It was the summer of 1955. My friend Brian Trainor and I boarded an early morning train at the Erie Terminal in Youngstown for a trip to Cleveland to see the Indians play the Boston Red Sox on a perfect day for baseball. We were twelve years old. Our fathers bought our train tickets, gave us spending money, and instructed us to report to a Mr. Berry at the umpires' entrance at the stadium to pick up our tickets. After we arrived at the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, we walked about a mile to the stadium and tracked down Mr. Berry. Charley Berry, a long-time American League umpire, it turns out, had been a friend of Brian's father, Frank Trainor, since they grew up together in Massachusetts. After handing us complimentary tickets, Mr. Berry told Brian and me that he had a surprise for us. He escorted us through a tunnel to the Red Sox clubhouse where Ted Williams was waiting to greet us. We were awestruck. Brian and I assumed that he would shake our hands, sign an autograph, and send us on our way. How wrong we were.
After making sure that he had our names right, Ted Williams led us to the playing field and stationed us just behind the batting cage so that we could watch him and other players take batting practice. Later, on the field and in the dugouts, he introduced us to players on both teams.
Ted Williams spent about two hours with us that day. When game time arrived, he autographed two baseballs for each of us, pointed us in the direction of our seats, shook our hands, and said goodbye.
I don't remember which team won that day or how Ted Williams did at the plate. What I will never forget is the kindness and humility of Ted Williams.
Arguably the greatest batter in history had treated two young strangers as though they were his own kids. When Brian and I met him, Ted Williams was already headed to the Hall of Fame. He didn't need to do a favor for an umpire or anyone else. As I got older, I learned that Ted Williams spent many off-duty hours visiting sick children in hospitals without fanfare. I also learned that Ted Williams was an atheist. Here was a baseball legend that gave up five playing seasons during his prime to serve his nation in two wars. During World War II he was a flight instructor and during the Korean War he was a fighter pilot who flew thirty-eight missions alongside a fellow named John Glenn. (So much for the canard that there are no atheists in foxholes.) Here was the last man to hit .400 in a season. Here was a man with a lifetime batting average of .344. Here was a man who hit 521 home runs, who was a two-time MVP, who was a two-time Triple Crown winner, and who struck out during his career less than one in every ten times at bat. Here was a man who was the oldest batting champ in the Major Leagues at age 40 and who appeared in 17 All-Star games. Here was a man who set an on-base percentage record that lasted for 61 years. And here was a man who would be named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team and All-Time Team. One can only imagine what his career totals would have been had his career not been interrupted by military service.
On that day in 1955 Ted Williams, an American icon, was simply a good person doing a kind deed. And Brian, now a banker in Europe, and I, will never forget him for it.