When we are young, we often find heroes and heroines — people of some note who in some way manifest qualities we hope to acquire. For males of my generation, many of those heroes were either cowboys or athletes or both. As such, some of my boyhood heroes included Jimmy Piersall, Shane, and Hopalong Cassidy. And Red Schoendienst.
Red played a significant role in my life. He provided an early example of courage in the face of hardship. Later he provided a connection with my mother.
Red had a Hall-of-Fame career as a second baseman and then as a coach and manager. At the time he became a hero, he was playing for the Milwaukee Braves. His career, however, came to a halt because of a bout of tuberculosis. But he came back.
I remember seeing the game in which he returned from his illness and came to bat as a pinch-hitter. He received a warm ovation from Philadelphia fans. As he came to the plate, I was impressed by Red’s courage and persistence, an early lesson in facing and overcoming hardship. My mother, who watched the game with me, also was impressed.
It turned out that Red stayed in my mother’s mind and heart. She was pleased and excited when I shared his autograph with her. Then in 1989 I was visiting my parents and wanted to ride up to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame. My Mom hesitated in going until I told her “Mom, Red Schoendienst got elected to the Hall this year.” She changed her mind. I still see her standing in front of Red’s new plaque, whispering “Good for Red!” That trip with my parents became a memorable one, a trip my mother and I talked about 5 years later as she lay dying.
My mother had endured her own hardships in life including her mother dying when she was 6 and later losing my 2 sisters. So I suppose she recognized a fellow sufferer of pain in Red and appreciated someone who didn’t let the suffering break him.
The memory of Red Schoendienst coming in as a pinch-hitter stays with me as a beacon of hope, especially since I too suffer respiratory problems and know too the joy of clear breathing. He’s still alive, God bless him. I expect when his time comes to cross over, my Mom will be hoping to shake his hand.
Reflections: Did you have any childhood heroes or heroines? How did they impact your life?