Tasting Life Twice

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The ‘Mad Dash Home’ of a Childhood Dream: a St. Louis Cardinals Story

In 1951, a twelve-year-old boy from a small town in north central Kansas wrote a letter to Enos Slaughter asking the Cardinal great for some advice on playing the game of baseball and also asking Mr. Slaughter if he had some suggestions on becoming a Cardinal bat boy. Slaughter took the time to send the young boy a hand-written letter, signing it “your friend.” In the letter, which was published on the front page of the Belleville Telescope (Belleville, Kansas), January 24, 1952, Slaughter offered advice on how to play the great American game and also expressed his wish that he could help his new pen pal become a bat boy for the Cardinals.

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That boy was my father. In the letter, Slaughter tells my dad, Eddie Tamerius, to “play ball, hard and honest” and “don’t swing at balls, too far over your head.” He also says, “Don’t be afraid to take that 1,000 to one chance for a base! The other fellow with the ball may hesitate just long enough, wondering what you’re going to do!” In 1951, that advice from Slaughter – to take a chance for the extra base – would have conjured up the cherished memory of Slaughter’s late game heroics only five years earlier in a play still recognized as one of the top ones in World Series history. In the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, with the score tied at 3-3, “Country” Slaughter (as he was nicknamed) took off on a called hit-and-run with two outs. Slaughter scored from first base on a double to left-center, as Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated in throwing the relay to the catcher. In what is remembered as the “Mad Dash Home”, Slaughter scored the decisive run as the Cardinals claimed their sixth league title.

My father grew up on the great plains of Kansas in a family that, in and of itself, resembled a baseball team. There were nine children (one girl and eight boys) in the lineup and Dad was at the bottom of the birth order as the light-hitting rookie on the team. His father worked the Rock Island Railroad line and was a devoted Chicago Cubs fan. Dad’s loyalties, however, were clearly with the Cubs’ bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Grandpa was away on the railroad, somewhere between Belleville and Topeka, Kansas, Dad would sit in the dining room listening through a Motorola tabletop radio as Harry Caray gave the play-by-play of the Cardinals games. The station signal came out of St. Joseph, Missouri and was strong enough for day games but would weaken considerably at night. Dad would listen through the AM static and on a piece of notebook paper, he would make a scorecard of the action he was hearing on the radio broadcast. (The family wouldn’t get their first television until 1953.)

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A few months ago, while preparing for my Uncle Dean’s funeral, I was searching the internet for obituaries. My objective was rather simple. I was trying to figure out the birth order of dad’s siblings. Nine children in one family is a lot to keep organized in your head. As I tried to sort through the “players” in the family lineup, my mental cogitations started to sound like an old Abbott & Costello routine. Let’s see. Who was first? Uncle Ernie? Or wait, was it Aunt Mildred? Ok, well if Aunt Mildred was on first, who was on second? And what’s on third?

While trying to answer these riddles I discovered that a lot of historic, small town newspapers have been archived in recent years and they can now be accessed online. In the course of my online browsing for obituaries, I came across a front page article about my dad’s correspondence with baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. The headline said “Want It Hard, You’ll Get It, Local Youth Told.” I was shocked. Dad had never told us about the letter. We had been following the Cardinals for a lifetime. While growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, my father had taken the three of us boys to numerous games at Busch Stadium. We had heard countless other baseball stories as Dad shared his remembrances of Al Kaline’s defensive prowess in the Detroit Tigers outfield and his cannon of an arm, of Bob Gibson’s intimidating demeanor on the mound, of Curt Flood’s career with the Cardinals and legacy in baseball and of watching the New York Yankees while stationed at Staten Island with the United States Coast Guard.

But this one was new: a hand-written letter from a Hall of Fame player for for the St. Louis Cardinals! A lot of questions came to mind. Did Dad still have the letter among his personal keepsakes? Given that it was so long ago, did Dad even remember writing the letter? How exactly did Dad become a Cardinals fan, given that his dad was a Chicago Cubs fan? What led him to write Slaughter in the first place? And how did the story originally come to the attention of the Belleville Telescope back in 1952?

