Generations Linked: A Baseball Obituary
By: Austin Alexander-May 3, 2006
Diamond Prospects was never built to serve as a personal outlet for free speech, but tonight I felt the need to give and old baseball fan his due. The older I get the more I appreciate family. For those of you who have an elder someone in your past, you may just be able to see a glimpse of your own life in this most important ârecapâ that Iâve ever written.
My grandfather passed away at 8:10 PM on Wednesday, May 3. I lost a friend, a confidant and my biggest baseball fan, not to mention my biggest critic!
We called him Pappaw. Former teammates of mine called him that too. So did my wife. He was a fixture at the ballpark wherever my teams played. Coaches knew him and baseball diehards enjoyed his stories.
He was full of stories. He loved to tell them and told them well.
Pappaw met Joltinâ Joe, Pee Wee, Dizzy Dean, Casey Stengal, Yogi and Nolan Ryanâ¦and would happily share his experience with you, even if you didnât ask! Pappaw had been to Old Yankee Stadium and Crosley Field just to name a few.
He was so âold school,â he referred to Roy Campanella as a contemporary catcher. His favorite player was Charlie Gehringer because, as he would say, âhe handled the glove better than anyone I ever saw.â
He loved the Chicago Cubs and Greg Maddux. He despised Tom Glavine though, Pappaw said he was too big of a coward to pitch inside! His favorite pitcher was Early Wynn âbecause heâd knock his own mother off the plate!â
His favorite place to watch a baseball game was at Duncan Park or on the hill along the sidewalk at Spartanburg Methodist. If youâve ever been to either, thereâs a good chance you saw him there. And if you ever spoke with him, he probably fired a trivia question at you and told you something you didnât know.
Pappaw made his first and only visit to Cooperstown, New York in 1996 with my father and me. It was my third trip to the Hall of Fame but experiencing his baseball âfinish-lineâ was a day Iâll remember with fondness forever. Heâd saved up money three years earlier for that trip but ended up sending my dad and I to see my idol, Nolan Ryan, in Baltimore during The Expressâ final season.
Years ago, my Pappaw drilled me on the importance of catching the baseball with two handsâ¦so I did. He made me realize that âreal ballplayersâ wear stirrups, not socks, and that baseball pants were meant to be pulled up to the kneeâ¦so I did. He always talked about the right way to play the game, to hustle and play hard everydayâ¦and so I did.
When I became a coach, he made me realize the impact that a coach can have on a young man. He told me the story of a teacher he had in grade school who took an interest in him and changed his life forever. He always encouraged me to be a positive influence on the lives of young people that I shared a uniform with.
Pappaw had been ill all of my adult life. A week before he left us, I visited his hospital room in Spartanburg on the way to a high school playoff game. Each visit in recent memory was made knowing it could be our last. Well, last Wednesday was our last time together. We spent that afternoon like weâd spent many afternoonâs, watching a Cubs game on the television. No telling how many games weâve watched together on WGN, and it didnât matter that Chicago lost that day, Iâm sure they were well below .500 when we hung out anyway! We talked some and he told me a couple of stories Iâd heard dozens of times before. He was also enthused about the Renaissance season Maddux was having, âheâs never started 4-0 before you know,â he told me. After a couple of hours he told me to go on, that he knew I needed to get to the game in time to see infield and outfield. So I told him good-bye. Good-bye forever.
Four days before he died, Tim Wallace my coach at Spartanburg Methodist and dear friend, stopped by room #314 to visit with Pappaw. His Pioneers had swept a doubleheader earlier that day and he had the team sign a baseball for him. As Pappaw slipped into a coma, the ball remained in his hand until he took his final breath.
That Saturday a baseball was signed by a roster full of young men who likely did not know Bill Alexander. That night, my Pappaw received a baseball signed by a bunch of young men he likely did not know. That baseball, however, will hold a permanent place on my mantle as it represents a link from my grandfather to a group of people that will carry the baseball torch forward.
To the young player reading these words who is fortunate enough to have a Pappaw of your own: Appreciate him, get to know him, learn from him. Remember that nothing is forever. A relationship with a grandparent can be the most unique of any you have throughout life, develop that while you still can.
Baseball is a great game, trust me, no one is a bigger fan than I. But understand this, it will be the relationships you build around that ball in your hand that remain a lifetime.