Friday, September 12, 2014

Shadowboxing

                           
When a collector came forward with this picture I was thrilled.
 I could see the color of his eyes
  
                                 But you had some dreams when you were a girl
Some ideas about the world

And you see how some things will never be the same

(And how some things never change)
And never stop coming up with all of that love for me

Never stop coming with your faith in what a love can be

Never stop coming up with all of that love Keep on rising above

"Never Stop" Jackson Browne 

I had some dreams when I was a girl---some ideas about the world. 

My mom attended a support group after my father died called "parents without partners", There were social events for the kids and discussions for the grown ups. We were a rag-tag bunch bound by our grief and not much else. I managed to connect with one girl. She was outgoing--I was shy. She was good at academics-- I was not. She had siblings--I was an only child. She liked the Bay City Rollers--I liked Shaun Cassidy. The only thing we had in common was grief. There was a strange comfort in that so despite our differences we held on to each other. We didn't discuss it, we didn't have to.

Watching my other girl friends interact with their father's was painful. It brought up a guilt laden jealousy that I didn't know what to do with, I preferred the company of my broken friend. There would be no daddy coming home from work to shower her with kisses or lift her up to twirl her around in circles. The smell of a daddy. The sound of his voice in the house. The chaos that ensued (inside me and in the house) following the phrase "daddy's home!".

That's Avoidance

An interesting thing happened in 7th grade. A boy called me. It was a simple conversation lasting only a few minutes. He lived in my neighborhood and asked me to come outside to ride bikes with him. So I did. I felt like I had been set free. Strangely, I wasn't jealous of his relationship with his father. Conversations were easy. He didn't ask me questions about my dad or anything for that matter. Our time was action packed. We played with dogs, rode bikes, went swimming, climbed trees. There would never be a slumber party invite. I hated slumber parties! It was gloriously easy.

That's Diversion

From middle school on I consciously sought the friendship of boys, turning my back on all but a few girls. There was tranquility in the lack of intimacy. My plan of avoidance and diversion worked. I was content.  
Then......puberty arrived and turned the boys into vultures. A murky jumbled mess of emotions, flirtations, and expectations. My reprieve was destroyed. Everything had changed except for my insides.I became rather adept at hiding myself. Letting people in just so much .Calm, accommodating and polite on the outside. Shadowboxing on the inside. Shuffling, punching, adjusting ---moving, jabbing and protecting. Everything was under control. All I had to do was keep moving.

That's Ridiculous

I did keep moving until my 20's where I found myself punch drunk and running on empty. Every time I stepped into a new phase/space/situation all that mess inside me would rushed to the surface. I made a split second decision to not address those emotion but beat them back down. Shadowbox. Running from any kind of intimacy at break neck speed, sparring with myself....what could possibly go wrong? (pause to let you visualize that) It would be many more years before I would begin this healing "quest". My grief would take a multitude of forms. These were difficult years. I made many mistakes.

This is Surrender

Ain't nobody gonna love me like that.
He's gone. He can't be replaced. This can't be fixed. War, violence, disease takes away fathers everyday. I'm not unique. In my voice is the voice of thousands of broken girls trying to navigate through the wreckage loss leaves behind. The healing begins in the surrender.
What does that look like? First, quit fighting and hiding. Second, feel (a mix between nausea, butterflies and panic). Just marinate in it. Let is bubble up and sit on your skin. Don't wiggle out form under it or swallow it back down. I began to address those feelings in baby steps declaring each one a victory.
                                  
Rise Above
 " never stop coming with your faith in what love can be.
never stop coming up with all of that love, keep on rising above"

I had to approach it with a new perspective....come at from a place of love instead of lack. I respectfully retired my boxing gloves. 

In passing, a friend said to me, "If you want to know your dad, get to know baseball". So I crawled inside the rhythm of a baseball game. I studied it. I'm not going to lie--I found it boring at first. I watched the Ken Burns' documentary. I watched the Cubs on WGN. Was heartbroken when the Cubs traded Maddux. Was happy for Mark Grace when he finally won a world series (even if he wasn't a Cub). I slowly forged a relationship with baseball. It gave me a starting point.....a small connection.

I  sought out and settled into a magnificent group of women. They artfully guided me through the land mines in my soul, Nourished me with wisdom, taught me how to see and feel.

So the "quest" began. I share all this because I find there is great interest in my wounds and how they healed. It's my "Personal Legend"

In Paulo Coelho's book The Alchemist he speaks of the Personal Legend stating, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I know this to be true..

