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My Dad, a ball, some snow, and Joe Torre

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By Kevin O’Connor aka koconnor67
My Dad, a ball, some snow, and Joe Torre

This is the kind of story that subtly illuminates some of the reasons behind our persona and our make up. It hints to how we become who we are and describes why our hero’s and champions earn their place in our hearts and minds, all the while performing consistent, ordinary, and average, only to be revered as extraordinary. I believe everyone has a story like this if they slow down long enough to experience it.

Christmas was almost 7 months ago yet I am reminded of a phone call I received from my dad right before the holiday. My dad is 63 years old. He has retired from the trades a couple of years back, has quit smoking (finally), and keeps a very part time job delivering vehicles for a large dealership in New Jersey. My dad’s name is Roy, or Roy Boy, or Leroy, but just don’t call him Francis or he’ll want to fight! That’s his little joke, or one of them, that sticks in my head whenever I tell someone his name. Roy is a baseball fan from another era. From a time before steroids, before multi million dollar contracts, and before his beloved Mets ever won anything more than his unlimited devotion, Roy is a fan of the game.

Roy took me to my first game back in 1976. It was a nice, warm, mid September evening at Shea Stadium and the Pirates were in town. We sat up kind of high and had a great view of the field. I remember Dave Kingman jacking a huge home run that seemed to climb forever. I was 9 years old. Roy taught me a few things since then about the game. He taught me how to score a play by the numbers, how to pull the ball, how to keep a hot grounder in front of me, and most importantly he taught me how to watch the game. I can go to any ball park, at almost any level of competition, and regardless of the teams I can enjoy a baseball game.

My dad gave me these things and I, in turn, have tried to pass them on to my 5 sons. I have coached the 4 older boys throughout little league, into there early teens, and will do the same with my youngest when he is ready. In my garage there is almost enough equipment to outfit an entire team short of catcher’s kneepads and a chest protector. I have taken them to games and attempted to share the experience in the same way Roy had done with me.

Remarkably I am not a Mets fan. I fell in love with Reggie Jackson and the ’77 Yankee’s and rekindled the affair when Joe Torre was named the Yankee’s Skipper in ’96. This makes for some good natured ribbing between us. Roy will call to tease me about a bad losing streak, or the Red Sox record, or the Yankee payroll, but in the end we talk about the game. My dad love’s the game. When he visits us here in Pittsburgh we schedule time to get to PNC Park to see the Pirates and whomever they are facing. Roy love’s the National League’s small ball, or little ball. He understands the squeeze, the hit and run, when to bunt, and when to bring the infield in. I’ll never forget watching the ’86 World Series with my dad when his Mets strung together a rally to beat the Red Sox in Game 6 and went on to win the Championship.

On a cold and snowy Saturday morning, just before Christmas ’08, Roy was hired to deliver a Luxury SUV to a high profile client in Southern New York. Initially he was reticent to drive the distance with the snow falling, but the dealer’s agent said he had called on Roy because he knew he could count on him, and it was for an important client. That client turned out to be Joe Torre. Through the snow Roy drove, to the address he was given, arriving just in time to help the Torre’s with their groceries. He was then invited in for a cup of coffee. Over refreshments they spoke of baseball- the game, the business, and its personalities. Joe was extremely courteous and genuine. After a short while Roy was looking to head for home. Joe asked him to wait a minute and brought out some balls to sign for some of the other guy’s back at the dealership. When Joe was done he turned to my dad and asked “Now what’s your name?” Roy replied that he was a Mets fan and appreciated it but quickly offered “My kid’s a big Yankee fan. Make it out to him would‘ya?”

Last month I drove the 6 hours to New Jersey and spent a few days with my dad. We watched a ball game on T.V., ate cheese steak sandwiches, kicked around a flea market, and spent some quality time together. When my dad handed me the “Torre ball” I couldn’t believe it. He had told me the story over the phone several months before but now it was in my hand. I realized I held something that would forever link my hero’s and champions together in one dramatic yet inanimate orb. Roy beamed as he read out the inscription in our familiar “Jersey” dialect - “Kevin – a true Yankee – Joe Torre” I was thrilled as he laughed. Joe Torre is a champion I admire. Roy, my dad, is my hero.



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