As curious as I was to ask Dad these questions, I also started to think about another set of questions. What if Dad’s childhood wish finally came true? What if he could be an honorary batboy with the Cardinals for one day? While not as cat-quick as he once was when he was a spry, energetic twelve-year-old boy playing junior league baseball in a small town on Highway 36, perhaps Dad could symbolically fulfill his childhood wish in some small way. For now, I’d leave some of the original questions unanswered to see if the Cardinals would help us make a memory.

http://retrosimba.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/charlie_james.jpg?w=500I first enlisted the help of Charlie James, a former Cardinals player who roamed the outfield for the Redbirds from 1959 – 1964 and played on the World Series championship team of 1964. Charlie is a board member at William Woods University (Fulton, Missouri) where I work and is as gracious a guy as you’ll ever meet. Whenever I have opportunity, I like to ask Charlie about the past. Charlie has a locker room full of stories from his playing days with the Missouri Tigers and later, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a teammate of Stan Musial and batted against Sandy Koufax (hitting two home runs off of the great Dodger lefty, including a grand slam in 1962). Charlie shared the outfield with Curt Flood before getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds to make room for some guy named Lou Brock.

Charlie made an outfield assist by directing me to Martin Coco, the Director of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Martin read the original article with interest and appreciation and agreed it was a great story. He then offered to help us connect some of the dots in Dad’s lifetime of following the Cardinals by surprising our father with a memorable evening.

On Monday, August 5, twenty-four of us went to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals face the Dodgers. Dad thought it was just another Cardinals game, like so many others we have enjoyed before. Six of us left the family picnic at the Gateway Arch, under the pretense of needing to get a few more tickets at the stadium. Dad accompanied the group, ready to open his wallet for any extra tickets we might need. We walked around the stadium until we arrived at the VIP/Press entrance.

Dad wondered why we going in this particular door, after having passed numerous ticket windows along the way. To Dad’s question about what we were up to, Troy only said, “Dad, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Upon the hospitable welcome by Martin, we finally shared the news with Dad. He’d have to change his shirt. We had a different one for him to wear, an authentic 1946 Enos Slaughter replica home jersey made by Mitchell and Ness as part of their Cooperstown Collection. Dad put on the No.9 jersey that Slaughter made famous so many years ago.

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Then we showed him a framed copy of the front page of the Belleville Telescope from January 24, 1952.

“Where in the world did you get this?” he asked.

“Dad, do you remember writing Enos Slaughter 62 years ago?”

Dad replied, “I certainly do. I had told my dad that I wanted to be a bat boy for the Cardinals and he encouraged me to write them. I don’t know if he thought they’d actually write me back. But they did.”

“Do you still have the letter?” we asked.

“I wish I could say that I did but Mom and Dad had a flood in the basement when I was away from home and we lost most of my personal keepsakes.”

“Well, I told Martin that you were still pretty nimble and quick and that you could probably shag some fly balls still. But we have some other things planned tonight.”

Then, Martin did his maestro magic and kindly rolled out the Red(bird) carpet for our group. He took us on the field where we watched the Cardinals and Dodgers take batting practice. We saw Mark McGwire’s return to Busch Stadium as the new batting instructor for the Dodgers. We also saw the Busch Stadium debut of Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig who put on a power show in batting practice.

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The highlight, however, was Dad’s opportunity to meet Cardinal legend Red Schoendienst. A young 90 years of age, Red played for the Cardinals alongside of Slaughter. Red still comes to most of the home games, donning his own Cardinal uniform, with the striped socks pulled up high just as they were in his former playing days. No. 2 came over and visited with our group. We shared with him the story of Dad’s childhood dream 62 years ago.

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Dad mentioned how he grew up as a big fan of “Stan the Man, Enos Slaughter and Red”. Red shared with us some stories of playing with Enos Slaughter. “He was a great teammate and always played hard. He never took a play off.”

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I asked Red if the 100 percent wool authentic jersey that dad was wearing was authentic. He reached over to touch dad’s jersey, rubbed it between his fingers and said, “We did wear wool. But our jerseys were even heavier than that.” image

“We read this morning that your signing bonus back in 1942 was a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. That was a great story.”

