren’t like the Japanese.”

I held the black-and-white glossy of Irv and dad and his teammates and the celebrity singer. They all looked so young, and especially Irv, who was 24 at the time and about to go up the following year to start his big league career. Now Irv was the last one standing, Mike Sandlock having died recently at 100. Mike used to pick me up off the ground when I was a 7-year-old in the clubhouse, rub my face against his rough beard, and say, “You a lover or a fighter, Little Meat?”

“A fighter!”

“Thatta boy.”

My friend snapped a photo of Irv and me, the photo held out front in my hand. Afterwards Irv sipped his water and asked, “Who brought me this glass of water?”

Dave said, “I did.”

“Thank you very much,” Irv said, all grace and appreciation, just like he played the game. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. More of his sports essays can be found at his website: dellfranklin.com.

Crossing the color line—again

Cuba, baseball and Obama

by Dell Franklin

GAME TIME—President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba applaud a run by the Tampa Bay Rays during an exhibition baseball game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, March 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

GAME TIME—President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba applaud a run by the Tampa Bay Rays during an exhibition baseball game between the Rays and the Cuban National Team at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, March 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I was four when we lived in Havana, and though I recall nothing concrete, there are swirling images of bright colors and energy and activity and non-stop, fast-talking voices and rousing music. My father was playing professional baseball in Cuba during the winter after a season in Tampico, Mexico, where he played after leaving the big leagues for better money.

On my wall is a small black-and-white framed photo of dad with his teammates on his Cuban team, the only American among black and lighter-skinned men of Spanish ancestry against a backdrop of a rickety stadium. A man of high passion and strong opinion, dad loved Cuba and had already learned the language while in Mexico. As a man raised in the Great Depression and serving in World War II, he was convinced the secret to life was making the best of every situation, to ignore hardship and differences in culture and concentrate on the joy of relating to people and their customs.

Dad remembered Fidel Castro as a polite kid wanting to be a ball player and working out with his team and having a “decent glove as an infielder for a tall gangly kid, but couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle as a hitter.”

He talked of the fans: “It was love-hate. They were rabid, much more so than American fans, even New York and Detroit and Philly fans, who were real wolves. Cuban fans bet on games, bet on innings, bet on at-bats. The cities and towns practically closed down when there was a game. They came to the park or listened on radio. They were rough on you if you didn’t produce, and if you were an American with a big name and came down and laid an egg, didn’t come through in the clutch, they would literally run you out of town. I was fortunate to play well down there until the malaria I got from the South Pacific during the war recurred.”

Mother said: “The Cuban people were very warm and good-hearted. No matter how poor they were they seemed good-natured and happy about what they had, there was a spirit and a soul about them, they were not afraid to reach out and embrace you. At night, Murray and I would go out after the games, very late, because it was so exciting, and also we had not seen each other for almost two years while he was away during the war, and we would go to the cantinas and clubs, and there was always music, and the people loved to dance, and we loved to dance, the parks were always full of people playing games or playing music, there was so much life and excitement in Havana, it was a city of ongoing festivity that never shut down.”

CULTURE.murray in cuba

Murray Franklin, back row, second from right, an infielder who played with a Cuban team in the late 1940s, said this about Cuban baseball fans: They were rabid, much more so than American fans, even New York and Detroit and Philly fans, who were real wolves. Photo courtesy of Dell Franklin

Dad talked of his teammates and players such as Minnie Minoso and Sandy Consuegra and many others, the black ones like Minoso not allowed to play ball in America no matter how gifted they were, while the lighter skinned Cubans were allowed to play before the color line was broken by Jackie Robinson. Minoso finally established an illustrious career in the big leagues in his 30s.


Murray Franklin at bat in his Cuban team uniform.

Dad said: “The Cubans played with a different emotion, what you would call flair. You could call them showboats. They came from a different background, a different culture. What I learned about them was that if you made an effort to learn their language and made an effort to be friendly they would do anything for you and were very loyal, they would take you into their homes and no matter how poor they were or how little they had in their pantries, they would serve you their last plate of rice and black beans, because you were a guest, and they liked you. They had this inborn quality of thinking about you first, a trait I find very rare and good in people and which I tried to copy as a man, because, in the end, it serves everybody better to share what they have. You are always learning in life, and my experience in Cuba taught me humility, even though I was a pretty humble guy to begin with and always appreciated what I had.”


Cuban baseball players risk their lives to come to America to play the great game, possibly to live in freedom, make real money, and compete against the best to show us just how great they really are. They play with a different rhythm and instinct pleasantly devoid of over-coaching and over-training, like kids growing up in the sandlots and dirt parks a century ago, like Cobb and Ruth and the Gas House Gang; so unlike the controlling and insane supervision and overexposure of American Little League and the structured and robotic techniques taught to and applied by American players along with the new metrics moving them around by front office stooges and automat coaches like chess pieces.