Hey, I thought this blog was about baseball


Rocky Marciano (and I bring the boxing metaphor full circle)


In Rick Talley's book The Cubs of 1969, he refers to my dad as the "wit and the heart" of the 1969 Cubs. Recounting my dad's self deprecating story about beating Rocky Marciano in a minor league tryout in 1947. It's true! 
Rocky Marciano's first love was baseball. He traveled to eastern North Carolina to try out for the position of catcher on a Cubs farm team, but my dad got the spot instead. Talley quotes my dad, 
"When Rocky Marciano found out he was a worse catcher than me he got so mad he started beating up people". 
My dad was always considered a mediocre player. In his hometown he was great, but in the majors....just average. His legacy isn't in the stats, it's in his character. This book was given to me by Billy Holcombe, a man who knew my dad.
Billy reached out to me after seeing the Keith Olbermann story on ESPN. Among the stories he shared was the fact that my dad loved  Dukes Mayonnaise and when Billy visited in Chicago he would take the Southern delicacy to my dad. See, there is nothing too insignificant.

My Favorite Story



Both  Fred Clair and Phil Regan told me I HAD to talk to Blake Cullen. Blake was the Traveling Secretary and Statistician for the Cubs in the late 60's. We connected one afternoon. He sent me a 1967 Cubs Team picture and told me the following story:

Blake had a briefcase, stat books, and a portable electric typewriter which in the 1960's was about the size of a microwave. Basically, more than one man could humanly carry. Blake had just been hired. It was his first trip with the team.
With both hands full (books, typewriter, briefcase, luggage) he walked to the gate to check the team in. My dad came up behind him, didn't say a word, took the typewriter from him and put it in an overhead compartment on the plane. When they arrived at the hotel my dad, typewriter in hand, said, "what room are you in?" and carried it to Blake's door.
From then on at every away game my dad would send a bat boy to the stands in the 8th inning to fetch Blake's typewriter and bring it to my dad in the dugout. My dad would could carry the bulky thing back to the hotel for Blake. "That's just the kind of guy Rube was. He went out of his way to make life easy for the new guys",


Hearing "Gentleman Jim" Hickman's Voice




Jim Hickman;s name came up in countless conversations with other players and broadcasters. All said that Jim had a similar temperament to my dad. Both were Southern boys.
I will never forget the day he returned my call.

I just happened to be sitting at my computer (alone in a quiet house). His slow drawl and gentle cadence pierced straight through to my heart. I thought...that's what my dad would sound like.

He shared a few stories with me about my dad, baseball, Leo Durocher. I wrote it all down.  He said everything my dad did was "pure class" and  that "all the players loved him". I began asking him questions about his life, his baseball career, his children, his inability to use the ipad the grandchildren gave him. I just didn't want the conversation to end. I could have listened to him all day.



This summer my local newspaper (The Charlotte Observer) wrote a story about me that appropriately ran on Father's Day. Woman's Quest to Hear her Father's Voice Persists
Thank you Scott Fowler. This article did produce a few new leads...so fingers crossed.

Please continue to pass along my contact info to ANYONE who might help with my quest.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rosemary for Remembrance

.
"Think of me now and again, as I was in life at some moment which is pleasant to remember." 
Walker Stadium Lenoir NC

As a little girl I would pitch pennies into wishing wells. Breath held, eyes closed--I'd wish for my dad.
Around age 12 I gave up the wishing well and other such flights of fancy.I became a realist.The Quixotic notion of seeing my father in a dream lay slain at the doorway of my adulthood. I went from wishing my life was different to pretending I was fine. No acceptance = No healing.

As a grown-up I set forth on an elusive, emotionally slippery journey to find my dad's voice. Guided by nothing more than intuition, I turned my back on the realist. Along the way I discovered acceptance and ease. The journey broke me open, as Elizabeth Lesser describes.
If we do not suffer a loss all the way to the end, it will wait for us. It won't dissipate and disappear. Rather, it will fester, and we will experience its sorrow later, in strange forms. 
My odds of finding radio archives from the 1960's of my father's voice are as good as locating the Veil of Veronica. It either doesn't exist or somebody has it hidden in a dark place. My quest, similar to a religious pilgrimage where the end result is irrelevant, has been about the willingness to take the journey, being vulnerable enough to accept the lessons and courageous enough to see things differently. A journey back to myself. Chasing the Veil of Veronica changes you from the inside out. My festering sadness had waited for me, pierced me and healed me.

I decided to honor my quest and subsequent healing with a small symbolic gesture and got my mom involved. She's been wishing, pretending, chasing and healing right along with me.

Rosemary
We planted rosemary at the base of the bronze plaque donated by the Mets and Cubs at Walker Stadium. Just like me, Walker Stadium has been through it's own metamorphosis in the last few years. This summer two teams will be playing there using it as their home field -a healing of sorts.

Rosemary is a symbol of remembrance. It has the reputation of improving memory with a rich history steeped in folklore. Shakespeare's Ophelia appeals to Hamlet,"there's rosemary for remembrance." It is often used as a funeral flower and placed on graves.Conversely, myth says Aphrodite was draped in it when she rose from the sea.Due to this association with the goddess of love it is frequently used in wedding ceremonies symbolizing eternal love.Death, love and remembrance tangled together in small fragrant greens. I figured it was perfect for my baseball love story.

