Saturday, December 22, 2007
In 1969 I saved box tops from Post Raisin Bran and got a free ticket to an Atlanta Braves Baseball Game. With the passage of so many years, I don't even remember who won or lost. But there is one thing that I remember.
In 1967, Rico Carty was struck down with Tuberculosis. He had begun his career with the Braves in 1964 and showed great promise, batting .330 and finishing second to Roberto Clemente in the batting championship. Everyone assumed that his career was over after contracting tuberculosis, but they failed to take into account his character and determination. When he returned to the Braves in 1969, he batted .342, but 1970 was even better, Rico batted .366 and won the batting championship(the highest batting average since 1957 when Ted Williams batted .388).
After the game, some of the players "hung around" to sign autographs, for us kids. Some signed autographs like automatons, without comment and encouragement, most of them left only after a few minutes; some signed politely and moved on to the next kid as quickly as they could, they also left early; a few engaged in actual conversations, but eventually they also left; only one stayed until every kid who wanted an autograph got one. He was Rico Carty.
He also engaged us in real conversations. If you played baseball, he wanted to know what position you played, but also what your grades were. If you didn't play baseball, he wanted to know why. He preached a variation of: "Mens sana in corpore sano," to have a healthy mind you had to have a healthy body. Even through his think Spanish accent and his Dominican Republic dialect we knew what he was saying, because he was speaking our language.
When he got to me, he asked whether I played baseball or not. I was kind of "geeky" looking so I guess my athletic prowess was open to some doubt. I wasn't offended, because you knew he really cared. There wasn't a false note, nor an ounce of phoniness in Rico. He was what he was. And that was what made him so wonderful to us.
I said neighborhood games mostly. He said that there was nothing wrong with that. His happiest memories were playing baseball with his friends as a kid; by High School, Baseball had become a career. He missed those games from his childhood. He told me that there was nothing wrong with reading books, but as soon as I got through with one, I should call my friends and get a game started.
Rico Carty was never a star, he was one of us: he was just a good guy, who became a great baseball player. That was to be expected, because we knew that he already was a great man. But, more importantly, as that last kid left got his autograph, we knew, which was better, that he was a good man. And being called good is a far better complement than being called great.