Friday, January 29, 2010

Where Have You Gone, Ted Hemenway?


104

Whiskey Cobbler

(Use large bar glass)

2 wine-glasses of whiskey.
1 tablespoonful of sugar.
2 or 3 slices of orange.

Fill the tumbler with ice, and shake well. Imbibe through a straw.

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Don't leave - even if you don't like baseball, because this isn't about that, not really, but it has to start there, on a diamond in Modesto.

If you knew me, you'd know I like baseball. If you asked why, I'd credit my Dad. When we played catch with Tony - 'Wheels' to his friends and family from Hiawatha - he'd always tell his three boys that the further away he got from Carbon County, Utah, the closer he got to the Major Leagues. But playing catch with him? The pleasure of that? Even that time in sixth grade when he had me shagging flyballs at Woodrow Park - no one hit flies like my dad - even then, when the day ended with a dislocated elbow because I tried to throw the ball as far as he could hit? Those times with my dad, the baseball slapslapping into our gloves, did a lot to make me fall in love with the Game.  But there was another man who played a part, too.

Ted Hemenway.

One of your options - if you watched television in Modesto, in 1972 - was, if you were so inclined, to tune into Bingo With Ramona. I was inclined. Broadcast in black and white, I watched it and played it and one great afternoon, I made Bingo. Instead of calling it out, you had to call the station and read off your numbers. I thought I won the cash first prize. But someone dialed faster than my five-year-old fingers, and I had to make do with season tickets to the Modesto Reds.

Baseball tickets instead of money? carped my little self.

My parents, though, they knew better, and so from April through August, we traveled across town and watched a team on its way to winning the title that season.

The Reds were a Class A farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals, and that year they were great.  You wouldn’t have known how good they were going to be based on their ballpark. Del Webb Field was not state of the art. Bleacher seats, one concession stand. One drinking fountain near those concessions, its white enamel stained rust-red near the faucet. But that fountain would become more beautiful than the Trevi on the day I wandered, alone, under the bleachers. Wandered through the skinny crossbeams holding up the seats. Crushing peanut shells, looking for foul balls, instead discovering my first tossed away – but still lit – cigarette. Dragging on it – once, strong – sent me running for Del Webb’s beautiful, rusty fountain.

And sorry, I don't mean to dwell on Del Webb Field, because this is supposed to be about Ted. But the field was so important, and also the people we met there - what was the name of the vendor selling popcorn and crackerjacks, that man who always had his hair slicked back, fifties style? Those stands he stalked were like pews, and we his congregation.

To get to his stands, you walked past the Red's dugout, then up a few steps - the stands were to the left, third-base side. But that landing there? At the top of the steps? You could look right into the Red's dugout from that magic spot.

There was always a player sitting in the dugout, at the end nearest the magic spot. The same player every game. A pitcher named Hemenway.

Ted was a lanky righthander. About my dad's height. 6'2", maybe 6'3". But probably no more than 170 lbs. We went to so many games that year. The year George Wallace was shot. The year of Watergate.  Of the signing of the SALT treaty. The year McGovern chose Eagleton to be his running mate. The year Eagleton withdrew. That all happened during that great season for the Modesto Reds, with Ted Hemenway sitting at the end of the dugout, and me sitting on the other side of the chainlink fence separating us. Me yakking away to a real, live ballplayer. That real, live ballplayer listening.

I started to bring food to the games, food to share with Ted. Sunflower seeds. Oranges. Whatever was handy. And all that time, Ted paid attention, chatted back. Can you imagine? Taking the time to pass the time with a kid, not even six?

During the seventh inning stretch, they'd roll out this target to the mound - plywood, with a catcher painted on it, a hole cut through the plywood where his mitt would be. They'd call numbers - from the programs - and if your number was called, you got the chance to throw from home plate up at that painted catcher. My dad got called once. So close - but his attempt ricocheted off the rim of the hole.

Baseball programs.  My mom kept score in those.  Does anyone keep score these days?
Through all that - the keeping score, the wins and losses - Ted talked to me about Baseball. About how hard the Game was. How great. His worry that he didn't have the stuff to make it to the Bigs in St. Louis. But who cared? I had his ear, he had mine. I even had the nerve to invite Ted to my birthday, right in the middle of the season.

And Ted said yes.

Picture asking a Baseball Player to your house, when you're turning six, and having the Player accept. Imagine that Player coming, and enjoying a meal cooked by your mom. Chicken and pilafi. Meatballs. If you're lucky, you'll get to taste my mom's meatballs someday.