Cuban ballplayers are colorful, ours are not.

Imagine the culture shock of Cuban ballplayers coming to America and facing the vastness of our country, the huge shiny powerful cars marauding our massive highways, the sudden big money, the freedom, the incredible hi-tech toys and the splendor of even our minor league systems, much less the luxury of the big leagues. Imagine their reaction to the tight-lipped grimness of the baseball tradition in America…

…And then imagine our players, raised in a culture of over-abundance and entitlement if you are a big league prospect, the best food and equipment and stadiums and pampering, and going to Cuba and playing ball there, seemingly for a pittance, in seedy surroundings, for love of the game and patriotic reasons of one-upmanship on a country like ours.

Baseball, our great game, is their great game also, and now our President, Barack Obama, is trying to renew relations with Cuba, recently by using baseball as a sort of bridge to build a new relationship of visiting each other and sharing.

Meanwhile, politicians on the right squawk sanctimoniously of how Cuba is a Communist country punishing its people and denying them human rights, while at the same time these very same hypocrites wish to deny women in our country the right to make their own decisions on abortion, seek to deny black people the right to vote, try to destroy the first health care provider in our country primarily for the poor, and hang on to a cold war mentality that has long ago dissolved, and a bombastic occupational foreign policy that has failed miserably and infuriated most of the world.

We negotiate trade and exchange tourism with Vietnam and China, supposed enemies, and seem to have no problem with their regimes, or their propaganda against America, and they seem to have no problem with our history of exploiting Latin and South American governments for decades, assassinating their leaders and replacing them with any ruthless despot who would do what we told them for military support while these military puppets and millionaire aristocrats tossed crumbs to their impoverished people and jailed or murdered them if they rebelled.

And for what?

What Obama is trying to explain to the mindless knuckleheads in this country is that what he is doing is about people—their people and our people. It is about allowing their people to taste a little of what we have while we taste a little of what they have, and in the process we can learn a little something about each other without trying to turn their country into South Florida. It is about no longer demanding THEY change before WE concede even to talk to them because of their terrible record on human rights, or about us imposing our political philosophy and ideology on them, or boycotting their goods and placing embargoes and strangling their economy and rendering their people poorer than they already are.

And for what?

Cuba is a proud country with as many social ills as we have, but what it is really about is Cubans and Americans, the lot of whom, if we ever met, would probably like each other, and have a great time together, if we just for a minute allowed ourselves to have a few beers and forget about politics and history and perhaps watch a baseball game together, whether it be here or there. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., and spent many years of his life active in baseball, teaching, coaching and playing, learning from all-time greats and keeping a wary eye on how the game is played. More of his work can be read on his website, dellfranklin.com


Corporal Lavery

By Rick Kelso

Ft. Dix, New Jersey, 1964

i want you

I was a private in the US Army, 20 years old, fresh out of boot camp and medic training in Texas, having just arrived at a steamy double-bunked wooden transit barracks in Ft. Dix, New Jersey. I was lowest of the low, headed for Italy as soon as my orders came in, was told I’d be here between 10 days and 2 weeks. It was July—muggy, blazing misery. All around me in the barracks were fellow flunky privates and a scattering of NCOs in their perfectly starched uniforms who quickly made their bunks and locked up their trunks and headed to the PX snack bar to idle away their time playing cards or bullshitting.

Except for Lavery, a corporal in army-issue boxer shorts and wife-beater T-shirt who was probably around 35 but looked 50 with a scarred, seamed face and two inflamed eyes glinting with a depravity and danger I had not yet witnessed in my limited years but recognized instantly by instinct. He sipped from a pint of cheap bourbon. Lavery was my bunkmate. When I showed up with my duffel bag he sat on the bottom bunk and sized me up with those eyes and in a thick southern drawl told me, “Y’all got the top bunk. Toss yer shit up there.”

I did as told. Lavery was no more than 5 feet 8 and 140 pounds, stringy, concave, with a 5 o’clock shadow. He watched me assemble some of my gear on the top bunk and offered me a no-filter Camel. I shook my head, told him I didn’t smoke.

He looked me over—a fresh-faced ex jock Southern Californian without an ounce of fat, who scored the maximum on the physical fitness tests at my last two posts. “You will,” he said.

The barracks was nonstop noisy, with about 80 troops squashed together. Some privates, with no rank on their sleeves, knew each other from their last posts and gabbed or played cards. I sprawled on my bunk and read Steinbeck. Lavery sat on his bunk and studied nudie magazines and finally asked if I was reading a “crotch novel.” When I told him Steinbeck, he snorted derisively.

