Monday, February 28, 2011

As the Sun Sets on Another of Summer's Boys

My eye passed over it without my brain registering it the first time I came across it on-line yesterday. "It" being an item on reporting the death of Duke Snider. Snider was 84 years old. Snider's career as a big-league ball player ended in 1964. As I did not make my debut until 1967, Duke Snider is a player who I never saw play live.

Yet as my mother's son I felt as if I learned quite a lot about Duke Snider and his fellow Brooklyn Dodgers. While as far as I know the Dodgers ceased to occupy any space at all in Mom's universe once they headed West to California, one of Mom's favorite things to talk about with me when I was a boy was her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Over the years, any time I come across a new book that touches upon the Dodgers I buy it and send it to Mom. I used to suspect that she just humored me by telling me that she enjoyed reading them.

Then, several years ago, Thomas Oliphant wrote Praying For Gil Hodges in which he made two separate references to Dad who was one of his teachers at the Browning School in New York City. Mom telephoned me to alert me to the mentions of the old man in Oliphant's book. That reassured me that she had read at least that one. Then again, considering her kitchen counter in Florida includes a ceramic trivet I made for her almost forty years ago perhaps I never should have doubted the depth of her commitment.

Until I read the story about Duke Snider's death, the thought had never occurred to me that he and Mom were actually contemporaries. It can be hard sometimes to envision one's parent at a phase in her life different from the one at which you as the child first encountered her. As a boy I listened to Mom tell countless stories about her Dodgers. I suppose that in my mind's eye I always presumed that the players were adults and she was just a little girl. Mom is in her early 80's now. Snider was 84 when he died. While the two may have never made each other's acquaintance they were in fact peers.

The Dodgers have played their games at Chavez Ravine and not at Ebbetts Field for more than fifty years. Duke Snider played for them on both coasts. He won a World Series in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles. He hit the final home run ever hit at Ebbetts Field. And most important of all, he and his teammates - The Boys of Summer - brought joy to a borough for years....right up until the moment when they broke its heart.


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