Ann Walker-Walker Field 

I'm honoring other peoples stories that have found their way to me. I'm honoring my journey. I'm honoring my mother's guidance. I'm honoring the transformation of Walker Stadium. I'm honoring my father. I'm honoring each person who has helped, encouraged, and followed me. I'm honoring love and loss.

I walk the path alone but am constantly aware of the solace I receive from my team.

Rain from heaven shall keep the rosemary alive.
Remembering My Dad Through Baseball
Long phone calls, emails, pictures, newspaper clippings, FedEx packages, great stories and big laughs. It has been a privilege to receive them all. 

Baseball players have the best stories. I think it's all the time spent waiting for a turn at bat. Here are a few of the folks I have spoken to recently.
Ken Holztman- Cubs pitcher 65-71

Phil Regan - Cubs pitcher 68-72

Bobby Richardson - Yankees 2nd base 55-66 (fellow Southern boy)

George Altman- Cubs outfielder 59-62, 65-67

Ernie Broglio- Cubs pitcher 64-66

Rich Nye- Cubs pitcher 66-69

Bill Hands- Cubs pitcher 66-72

Chuck Shriver- Cubs Media Relations Director 

Mary Dease- Executive Secretary to Cubs President John Holland

"Salty" Saltwell- Cubs General Manger and VP

Verlon "Rube" Walker
 Rosemary for remembrance---maybe I will even throw a penny in a wishing well.

Thank you for reading. Please pass on my contact information to anyone who might have a story about my dad. 

Intuition still guides me. I feel like a radio interview exists of my father (Cubs coach) and my uncle (Mets coach) in the 1969 season. A New York interview. Any assistance breaking into the NYC market is appreciated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

If I Die Tomorrow,This is What I Want You to Know

Cubs Coaches 1966- Whitey Lockman #5, Verlon Walker #4, Freddie Fitzsimmons #3, Leo Durocher #2
From a bed in Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago (now Northwestern Memorial) my father's request was that I be well educated. DONE. Thank you mom! I can make assumptions based on his request like: he wanted me to be smart, independent, capable of taking care of myself, making my own money. My dad's work with me had barely begun.

I have always yearned for more from him (more wisdom, more insight, more advice, more approval) Since starting this journey I have received many letters. A good portion of them thanking me for the motivation to record themselves or a loved one as part of a legacy. It had never occurred to them before. Many people end up clinging to 10 year old voice mail messages as the only recording. Which got me thinking.....what would I want my sons to know? How would I leave my voice behind?

I went to work on a list. "Things" I would want to tell them in person if I had a chance. I do have the luxury of time, so I told them. Then I made a recording. As they grew older and when I'm gone, they will hear my words in my voice.

To My Beautiful Boys: If I die tomorrow this is what I want you to know

1. Be on time, return phone calls, send handwritten notes.

2. Vegan is code for "control issues". If you're Bill Clinton or a Buddhist monk then you can be a vegan because someone else is shopping, chopping and preparing for you. Everyday folks can't adhere to such rigid food practices.When someone tells you they are Vegan--watch yourself.

3. Be kind to everyone. We are all facing demons and fighting battles.

4. That voice deep inside you--that gut feeling--follow it always.

5. People generally don't do things TO you, they do things FOR themselves. Try not to take it personally and move on.

6. Before getting married visit the family because you will be dealing with them for the rest of your life.

7. People won't always tell you the truth, but they will show you the "truth" through their actions. When they show you, BELIEVE them.

8. Stay clear of anyone who cites the writings of Ayn Rand as being influential--especially Atlas Shrugged. They are selfish.

9. Go to funerals. You won't want to, but it means so much to the family. It's important to stop, remember and reflect on someones life.

10. You will never wake up in the morning and declare "I wish I was hung over. Too bad I didn't get drunk last night". So don't drink too much, take drugs, or smoke. You will pay for it in a big way later. It's not worth it. It is never as fun as the commercials make it look.

11. Be bold and brave. Try and fail and forgive yourself when you fail. Everyone makes mistakes no matter what they tell you or how polished they look from the outside.

12. Enjoy your life. As soon as one worry pulls away another will be ready to pull in (like trucks at a loading dock). Enjoy right where you are--each moment.

13. If you need advice about girls ask your god mother or one of my girlfriends. Boys giving other boys advice about women =  the blind leading the blind. Trust me--you don't understand that world of physiological warfare.

14. Some of the biggest battles you will fight will be with yourself. Ask for help and talk it out.

15. Random acts of kindness will heal your soul. When you are troubled or worried do something for another person just because you can.

