This is a story about my mother, Ted Williams and a fishing trip they took together more than 50 years ago.
My tale is also about a wonderful kindness Williams did for Mom years after their chance meeting
In 1956, my family moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Los Angeles. Puerto Rico was encouraging American businesses to open on the island and the old Sears, Roebuck and Co. had just broken ground for its first store outside the continental U.S.
In the mid-1950s, Williams glad-handed for Sears. The company sent Williams to Puerto Rico to celebrate its grand opening with government officials and other U.S. investors. Williams’ visit would be highlighted by a deep-sea fishing trip with Sears’ friends and clients that included my father’s company.
One afternoon, when my mother picked me up from school, she announced, “I’m going fishing with Ted Williams.” You can only imagine the impact this had on a young teen-age avid baseball fan.
Ted Williams! The Kid! The Splendid Splinter! Teddy Ballgame!
Williams had just come off a great year, having hit .345. He narrowly lost the batting title to Triple Crown winning Mickey Mantle.
I tried every angle to con an invitation but kids flat-out weren’t allowed. And adding to my angst was the cruel fact that I had never seen a major league baseball game. My professional baseball experiences were limited to my former hometown Hollywood Stars and the Puerto Rican Winter League Santurce Cangrejeros.
The fateful day of the fishing trip came and went. My mother reported that everyone had a great time and that Williams could not have been more fun to be with.
In a futile attempt to appease me, Mom brought me a Sears sporting goods catalog with Williams picture on the cover. I threw it away.
I kept up with baseball as well as I could from Puerto Rico. There wasn’t much – incomplete line scores from the early editions of the New York Times, box scores from El Mundo and an infrequent Armed Forces Radio game of the week.
By 1959, I still hadn’t seen a major league game but by then I was going to school on the East Coast so I was getting closer. And in May, when Mom visited the school, she sprung me for the day to see the Yankees play the Red Sox in a mid-afternoon match up.
To Mom’s great disappointment, Williams didn’t start that day. Why is anyone’s guess since the Sox were having a typical lackluster season.
But in the eighth inning, the public address system blared out, “NOW BATTING FOR RED SOX PITCHER IKE DELOCK, NUMBER 9, TED WILLIAMS.”
While Williams gathered a handful of bats, Mom jumped to her feet and yelled, “Let’s go, Ted!”
I’ll never forget the sight of Williams striding toward the plate, swinging four bats over his head to limber up. Williams was the strongest good hitter baseball ever knew. No one has ever hit so many home runs (521) with such a high career batting average (.344).
Williams took his stance in the batter’s box. His gray, traveling flannels were baggy. As was the custom in those days, Williams wore no batting gloves or helmet.
I wish I could tell you that Williams hit the ball into the upper deck. But he grounded out weakly to first baseman Bill Skowron who made the out unassisted.
Since that early summer afternoon more than 50 years ago, my passion for baseball has waxed and waned. But I’ve told the tale about Williams and his fishing trip with my mother to anyone who would listen.
And the story had a heartwarming footnote. Years after our visit to Yankee Stadium, I wrote to Williams to tell him that Mom had been hospitalized. I reminded Williams of his Puerto Rico visit, the fishing trip and recounted for him the joy Mom had watching him at the plate that late spring afternoon.
I told Williams that Mom was recuperating from a hospital stay and suggested that her spirits would be lifted if he dropped her a note.
I never had a doubt that Williams would write. And sure enough, two weeks later, a pen and ink sketch of Williams taking his long, level swing arrived in the mail bearing the inscription: “To Betty, with every best wish, your friend, Ted.”
Both Williams and Mom are gone now. But when people ask me for my favorite baseball memory, I tell them the story about Williams, my mother and fishing that took place miles away from a baseball field.