I swung over and sat on my bunk, legs dangling down. Lavery peered up. He had opened a large wooden box with about a dozen knives, one of which he began sharpening with a stone. Bowie blades, switch-blades, bayonets, a damn machete, etc.

“Come on down here,” Lavery said.

I jumped down.

“Sit down, troop. Lavery ain’t gonna bite yer ass or rape it.”

I sat down beside him, but not too close. He handed me a bayonet. “Got that from a dead Chinese in Korea. Seventeen years old and I’m on Pork Chop Hill. That’s no shit. Been busted eight times. Ain’t gonna get no rank til Veet Namb gets goin’. And it will—count on it. Y’all lucky you goin’ to Europe. I’m goin’ to Wurzburg, Germany. Ah prefer the Philippines. Almost married me a whore over thar. Got some fine whores in Copenhagen, too.” He finished off his bottle, dug into his duffel, withdrew another, opened it, handed it to me, issued me a look indicating I’d be on his bad side if I refused, so I took a welcome slug and thanked him and handed it over and he told me they would have kicked his ass out of the army a long time ago for brawling and drinking and punching out a lieutenant if he wasn’t a decorated combat vet who’d already done a tour in Viet Nam in 1962—a volunteer. “That motherfucker’s gonna bust wide open and be a damn sight worse’n Korea, trust me, boy.”

We shared another slug. He showed me each knife. Then he said, “Tomorra mornin’ they’ll wake yore ass for KP at three. Y’all be on KP til eve-nin’. Then y’all go on 24-hour guard duty, 4 on, 4 off, then back on KP, ’til you get yore orders. Y’all suppose t’ put yore fatigue jacket on the back of yore bunk so’s they kin see y’all a private and wake yore ass up. What I’d do, if I was y’all, is borra one of my jackets and put it on the back of yore bunk so’s they don’t wake yore ass. Nothin’ worse’n KP and guard in fuckin’ July.”

He handed me one of his faded fatigue jackets, the area where his staff sergeant stripes once were darkened. I placed it over the back of my bunk.

It was evening by the time we’d consumed over half the bottle, when suddenly a black buck sergeant with the wasp-waist of a welterweight and the shoulders and arms of a battleship jumped up on his foot locker and, shirt off, began ranting about black power and wanting to challenge any white motherfucker in the barracks to combat. He was in his boots and fatigue pants and as scary as Sonny Liston. While a handful of blacks chuckled, all white men paused from their card games, reading, and bullshitting, to stare silently at the black man until Lavery suddenly snatched his Bowie knife and sprung across the barracks quick as a cat and had this knife at the man’s throat, a wild gloating grin on Lavery’s face.

“You want it now, nigger boy.” he said evenly, calmly “I’ll slit yer fuckin’ throat ear to ear and sleep like a baby, motherfucker. Come on, say the word.”

The powerful and enraged black sergeant went limp as he towered over Laver. He swallowed. He blinked. He slowly shook his head. Lavery quickly withdrew his knife, stared at him. The sergeant sat down on his foot locker. And hung his head. Lavery turned around and walked back to sit beside me.

“Got nothin’ against niggers,” he told me. He was neither shaking or breathing hard. “Served with some good ones in Korea and Namb. One man’s good as another. Don’t know what got into that nigger, but I reckon he’s calmed on down.”

After finishing the bottle, Lavery took me to late chow and I passed out on my bunk. Around 3 in the morning I heard the barracks sergeant rousting privates for KP. They didn’t roust me. I went back to sleep and when I awakened around six, Lavery was up and freshly shaved and alert in his tailored fatigues. He grinned at me, held up his fatigue jacket with corporal stripes. I dressed, cleaned up, ate chow with Lavery and fell out at 7 with 15 or so NCOs to be accounted for. Right off, the barracks sergeant recognized me in my baggy, funky fatigues.

“Why the fuck ain’t you on KP, troop?” he yelled at me.

“Nobody woke me up, sergeant,” I retorted, while Lavery kept a straight face.

“So you’re a fuckin’ wise-ass, think you can out-smart the US Army, huh?”

“No, sergeant.”

“Well, we will fix your ass good, Kelso. We will find you a shit detail that’ll make KP and guard duty seem like child’s play.”

While NCOs scattered, Lavery winked at me and joined them. Half an hour later an MP jeep pulled up and a spec.4 walked in. The barracks sergeant pointed to me. “Take that cake-eating motherfucking goldbricking wise ass and work him ’til his cheesy faggot dick falls off.”

I followed the spec. 4 to his jeep. He took off and surveyed me as we sped along through the vast post. He was around 25, squeaky clean in tailored fatigues. His name tag read KEARNS.