16. If you meet someone that has NO friends from the past--that's a red flag. Chances are they live life super intense and burn bridges. They will probably be rather charismatic. There is a reason nobody from the past is around. PS--You can't fix that or them! Exit gracefully.

17. "There is a higher power and your aren't it" (a wise woman use to tell me that). Ask for guidance and listen quietly. That small meditation will connect you to something deeper and give you ground.

18, If you get the chance--travel. See the world. It will grant you perspective.

19. Money will come and go. Don't let it define you or anyone else.

20 Life will bring you lessons. If you don't learn them the first time, they will come up over and over again.  Learn the darn lesson.

21. Resistance to change is what causes the MOST suffering. Change is part of life, you don't have to like it but you need accept it.

22. Cry. Real men cry. It is a normal reaction to sadness. If you don't cry out all the tears they stay inside you and make you sick and angry.

23. Revenge is like "drinking poison hoping the other person will die". It makes you feel bad and keeps you in a self imposed prison. Let it go--let yourself go.

24.  By definition, a relationship is a "connection". If you are in a relationship/ friendship with someone whose primary focus is them (where they want to eat, how they feel, what they like and don't like) they aren't connecting or relating to you. This union will suck the life out of you. Send them on their way. Give them up.


25. You will be afraid and you will get lonely. Know deep in your heart that you came in this world deeply loved by me and daddy and nothing can change that. Your soul is twice blessed.

26. Practice gratitude everyday. This is the key to consistent happiness. I have tried literally everything else. Gratitude always works.

27. Breathe (in through your nose-out through your mouth). Seems too simple but is quite often the only thing you need to do.

28. If you find yourself on the "crazy train" jump off. The landing is painful but well worth it. As a side note...everyone takes a turn on some version of the "crazy train". It looks fun--- IS fun until it starts to make you sick.

29. Education is important. Smart is sexy. Always be eager to learn from people, books, classes, situations and mistakes.

30. Be honest and authentic. Love yourself-- flaws and all. Actually, I have always found imperfection to be much more appealing.

31. Multi-tasking is overrated. Focus on one thing at a time

32. Taking and sending naked pictures of yourself is never a good idea. NEVER.

33. You have my approval. Waste no more time on that. I love you deeply and am your biggest fan-no matter what.

34. I loved every minute I spent with you. I remember it all. You were all I ever wanted. God blessed me as your guide and when you came through me it changed my life in the most magnificent way. I always felt lucky to be your mom. It was a great pleasure (even the yucky stuff).

I encourage you to compile a legacy list and record yourself reading it.Take advantage of the digital age. Let's start a movement! The "legacy list" movement.

Here are the rules..... simply write down what you want the people in your life to know. Don't sweat the grammar, punctuation or spelling.... just get it on paper. Record yourself so your wisdom is captured in your accent, using your turn of phrase and cadence.

Trust me....it will bring someone great comfort one day.


Friday, February 7, 2014

I am a Coach's Daughter

Feburary  16 1961 -The College of Coaches- Mesa Arizona (L-R)
Front row- Verdie Himsl, Elvin Tappe, Harry Craft, Bob Adams, Rip Collins
Back row- Verlon Walker, and Goldie Holt 
I am a coach's daughter

On my 42nd birthday my husband gave me a pink baseball glove with a note saying, "A coach's daughter should have her own glove." The poignancy of that sentence resonated from hairs to toes. My teeth rattled at the truth of it. The glove, the note...it was like sticking a tuning fork in the center of my grief. My Samskara. The wound that had run my life came bubbling to the surface.

Surprisingly, I didn't crumble. I didn't take a pill, smoke, eat, lash out, suck my thumb, or busy myself. I jumped heart first into the moment. Putting my 3 year old on my lap, I closed my eyes tears squeezed from the corners and I breathed.  My father died at 42. In an interesting twist I had a son that was 3 (the same age I was when my father died). In a mash-up of time and emotion, I was the parent holding the 3 year old. As I write this I can remember what my son felt like that morning. The warmth of his little body, the weight of his legs on mine, a gurgle in his tummy, the smell of him, his tapping fingertips wrapped around the fleshy part of my upper arm. My father pressed his face against that and said good-bye many years ago. Somewhere in Elysium, I know he remembers holding me.

At the time, I had not read Michael Singer's book "The Untethered Soul". Three years later, I have learned what I did in that moment was heal a deep wound. Quietly release and remove a "thorn" in my soul. Instead of compensating for the thorn, bandaging the thorn, and hoping nobody brushed up against the thorn (God forbid) I sat in the moment of pain and let it go....sliding into the peaceful space behind it. I think it was a combination of being exhausted from carrying the "thorn" and the razor sharp cut of the truth because it was just that simple. I let it go.

