A baseball post in a gardening blog should not be confusing to those who appreciate both. For me, the anticipation of gardening and baseball – both said to have “seasons” – make Chicago winters bearable.
My brother and I lived on Nelbon Avenue in Pittsburgh. It was a mostly blue-collar neighborhood where people lived that worked for J&L Steel, H. J. Heinz, Westinghouse and U.S. Steel. It had just enough suburban charm, however, to attract workers in education, medicine and maybe the corner store.
Most of us lived in small, two-bedroom cape cod homes on streets that encircled the hills & valleys of the city’s eastern outskirts. They all looked slightly different but nobody’s stood out much. You recognized your house for its small pieces of decorative trim or maybe its brightly-colored shutters. Maybe you had a flower garden. These homes were built quickly to house the enormous numbers of baby boomers that were to come.
Elroy Face lived behind our house on Beulah Lane. His house was pretty much like everyone else’s; plain, simple and adequate. He was a slight but muscular man that looked like he might work in a steel mill or a foundry. He didn’t. Elroy was a baseball player.
We were fortunate enough to live in Pittsburgh in 1960. That was the year the Pirates won the World Series in a season that ended with an exclamation point named Bill Mazeroski.
Although two other Pirates lived a forkball’s throw away from us we liked having Elroy as a neighbor. He was an inspiration to little leaguers like myself. As an outfielder I never aspired to pitch. But if I had, I’d have known who to talk to. Elroy’s winning percentage in 1959 (.947) is a record that still stands.
Though I certainly remember the cookout he hosted in his yard after winning the World Series, a quirky fact has always stood out even more to me. This was also noted at the end of Wikipedia’s article about Roy Face. After a long, statistic-filled tribute recognizing an outstanding career in professional baseball is the line, “Following his baseball career, Face became a carpenter.”
In this morning’s New York Times there is a wonderful article by Manny Fernandez. In When Players Like Duke Snider Were Also Neighbors the author writes about a time when professional baseball players like Duke Snider, who died this week, lived in blue-collar neighborhoods.
For many of us today it would be very hard to imagine a baseball star as a neighbor. Derek Jeter next door? Kerry Wood passing out Halloween candy? (Well, maybe.) Before there were private underground parking privileges and large contracts there was an era when baseball players played because they were driven to play the game. They worked at other jobs in the off season. And some, like Elroy, found manual labor jobs after they retired.
I will always remember my neighbor whose love of the game defined what baseball means for many of us.