“I’m company clerk,” he said. “We need somebody to clean the day room and mow our lawn. I belong to a special unit of MPs who do honor guard duties. Strictly crack troops. We got our own chef, so the chow’s first class. You won’t have to do much.” He glanced at me. “Anything’s better than KP and guard, especially in this heat.”

He pulled up to a barracks beside a wooden dayroom with orderly room attached. In the day room, he handed me a broom, mop and bucket. I swept and mopped the day room and was done in about an hour, pausing several times to toss darts and shoot pool balls. Kearns came back out and told me to mow the lawn, which was very small. Crack troops, immaculate in tailored fatigues, trickled in for chow. They ignored me as I ate with them and talked about softball. The chow was the best I’d eaten since joining the army back in January.

When chow was done, I wandered into the orderly room to ask Kearns if there was anything else he wanted me to do. He and the burly old first sergeant, with 6 stripes and diamond in the middle, drank coffee. The top smoked a cigar. He asked if I wanted coffee. I had some coffee. The first surveyed me as I stood studying several softball trophies in a case behind glass.

He said, “We got a tough softball league on post. Very competitive.” He continued to appraise me—a kid who had his own share of baseball trophies in my old bedroom in Southern California. “You a ball player?” He puffed his cigar, lifted his feet onto his desk. He had hash marks from two wars and the combat infantry badge at the pocket of his khakis. When I nodded, he said, “You look like a ball player. You any good?”

“Played college, sir. I was a prospect. Had offers to sign a pro contract.”

“So what happened to put you in this piss hole like this when you could be playin’ ball?”

“I’d rather not talk about it, sir.”

He took two puffs. “Where’d you play?”

“Southern California, sir.”

“What position?”

“Short, second, centerfield in college.

“What about softball?

“It’s all the same. Gotta hit it and catch and run the bases.”

He glanced at his clerk, who’d been following our conversation with sly amusement. “We’re in the tournament right now, for post championship. We won it two years back. Right now our centerfielder’s on emergency leave for two weeks. You got your gear?”

“Spikes and glove are in my duffel, sir.”

He slipped his feet off the desk and turned to Kearns. “Write him up a ‘permanent day room orderly’ slip, Kearns. I think we got a ringer.” He turned back to me. “You a ringer, Kelso?”

I nodded.

That afternoon, Kearns drove me back to the barracks where I handed the ‘permanent dayroom orderly’ slip to the barracks sergeant. He read it, shook his head slowly, then nodded, peered up at me with a single probing eye. “Looks like you’re learning,” he said.

Kearns waited in the jeep while I rushed in to grab my spikes, socks and glove. Lavery was on his bunk, gazing at a nudie magazine, nipping. I informed him of my good fortune. He was not in a good mood. “Told yah so, kid.” He was nipping from a bottle of terpin hydrate—military cough medicine. He held it up. “When y’all run out-a cash, y’all can always get this cough medicine from the dispensary—it’s got ten per cent alcohol.”

That night, my first time up, I decided to hit left-handed. I’d never played fast pitch softball. A natural right-handed hitter, I always hit batting practice left-handed and was a better low-ball hitter with much more power. On the third pitch, batting seventh, with a man on and no score, I connected and drove a boomer that took off to dead right field like a golf tee shot, kept soaring. The right fielder never turned around as it landed 20 feet over the fence. As I rounded the bases, my new and temporary teammates went wild, greeting me at the plate like a hero. We won the game. I hit a line-drive-double, right-handed, later on and scored. I glided around easily in the outfield. I realized right off I was the best player on the field. We played four games and won the championship and I ripped shots all over the field from both sides of the plate and stayed on as permanent dayroom orderly until I got my orders, eating chow and hanging out with the top and Kearns.  I was an equal, one of the boys.

I had joined the army because of complicated circumstances of disillusion and self-imposed defeat as a major league ballplayer’s son, developing, when I quit, a phobia of being on a ball field ever again, my heart broken by baseball, my once great dreams replaced by the infantile impulse of becoming a writer.

During this time Lavery continued to suck down cough medicine and grew morose and ragged. When I tried to thank him and inform him of my good fortune, he snorted and muttered as he lay sideways on his bunk, “Baseball, softball…none of it means shit to me, even if it means shit to y’all and everybody else.”

I shipped out a day before he did and he was passed out when I came to say good bye. §

Rick Kelso is a former boxer and drinking companion with Dell Franklin. He doesn’t get out much, so you’re not likely to see him anywhere, and if you did, you wouldn’t want to meet him. He’s a washed up, suicidal liberal who sits at home all day, writing and dreaming of better times.