When I was younger (middle grades and high school) I didn't talk about my dad. I was guarded about the subject. Stopping any conversation with something like..."He died when I was three, I don't remember him. it's OK". I found that upon hearing I was "OK", the questions would cease moving the conversation to another, more palatable topic. I wasn't OK. I was hiding. Terrified somebody else would leave me. 
The 3 year old me
So, I never allowed myself to think about being a coach's daughter. It was just too painful. I had built my life around protecting myself from the pain and as a result had kept myself from the peace. Then I began this "quest" and got a pink glove, a note from my husband and an untethered soul.

Here is how I became the daughter of a Chicago Cubs coach....... 

Front row- Elvin Tappe, Goldie Holt, Bobby Adams, Harry Craft
Back row- Verlon Walker, Rip Collins, Verdie Himsl, Charlie Grimm










College of Coaches -boys of summer, band of brothers, battalion, fraternity, posse, wise guys, good fellas

A group of men working toward a single goal. That's what P.K.Wrigley was thinking when he instituted the strange and much ridiculed College of Coaches in 1961 of which my father was a part. A group of 8 coaches who took turns being "manager" and calling the shots. That's right....my father's intro into the majors will forever be known as a colossal FAIL.

An idea that looked good on paper but when executed unleashed chaos (Or maybe it never looked good on paper). I've done my research. History has not been kind to Mr. Wrigley's idea. Baseball purest hate it; die-hard Cubs fans are embarrassed by it. My father, suspended right in the middle of chaos and criticism. I view it differently. So put aside your ideas about the College of Coaches, suspend belief, open your mind, shift your perception, let me spin it.

My Spin 

1961 my dad was 31. Coaching the Wenatchee Chiefs in Wenatchee, WA. The year before he was in San Antonio TX. coaching the San Antonio Missions and the year before that Paris IL All are minor league Cub affiliate teams. Having been with the Cubs organization since he was 19 chasing his baseball dreams, first as a player then as a manager, he was beginning to grow weary. He couldn't figure out how to bring my mom into his gypsy baseball life.

Then Mr Wrigley had a crazy idea to streamline the Cubs organization from the bottom to the top. Bring 4 coaches from the minors and 4 from the majors to manage the team (together) and cultivate a "Cubs Way". Verlon Walker got the call. He was headed to the majors.FINALLY.

Hindsight proves the idea a big mistake, but I will always consider it a beautiful introduction. By 1963 the idea was toast. Mr Wrigley designated Bob Kennedy to be the "head" coach of the College of Coaches and that was pretty much the death knell of the idea. Underneath all the criticism lies one man's dream fulfilled. He was given a break and he made the most of it, outlasting all his fellow coaches.When he died in 1971, he was listed as Pitching Coach . I was born in 1968 so technically, I am the pitching coach's daughter.

All of these men are gone, They can't share memories with me, but their daughter's can and HAVE. Through them I get a glimpse at what it was like to be A Coach's Daughter. One more unexpected benefit of this journey.

 January 13 1961,  the Wrigley Buiding Restaurant, Cubs owner P.K.Wrigley (seated 2nd from right) gathers with coaches Rip Collins, Goldie Holt, Verlon Walker, Charlie Grimm, El Tappe, Harry Craft and Verdie Himsl
My friend Bill Plaisted found the above picture for me on eBay. I love it! Thank you Bill.

The Daughters of the Boys of Summer

As a result of my quest and the PR it has generated Harry Craft's daughter, Carole Van Matre, and Bob Kennedy's daughter, Chris Mitchell, have reached out to me. Daughters of the boys of summer For me its another connection to my father's world.

Carole referred to us as "kindred baseball spirits".  I agree. She told me a story about the Wrigley's hosting a dinner for the Cubs organization. The dinner invitation stated it would be held "at the stables". The Craft's are from Texas and couldn't imagine having dinner with horses. My father would have felt the same way. Nobody eats at the stables in North Carolina. Upon arrival at the Wrigley's stables, Carole wrote that her mother said " the Wrigley stables were nicer than any home she had ever lived in-controlled air, beautiful brick paved floors and no horse smell". Carole also said she remembered her parents speaking fondly of my dad after they learned of his passing. In her own blog post  Batter Up! she recounts Spring Training memories from the perspective of a coach's daughter. A beautifully written piece simply about a dad and daughter getting together-they just happened to be at Spring Training. Carole is also looking for video footage of her dad. A video of the Colt .45's, a team her dad managed after leaving the Cubs, which was shown during the 2005 World Series. She has not been successful at locating it.

Chris (Kennedy) Mitchell wrote " My family remembers him so fondly and have great memories of his antics in our backyard". Chris babysat me during Spring Training the year my dad went back in the hospital. While she was caring for me "we called the hospital to say goodnight to my dad because I missed him ". I don't remember that, but hearing it gives me a connection to the moment.  Bob Kennedy's friendship was paramount to my dad. The Kennedy family embraced my mother during the difficult time of my father's sickness. Chris sent me this picture of our dad's sitting next to each other at Wrigley.