“Well, yes, it’s a little bit different today”, Red told us.

“I guess the good news, though, is that the signing bonus of milk and ham probably explains why you are in still in such good shape today.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” Red said while chuckling.

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After our conversation was over, we made a visit to the broadcast booth where Dad met longtime broadcaster Mike Shannon just before the start of the game. Both of them had graduated from high school in 1957. And both had gone on to the University of Missouri in Columbia. After talking a bit about Shannon’s playing days with the Tigers under legendary coach Frank Broyles, we left the radio booth for our seats, but not before Dad had a chance to study the day’s lineups in the KMOX booth.

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When the game finally started, dad did what he’s done for so many years now. In pencil, he marked the boxes of the scorecard in the endangered language of passionate baseball enthusiasts: K, BB, 1B, E4, HBP.

On this night, the Dodgers got the best of the Cardinals, winning the game 3-2 and extending their winning streak on the road to fifteen games. As nice as it would have been to drive back home to Columbia and Hannibal and Lexington` with a Redbird victory, this particular night was about something else. Our family was together and we were relishing a story sixty-two years in the making. On an unseasonably pleasant evening, we were in a sea of summer red among the best fans in baseball, celebrating the dreams of childhood, the glory of America’s national pastime and the proud tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1951, Enos Slaughter concluded his letter to my dad with a bit of advice: “no matter what you want in life, want it HARD and you’ll get it!” If Mr. Slaughter were still around, he’d be pleased to know that our dad has followed his advice. Since that letter, Dad has played out his years with honesty and hard work and a lot of smart decisions on the base path of life. “Country” Slaughter would be proud of Dad’s “mad dash home”.

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Val Kilmer as Citizen Twain

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It’s been over a hundred years since Mark Twain last visited our area.  He’s coming back!  William Woods University is preparing to host Val Kilmer for an evening performance of Citizen Twain. Kilmer, who is best known for his roles in Top Gun, Batman, The Doors and Tombstone, will bring America’s greatest storyteller to life with an evening performance of Twain’s wit and wisdom.  While here at The Woods, we’ll even make a side trip to Twain’s hometown, my hometown and America’s hometown – Hannibal, Missouri!  

If you’re in the neighborhood, come join us for an unforgettable night of entertainment.

Tuesday, May 1st, 7 PM Dulany Auditorium, Fulton, Missouri (seating is limited)

Woods Around the World

Here is a slide show I made to highlight recent trips we have made at William Woods University.  In recent years, we have travelled the map, journeying to Peru, the American south, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Next up: France and a return trip to Pine Ridge. 

A Rock of Remembrance: JoAnne Bland and the Story of Selma, Alabama

(My video of JoAnne speaking to our group in 2009)

In 2009, I took a group of students to the American South as we traveled the path of the civil rights movement.  We worshipped at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (home church of Martin Luther King), visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and ended our trip visiting The Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.  Along the way on this memorable road trip, we made an unforgettable stop in Selma, Alabama, a small town that was historically important to the story of America. 

When I stepped out of the van, just outside of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, I was greeted by JoAnne Bland: “You must be Travis.  Get over here and give me a hug; that’s how we do it in the South.”  JoAnne then welcomed our group and led us on an inspirational walking tour of the town she calls home. 

Selma, Alabama was the site of what is known as “Bloody Sunday”. On March 7, 1965, state troopers brutally attacked 500 to 600 civil rights demonstrators.  The televised images were horrific. Men and women, young and old, were beaten back with tear gas, billy clubs and dogs.  JoAnne Bland was there at that time, an eyewitness to history, an active participant in America’s struggle to right its wrongs and redeem its past.  Only eleven years old at the time, she has the distinction of being the youngest person arrested and jailed during the civil rights demonstrations. 

