I ran into Times Sports Editor Joe Ferolito at an eatery in Bristol. He was over there helping someone out, which seemed perfectly natural to me. Joe has been in the helping-someone-out business as long as I have known him.
“How are your boys?” he asked as we shook hands. Joe likes to keep track of “his” people. Josh got to be a Ferolito boy one summer back in the early 1990s. I thought Quincy was a heck of a drive just to play baseball. But we didn’t have a team for Josh’s age group. He, “Adam Ball” and Eric Ramsey went looking for a place to play. And Joe was there to help.
“Daddy,” I can still remember the excitement. “Mr. Joe said I could play center field and he might let me pitch some. Mr. Joe thinks I can lead off. Mr. Joe said we were going to be good. Mr. Joe said we were going to have fun. Dad, it is going to be great!” Josh wasn’t worried about the miles or the cost or the weather or the price of tea in China…and certainly not any inconvenience incurred by dear old dad. Mr. Joe was giving him a chance to play baseball!
I liked this “Mr. Joe” guy before I ever met him. Anyone that takes an interest in my children…
In the ensuing years, our paths have crossed on ball fields all over Northwest Florida. Usually he was the umpire; always smiling, seemingly oblivious to any shortcomings in his eyesight or judgment that I might be loudly pointing out to him. And in between close plays at second and fourth quarter free throws he’d be passing out gum to players on both sides. He seemed to be having more fun than anyone. For Joe, it was always the kids. I hope they have a clue!
I gave him the run down on Josh and Jess in between bites of chicken and creamed corn. He leaned forward when I got down to the expected twin girls. His eyes lit up and the famous smile opened wide. He was still interested in Josh! And he laughed out loud about the prospects of Josh changing two diapers at once. Of course, he quickly pointed out that girl’s softball was really a great sport…Mr. Joe was still making out the lineup.
Talk quickly moved to my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Joe brought up Stan Musial and Red Schoendiest, two of my all-time favorites. And then he mentioned Dale Long and Jim Greengrass. I liked to have choked on my okra! You’ve got to love this! Jim Greengrass was an outfielder signed by the Yankees back in 1944. He kicked around in the minors for several years before surfacing for the Cincinnati Reds in 1952. He was their regular left fielder in ’53 and ’54 before drifting into baseball oblivion. Dale Long, playing mostly for the Pirates and the Cubs, his only claim to fame was that he once hit home runs in eight
consecutive big league games.
Nobody but Joe would remember these guys. And he was just getting started! He brought up Ted Kluszewski. Which led naturally to Johnny Temple, Roy McMillan, Wally Post, Gus Bell…he was going down the Reds starting lineup in the mid-50s. I threw in Ed Bailey, a catcher, from Strawberry Plains, Tenn., just so he would know I was paying attention.
He reminded me of Joe Nuxhall’s major league pitching debut when he was 15 years old. We covered Harvey Haddix’s near-perfect game in 1959. We remembered the greatness of Sandy Koufax. And we didn’t leave out Bob Purkey, Dick Groat, Joe Adcock, Gene Freeze or Andy Pafko. I was down to the peach cobbler when we got around to Willie, Mickey and the Duke.
Joe didn’t read about these guys in a book. He, like me, saw them on the radio. KMOX in St. Louis, KDKA in Pittsburg, WCKY in Cincinnati would bring the players right into your living room! Harry Caray did the Cardinal games. Bob Prince described the Roberto Clemente led Pirates and Waite Hoyt was the voice of the Cincinnati Reds.
I sat down to fill my belly but I had been speed-warped back to a time where the grass was greener, the pace slower, life a tad less complicated. You didn’t have nothing, but you gladly shared it with your neighbors. And a late inning home run by Stan the Man or Frank Robinson won the game for his team and lifted the spirits of little hearts in backwater places like McKenzie, Tenn., and Ebro. What a delight! You only get to be young once and Joe had carried me back with him.
I hated it when the peach cobbler and tea ran out.
I thought about thanking him for the individual time he gave Josh a decade and a half a go. I should, at least, acknowledge the gentle nudge he had given so many young people on that twisting, winding, questioning road of life. I let it go for another time.
He out-fumbled me for the check and shook my hand again warmly as we stood up to go. “Tell your beautiful wife and the boys I said hello,” he said.
I enjoyed an excellent lunch. Joe paid for it. And we talked real baseball for an hour. You talk about a trifecta!
I called Josh as soon as I got home. You could feel his face light up from 500 miles away. “Dad, remember the Rotary Bowl in Quincy? Mr. Joe announced the game, then came down and gave out the trophies when it ended and invited both teams over to the gym where he had a meal ready for every one. Mr. Joe did it all, Dad!”
And so he did. And it was always about the kids…