This picture was part of my dad's collection. If you happen to know who the hitter is please email me.
No. 26 Billy William, Verlon Walker and Bob Kennedy on either side of the hitter. 
Charlie Grimm and Verlon Walker 1961 or 1962

The first team picture my dad appears in......

The College of Coaches makes me smile. I'm grateful for the idea, the boldness to try something different, and the knowledge that in the midst of failure there can be something good happening. As in my crusade of self discovery through baseball. A game I never got to play.  

I am still pursuing any and all leads sent to me regarding radio archives from the 1960's. Please don't hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you...... so send stories (about baseball or loss), memories, pictures, suggestions to:

Thank you to my loyal readers who continue to deliver me from self doubt.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Swinging Through the Change-Up

Verlon Walker, Don Kessinger and Ernie Banks (I think)
A few days ago I dreamed of him. We were sitting in a blue pick up truck drinking coffee. He was wearing a light brown hunting jacket with a dark brown corduroy collar. One hand on the wheel the other holding a Styrofoam cup. Steam rising. He was laughing---like in the picture above. It felt real. It was warm like flesh and breath. I woke up.

I closed my eyes tightly to put myself back in that truck, but it was gone. He was gone. The way dreams just whisk away once you realize they are dreams. Laying there replaying it in my head, it occurred to me that I had put flesh and breath there. Gathering up memories that have been graciously shared with me has made him real (as I have none of my own). Looking deeply into pictures, trying to be there too, essentially brought him to me. He isn't a flat idea anymore. He is real--and now I miss him.

The dream happened on Monday and on Wednesday night this happened.......

ESPN's Keith Olbermann did a story about me "Everything in Sports is Recorded" . He portrayed my "quest" with such beauty and emotion. Here I go with a baseball metaphor....It looked like a fastball until it slowed and dipped. I swung through the change-up. I didn't hit it. Instead it baffled me. A change-up delivered with precision and perfection. It left me breathless.Standing in my kitchen, thinking of the dream I had a few days earlier, my wonderful family and all the people who have given a damn about my quest. Thank you. I spent the next 24 hours in a state of blissful catatonic gratitude.

In baseball as in life, it's nice to know what's coming before it crosses the plate...right?  Preparedness increases a persons chance for success. I anticipate, prepare and execute. (See it-Read it-Hit it). Fastball-bring it, Curveball-I'm ready, Slider-seriously not fooled. I am a determined defiant stubborn dichotomy of softness and strength---just ask my husband. I stand at the plate taking my cuts in a frilly dress and inappropriate shoes.  Hell bent on doing it myself.

My weakness (every hitter/person has one) is the change-up. The element of surprise. My Baseball Love Story journey has been full of amazing curves, blazing fasts, enjoyable slides. I have had to ask for help which is not in my wheelhouse. I have had to be vulnerable when my tendency is to be guarded, glove over face. I have tried to control the entire effort in a managerial style (did I hear y'all laughing). Being surprised by a change up when I read fastball makes my insides tremble. I have had to talk, write, beg, wait, email, call and prove myself  throughout this journey. Olbermann just plucked my story out of obscurity shined a spotlight like only he could and delivered a beautiful change up. It was/is a game changer for me.

My Lesson Is This (because there is always a lesson)
Its the open heart, sweet dreams, unexpected kindness, and breathtaking surprises that help us grow-improve our swing (Oh, I am killing it with the baseball metaphor!)

And you thought baseball was boring. 

My dad met Frank Robinson in 1961. Here they are at Wrigley Field.
Verlon Walker & Frank Robinson 1961
I found this picture in a envelope in the bottom of a bag in a trunk under a bed. Like a buried treasure. A little surprise. Admitting to you now that I didn't know who #20 was.He looked to me like a young, smiling, fresh faced kid in stirrup socks. A guy my dad knew. Looking past the flat surface of the picture into the moment at the ground under foot, the imitating stance, corners of lips, folds in clothing, the fingers on the bat. Trying to evoke a sense memory. In that moment Frank Robinson didn't know what the future would bring, my father didn't know, I didn't know who Frank Robinson was...a floating moment. A convergence of time and space a split second before.........