One of the more memorable moments on our visit occurred when JoAnne took our group to a piece of pavement behind a Head Start building.  The place was non-descript, uninteresting to the uninformed. She ordered us all to pick up a rock and place the rock in our open palm.  We did.  She then began to look at each of our rocks and tell us stories.  “Let me see your rock…..that rock in your hand is Bob Mants….”   “Now let me see your rock, that one is Lynda Lowery, She was 14 years old on that bridge on March 7th.  14. She received wounds that required 26 stitches and then, still, three weeks later walked every step of the way from Selma to Montgomery.”

She went on to tell us, “I saved that cement so you could hold that history.” And then she proceeded to tell us why that cement pavement was so important.  It marked out the place where the demonstrators gathered to begin their march. She then urged us to take back our little rock or pebble to Missouri and remember the fight and the struggle, telling us:

“When you see injustice committed against anyone, no matter who they are, and you feel like you can’t do anything, go pick up that rock and take from it the strength that ordinary people stood on that rock, ordinary people just like yourself, stood on that rock and walked right up to that bridge and made history that not only changed Selma, but this entire nation. And get up off your behinds, and do something.  Can you do that?”

On Monday night, January 16th and the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, JoAnne Bland will be our guest at William Woods University and will tell stories of America’s struggle for justice and equality.  As part of the President’s Concert & Lecture series, JoAnne’s talk will connect us to the past that paved a way for the future.  The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Cutlip Auditorium and begins at 7 pm.

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Machu Picchu: Then and Now

Two days ago was the 100th anniversary of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham, a Yale University professor and a likely inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.  Evidence suggests that others had been there before him but it was Bingham who first publicized the lost city of the Incas to the wider world.  When Bingham found Machu Picchu in 1911, it was hidden underneath a dense jungle overgrowth but had at least survived destruction by the Spanish who never did find the city situated high up in the Andes Mountains.  At the time, Bingham thought  he might be in on “one of the most remarkable stories of exploration in South America in the past 50 years.” Machu Picchu is a mesmerizing place and a must-see item on anyone’s bucket list of traveling.  The first pictures of Machu Picchu were taken in 1911, by Bingham himself.  Here are a few from that time period, and some that I took from a trip back in 2008.

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Finding our Voice

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Last evening Ron Powers was our guest at William Woods.  He spoke on the occasion of the centennial of Mark Twain’s death.  In his lecture, Powers noted how Twain not only captured the voice of the voiceless in writing in the vernacular, but he gave America a distinct literary voice. 

At age 4, little Sammy Clemens emerges from a sickbed in his family’s cabin on his Uncle John’s Quarles’s farm in Florida, MO and toddles on over to the slave quarters on the farm’s far edge. He thus enters a 300-year-old, tightly compacted subculture that within a quarter-century will be abolished. The residue of those visits will flavor his writing for the rest of his life.

Sammy can’t stay away. He plays with the children there. He listens to the speech and the singing and the storytelling of this tightly compacted subculture. He is mesmerized by the urgency of the voices and by the terrifying imagery they convey: lightning bolts, apparitions from the spirit-world, chariots swooping down from heaven, skies of blood, animals crying out.

He seems to sense that the slaves treat spoken language as a living and cherished creature, to be passed around and partaken of.

He hears music in the language. In writing Twain’s biography, I came to believe that he heard spoken language as music, and reproduced it as well as he did by calling back its tonal shifts and rhythms.

This ear for the song of the people continued throughout his life.  It was out West:

where he becomes Mark Twain. He hears the vernacular speech of the West, far from the jurisdiction of Emerson and Holmes. It is pared down to the bare bones, at once factually outrageous and emotionally true. He notices the behavior of western men; outsized and risk-taking and often drunken; and imitates it, and writes about it for the Enterprise.

An Evening With Ron Powers

clip_image002This Wednesday marks the centennial of Mark Twain’s death.  To commemorate the occasion, Ron Powers will come to William Woods University to give a talk on the life and legacy of Mark Twain.  Powers is the author of one of the finest biographies on Twain.  He also co-authored Flag of our Fathers which Clint Eastwood made into a movie.  And he recently collaborated with the late Senator Ted Kennedy on True Compass: a Memoir

Powers received the Pulitzer Prize in criticism while on the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times, and has contributed to leading magazines and newspapers including the New York Times Book Review, Atlantic Monthly and Smithsonian.

