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View From Lodi, CA: Remembering Ted Williams
This is a story about my mother, Ted Williams and a fishing trip they took together many years ago. My story is also about a wonderful kindness Williams did for Mom about a decade ago when she was down on her luck.
In 1956 my family moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Los Angeles. Puerto Rico was encouraging U.S. businesses to open on the island and the old Sears, Roebuck had just broken ground for its first store outside the continental U.S.
In the mid-1950s, Williams was a glad-hander for Sears. The company sent Williams to Puerto Rico to celebrate the grand opening by inviting government officials and other U.S. investors. Williams' visit would be highlighted by a deep-sea fishing trip with Sears friends and clients.
One afternoon, when my mother picked me up from school, she announced, "I'm going fishing with Ted Williams."
You can only imagine the impact this had on a young teenage boy who was an avid baseball fan.
Ted Williams! The Kid! The Splendid Splinter! Teddy Ballgame!
Williams had just come off a great year having hit .345. He narrowly lost the batting title to Triple Crown winning Mickey Mantle.
I tried every angle to con an invitation but kids flat-out weren't allowed. And adding to my angst was the cruel fact that I had never seen a major league baseball game. My professional baseball experiences were limited to the hometown Hollywood Stars and the Puerto Rican League San Juan Senators.
The fateful day of the fishing trip came and went. My mother reported back that everyone had a great time and that Williams could not have been more fun to be with.
In a futile attempt to appease me, Mom brought me a Sears sporting goods catalog with Williams' picture on the cover. I threw it away.
I kept up with baseball as well as I could from Puerto Rico. There wasn't much—incomplete box scores from the early editions of the New York Times, line scores from El Mundo and an infrequent Armed Forces Radio game of the week.
By 1959, I still hadn't seen a major league game but I was going to school on the East Coast, so I was getting closer. And in June, when Mom visited the school, she sprung me for a day to see the Yankees play the Red Sox.
To Mom's great disappointment, Williams wasn't starting that day. Why is anyone's guess since the Sox were having a typical lackluster season.
But in the 8th inning, the public address system blared out, "NOW BATTING FOR THE RED SOX, NUMBER 9, TED WILLIAMS."
Mom jumped to her feet and yelled, "Let's go, Ted!" while Williams gathered a handful of bats.
I'll never forget the sight of Williams striding toward the plate, swinging four bats over his head to limber up. Williams was the strongest good hitter baseball ever knew. No one ever hit so many home runs (521) with such a high career batting average (.344).
Williams took his stance in the batter's box. His gray traveling flannels were baggy. As was the custom in those days, Williams wore no batting gloves or helmet.
I wish I could tell you that Williams hit the ball into the upper deck. But he flied deep to center field where Mantle easily hauled in the 440 foot out.
Since that early summer afternoon more than 30 years ago, my passion for baseball has waxed and waned. But I've told the tale about Williams and the fishing trip to anyone who would listen.
And the story has a heartwarming footnote. A few years ago, Mom was hospitalized and I wrote to Williams. I reminded him of his Puerto Rico visit, the fishing trip and the joy Mom had watching him at the plate at Yankee Stadium.
I told Williams that Mom was recuperating from a hospital stay and suggested that her spirits would be lifted if he dropped her a note.
I never had a doubt that Williams would write. And sure enough, two weeks later, a pen and ink sketch of Williams taking his long, level swing arrived in the mail bearing the inscription:
"To Betty, with every best wish, your friend, Ted."