I Googled him. IMPRESSIVE. The year that picture was taken (1961) Frank Robinson was voted National League MVP, hit 37 home runs and had a batting average of .323. In 1966 The Reds traded him to Baltimore saying he was "an old 30". Really?  It was a shocker (A change-up perhaps) for fans and players. I guess he showed the Reds. Having plenty of baseball left in him, he went on to win the World Series and be voted American League MVP--the only player to win that title in both leagues. Robinson (and this is my favorite thing I learned) would audaciously crowd the plate which means he got hit a lot or he was knocked down in an attempt by the pitcher to move him off the plate. He wouldn't waiver, instead he would stand back up and "lambast the next pitch" as he once told a reporter.  He had a 21 year baseball career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

I'm not comparing myself to Frank Robinson. This is where the metaphor ends. It's about being surprised, caught of guard, getting knocked down, and letting the journey sweep me away. I'm trying to be OK with that. Letting it unfold and reveal itself to me without planning, manipulating, or forcing an outcome.

Since the Olbermann story, I have had countless emails offering leads, words of encouragement, stories of grief and interview requests. I return all emails and follow up on every lead so please continue to send them. If you take the time to send me an email, I add your name to the ALERT list. Should I find a recording, I will let you know.

Here are a few leads I am currently following up on:
The Baseball Hall of Fame
Mesa Arizona- Spring Training Archives
WOR-Mets TV and Radio
Paris Illinois Lakers
The Detroit Institute of Arts
The Radio Broadcast Museum in Chicago
University of Georgia Media Archives

MLB.com is actively helping me.

Thank you for reading and following my story.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Advancing the Runner

Advancing the Runner:  (in baseball)  to move a runner ahead safely to another base. Often the conscious strategy of a team. This increases the chances of the runner scoring.

I am the runner. The one trying to "advance", move forward, reach a goal, complete a task. In life, as in baseball , it helps to have a good team.  A handful of people focused on advancement. A shared journey. Here is my team:

Pat Hughes, play by play announcer for CUBS on WGN Radio.
Pat Hughes photograph from bleachernation.com
A few weeks ago, I wrote yet another email to WGN Radio. Someone there must have taken pity on me and forwarded my email to Pat Hughes. Pat's broadcasting partner was Ron Santo, who was a player when my dad coached.

Pat Hughes answered my email. He simply said " Leigh Ann, I want to help you". WGN had given all of their radio archives to a guy named Ron Barber who wrote a book about Jack Quinlan (Cubs Broadcaster) a few years back. Pat gave me Ron's number.

Ron Barber- Author and Cubs Fan
I contacted Ron ,who is currently going through the archives to see if any audio exists (fingers crossed).  Ron is encouraging me to "stay the course" in my quest no matter what.

Pat Hughes also put me in contact with George Castle and accomplished journalist (author of several books) and baseball historian who lives in the Chicago area--still writing...still talking baseball.  George wrote an article about me for the Chicago Baseball Museum

George Castle
He is encouraging me to write my own book---about my dad, my quest, and the baseball history that keeps falling in my lap as I reminisce with players from the 60's.  George gave me names and numbers of players, baseball executives, and avid fans that would have known my dad. Here is where the journey get interesting.

Making Calls
Staring at the list of names and numbers for days, I decided to start with the ones I knew. Opening each conversation by introducing myself and asking "Do you remember my father Verlon Walker?"  I have made countless phone calls on this "quest" so I can assure you I am no shrinking violet . I can handle myself on the phone, but these calls are strangely different. I feel myself changing from this self assured 45 year old woman to a painfully shy little girl.The minute they answer  my voice gets shaky. The kindness coning through those phone lines is nothing short of divine. I can feel the presence my father when I talk to these guys. They ALL remember him and have generously shared their memories and themselves with me. Enthusiastically they ask me who else I have talked to....who am I going to call next...can they take this journey with me too? George Castle pointed out to me that I am becoming my father's voice by reaching out to these players, listening to their stories, allowing them to reconnect and remember . Some of these guys have been forgotten by the big business machine of baseball. I find myself in a beautiful unassailable place with baseball historians, old school broadcasters, beat writers and gentleman who simply love the game of baseball. It is a sweet place for this "little girl" to be.  I cry a little and they let me.

I'm not giving out any details. All will be revealed in my book (WINK).

Joey Amalfitano  (Cubs 1964-1967) was the first one I called. He had actually kept in touch with me and mom after my father died. I remember getting autograph baseballs and pictures for Christmas one year (LA Dodgers). He works for the SF Giants organization now. We talked for awhile. One of the most interesting things he told me was Leo Durocher really liked my dad. We talked a bit about another Caldwell County native Madison Bumgarner who is currently a pitcher for the SF Giants and a home town super star.
Joey Amalfitano during his Dodger days
Ferguson Jenkins, everybody knows this Hall of Fame Cubs pitcher (1966-1973). I will just say from person experience, he is a class act. I called him and cried and it was ok. 
Ferguson Jenkins
Jack Rosenbergretired sports editor for WGN, philanthropist and lovely gentleman. He thought highly of my father's work ethic and character. AND thought it was wonderful I am researching my father. I loved talking with him.