Powers’ talk will begin at 7 pm in the Cutlip Auditorium of the McNutt Student Center on the campus of William Woods University (Fulton, MO).

The Civil Rights Movement

Last week our campus hosted Reverend Billy Kyles of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis.  He spoke with our students about the Civil Rights Movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King.  Here’s an excerpt from his talk in chapel. 

Samuel “Billy”Kyles at William Woods University

On Tuesday, February 9th at 7 pm. Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles will be speaking on “The Story of a Movement” as part of the President’s Lecture Series on the campus of William Woods University. The talk will be held in Cutlip Auditorium.

clip_image002Reverend Kyles has been the pastor of Monumental Baptist Church since 1959. He was a close friend and associate of the late Martin Luther King and was with King during his final days. He was present for King’s famous “mountaintop sermon” and an eyewitness to King’s assassination the following day. Kyles’ story was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary that recently aired on HBO entitled The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306. Reverend Kyles will discuss the life and legacy of King and the story of a movement that centered on justice and freedom for all.

Two Ladies on Top of the World – in Africa!

Last year I taught a course, “Journeys and Journals: Stories of Exploration” where we considered the nature of travel, the human quest for adventure and what happens when we step out of our comfort zone and experience “threshold anxiety” and the romance of differences. 

Jordan Floyd, one of my students at William Woods University, told our class of a fascinating trip she made a few years ago.  During her senior year of high school, Jordan was asked by her grandmother, “where do you want to go for your senior trip?”  Grandma said it would be just the two of them.  Without hesitation, Jordan replied, “Africa.  I want to go Africa.” 

Grandma had made a trip to Africa about a decade earlier and the stories from that exotic land has left a mark on the grandchildren.  Grandma agreed to take Jordan there, but on one condition: she had to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with her!  Grandma explained that the last time she was in Africa, she couldn’t talk members of her party into making the ascent up to the summit (19,331 feet). 

So two years ago, Jordan and her grandmother traveled to Tanzania.  Jordan says,

When we arrived at the mountain it was cloudy and rainy.  That was just our luck.  So we bundled up in a  image bunch of unnecessary layers.  When we got to the starting point we were greeted by these cheery faced men who were going to be joining us on our hike…we had eighteen shurpas, a first aide guy, a cook, a server and two guides.

It took them six days to reach the peak and two to return to the base.  Along the way, Jordan writes, 

my grandma and I talked about everything imaginable until we literally ran out of things to talk about.  Then we started thinking about how we could be shopping in Paris or on the beach somewhere amazing, but instead we were hiking.”

She continues:

The hike was good until the third to last day when we got to about 17,000 feet and were camped at the base of the steepest slope I have ever seen.  Msafiri, our guide, told us that is how we were going to get to the top.  I wasn’t really surprised because we passed people throughout the trail they told us we were crazy to take the Western Breach.  So, I looked up this slope and wanted to cry….that night was the first night we noticed how cold it was.  We woke at four am and ate some breakfast.  We put on all of our clothes because it was supposed to be real cold.  We started out climb in the dark.  Bad idea.  I was already really nervous from what I saw on the breach the day before.  The entire trail before had been straight up.  Unlike in the USA, it didn’t zig zag gradually up the mountain.  Msafiri told us that it would zig zag and not go straight up.  He lied.  African zig zag is two steps to the left and two steps to the right and then ten steps straight up.  I had to trade my grandma backpacks because somehow her bag was as a lot heavier than mine.  She has a tiny little body that if she accidentally tipped the wrong way it would be sayonara grandma….

….Once we made it up the hill, we were awestruck by the beautiful glaciers that sat on top Kili.  They had three glaciers that were on top.  They were huge, at least twenty feet tall that seemed to go on forever.  Not only were the glaciers beautiful, but it was as if we were in an airplane and on top of the clouds.  We could look across at Kili’s sister mountain as she stuck her peak through the clouds.  We finally reached the sign that said we were at the peak.  My grandma started to cry.  I was really happy for her that she was able to complete what she had wanted to do for so long and that I was able to experience it with her. 

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