Ted gave me his cap, for a present. Not a new one - his own. He had all his teammates sign it. Over the years, their signatures have faded - but not the HEMENWAY. Printed on the underside of the bill, all caps, black sharpie against green. His sweat staining that green with a salty wave of white.

I love that hat.

And I love baseball, for a lot of reasons. Because it's where I went with my family when I was a kid, traveling in our station wagon to watch Mays and McCovey.  Foster and Kingman.  Marichal and Bonds.  Me and my brothers in the back of our Chevy wagon on the way to San Francisco to watch those guys play, pointing at other kids in other cars when we'd slow down at the San Mateo bridge - they waving their Dodger caps, dreaded blue, we waving Giant black right back. The three of us trying to be the first to spot Candlestick as we headed up 101. George always winning, Dean not caring, me getting mad.

So I love baseball for that, and for how great it sounds on the radio.  And because a baseball player talked to me when I was five, and then six.

What do you think persuaded a man talk to a boy? Why do you think he took the time to answer my questions? To come to my house? I think about Ted a lot. Think about the friendship he shared with me during that season. I keep coming back to the fact that Ted Hemenway was one of the good ones. One of those people you meet, if you're lucky, who impacts your life. Who leaves an impression. Footprints on my beach and all that.

This all came back, in a rush, because I was in Modesto last weekend. My godson was getting married. The rehearsal dinner was at the SOS Club - the Sportsmen of Stanislaus. And Del Webb Field's been demolished, but it was replaced by John Thurman Field, and it's where it's always been, right by the SOS. I hadn't been by that way in years. And all those memories came back. I remembered Ted, and told our story that night at dinner while we drank good, homemade wine.

When I got home, I decided to see if I could track Ted down. Why hadn't I done that before?

Baseball's beautiful because there are stats for everything and everyone - even a minor leaguer who played his first game for the Cardinals farm system when he was 17. I found out Ted was born in August of 1950. Which means he was only 21 that spring and summer. Somehow I always thought Ted was older. That meant Ted would be 59. Not old, not old at all.

Would be. Except.

Ted Russell Hemenway died last February. He was 58. Services were held for him on the 16th of that month at St. Peters Episcopal Church, in Ladue, Missouri. I wish I had tried to find Ted Hemenway earlier. I wish I had the opportunity to say thanks. To ask him some more questions, to hear his answers. To let him know that I treasure the time we spent on the steps of a field that now exists, like him, only in memory.

*   *   *

Some of Ted's friends set up a Memorial Fund. In their words:

"Throughout Ted’s life, he constantly gave more than he took, with countless examples of Ted volunteering to help others when nobody else would.

"With Ted’s sudden passing on February 12th, some of the family’s friends now believe it is time to return the favor and give back to Ted by establishing this foundation.

"This Fund will help pay for the remaining educational costs for Ted's children during this difficult time.  If you would like to support the Hemenway family, please click on the "Donate" button below and you can use Paypal to donate online.  If you would prefer to write a check, the mailing information is listed below.  This foundation’s goal is to raise over $25,000.  Every contribution, whether large or small, will make a difference.


"If you would prefer to write a check, please make it payable to and send it to: Ted Hemenway Memorial Fund, 10130 Bauer Road, St. Louis, MO 63128.

"Thank you – Friends of Ted and the Hemenway family."

*   *   *

I'll be making a donation - if you could, too, I'm sure his children would appreciate it.


4 comments:

  1. Nicky P., missing the blog posts lately. Though if your February has been anything like mine, I completely understand! Also, I understand the pay for blogging is not that high. I have been wondering if Mr. Thomas included a recipe for the Gin Fizz ...? I know you have one of your own that I'd like to try!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Nick -

    I'm Ted Hemenway's son. I came across your blog while googling some things, and words will never be able to express what reading this entry means to me. The way you describe my dad in this entry is exactly as he lived his life - completely selfless.

    Thank you so much for the joy you have brought me in reading this.

    Best,

    Zach Hemenway

    ReplyDelete
  3. Zach,

    I don't know what to say. I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to read something from a stranger as he described my father from a time before I was born. All I can say is - I think we were both lucky to have the fathers we had. Thanks so much for posting - your comments mean a lot to me.

    --Nick

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  4. 3/13/14

    This is such a great story. I went to High School with Ted, was friends with his older brother Ed. I guess I always thought of Ted as only Ed's little brother but I did know that he went on to play miner league ball and over the years had some contact with him but I really didn't stay in touch. Recently, I connected with Ed and found out about his passing. So sad for his family. This letter from Nick is a great tribute and makes me think - could anyone ever have that kind of memory about me? Having made an impact on one small boy is an incredible legacy. God bless you Ted, YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE.

    Barry Schoenwalder

    ReplyDelete