Jack Rosenberg
Chris Krug Cubs catcher 1965-1966 immediately remembered my dad as his first base coach. Chris is charismatic and interesting. He designed the cornfield/ball-field in the movie Field of Dreams. 

Chris Krug

Dick Ellsworth ,Cubs pitcher 1960-1965, remembered (among other things) my dad's quiet sense of humor and dry wit. His wife played him the voicemail I left and he made a special trip home to call me back.
Dick Ellsworth

Don Kessinger, Cubs shortstop 1964-1975. Don and I have emailed. He says my dad was one of the nicest guys he ever knew.
Don Kessinger

Al Yellon,  Editor for Bleed Cubbie Blue. I sent him an email asking for help. I thought he might be able to reach a Cubs fan somewhere via his website/blog which has readership numbers through the roof! He wrote an article about my quest. Read it HERE.
Al use to sit with George Castle at Cubs games years ago---what a small world. Interestingly, one of the readers (bleedcubbieblue.com) suggested I contact the Mets organization. Maybe my dad & uncle did and interview together in NYC when my uncle was a Met and my dad was a Cub. Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to New York I go.

Al Yellon  bleedcubbieblue.com
The runner (that's me) is advancing and might even be in scoring position. Only because I have an amazing team that grows everyday. Maybe I am my father's voice (like George said). I have had it all along---here at home (plate).

Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions please contact me leighann@baseballlovestory.com.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kick Out the Footlights- A Fatherless Daughter's Broken Heart

Verlon Walker & Leigh Ann Wrigley Field !968
"Losing a father in childhood forever changes the shape of a daughter's identity----how she views the world and herself. Not only is her connection to the first and most important man in her life sharply extinguished, but all her perceptions, all her decisions, all her future relationships are filtered through that early unimaginable loss" Victoria Secunda, Women and Their Fathers

I have always sensed that my life would have been better if my father had not died when I was so young. How could it not have a nuclear size impact? The maze I have traveled to get to this moment has been riddled with jagged edges, rocky cliffs, dark lonely highways and soft landings. I have been so angry I could "kick out the footlights" just like Johnny Cash full of booze and pills at The Grand Ole Opry. Leaving people saying, "what in the world is wrong with her?" Most of the time the anger would crawl up underneath something (sadness) hide itself and wait. I am a polite, mild mannered girl  AND my mama wouldn't allow me to act like a crazy person. I was resentful of my girl cousins that had sat on my father's lap. They could recount for me how beautiful his blue eyes were. I don't remember sitting on his lap... looking at his eyes. Someone recounting that story for my benefit would make that anger slither out. See how that works. Play a few bars of "Jackson" because here I come......
Johnny Cash at Th e Grand Ole Opry
My anger has gotten the best of me at times. Sometimes in the form of explosions but mostly sabotage and sadness. A mind game rooted in abandonment. I have been angry at God too. I was 5 when a woman told me that my father was needed in heaven and that is why God took him. "Impossible" I thought. There is no way God needs him more that me.
Leigh Ann 5 years old. 
Girls who have lost their fathers share these issues.. A topic I have studied ad nauseam.  These are my demons; abandonment, low self esteem, boundary issues and anger. The four horsemen of dysfunction. Recently I discovered Pamela Thomas's book Fatherless Daughters which was published in 2009. She researched extensively the impact of the loss of a father on a girl's life and interviewed many "fatherless daughters".



Let me just pause here and say....if you have lost your father to death or divorce, I encourage you to read this book. It spoke to me like others have not. I felt  FINALLY the pieces had fallen into place. It just all made sense. Things I had done, ways I had behaved, my perceptions, all a direct result of the loss of my father at such an early age. I wish she had written it about 25 years ago. 

So these days I don't want to kick out the footlights. I can attribute this to age, ceasing to look for answers in a pharmacy, several hundred books and workshops, and lots of expensive therapy. I was on a mission to chase those four horseman away. Once they set up camp, those jokers are hard to get rid of! Focused on healing, I just want to really know my dad.

There is a chapter in Fatherless Daughters titled "Getting to Know Your Dad". The objective of my blog. My determination to find a recording of his voice is unwavering. It is my last piece of the puzzle. An insatiable need to know my father more completely is a common yearning among fatherless daughters. It is as if  I might actually find him somewhere or uncover a small piece of him that will make me say, "ok enough..that's all I need". I had someone ask me, " What if you don't find anything, what if tapes don't exist?" Without pause I replied, "I am going to find something". Pamela Thomas's book helped to me understand WHY this is so important. This quest is healing deep parts of me.
Verlon & Ann Walker, Wrigley Field 1969
I found myself grappling with what to write about next. I had sent a flurry of emails to sports writers and radio announcers trying to create interest in my blog. My baseball pictures and memorabilia had all been organized into topics. I decided to sit down on Father's Day and write and this is what came out.

Next post will be about baseball....