“There’s Going To Be A Great Day”
At Dorsey High School, back in those days of the real early fifties, the student body referred to athletes around campus as “the jocks”. Most of us didn’t walk like regular humans. We’d “swagger”. We were a bunch of sixteen-year-old kids who grew up playing baseball as men. Men who within the next two years were to become recognized as the best high school baseball team in the United States. At the time, during eleventh and twelfth grade, our school baseball team established a high school national record; our team won forty-three straight games.
Of the sixteen team members, four of us were constantly receiving glowing writeups, singing the praises of the team’s success story. During the course of our senior year together, a variety of Major League Baseball scouts began showing up in an effort to find out if what the local newspapers were reporting was for real.
Note for those who know little about baseball, our national pastime: Being a winning team in the great city of Los Angeles is a major accomplishment. Winning forty-three straight games is almost an impossibility.
Upon completion of the season, all there was left to accomplish was to celebrate with the family and friends who cheered us on from the start. When you’re in love, it should be a lifetime of continual celebration. It seemed like, during that heady time period, wherever we turned there’d be an individual or organization inviting all of us to attend something or other.
Baseball and the unbelievable similarities with life and the way we play at it each and every day of our lives…
It was at a practice one day when I had completed my daily running and calisthenics workout, and I was loosening up my throwing arm as I prepared to pitch team batting practice. It was a ritual of mine to do two go-arounds. Simply explaining the methodology of pitching batting practice, it was making sure the guys were getting good pitches to swing at.
After giving the batters a full fifteen minutes on the first go-around, I came off the mound and rested for ten minutes, and then came back to pitch between fifteen to twenty minutes as if it was an actual game. The difference was, in this set, I told each batter coming up to the plate exactly what pitch I was intending to throw. Today, many professional baseball pitchers practice the same way when they pitch team batting practice. But not all—depending on who the team pitching coach happens to be.
In my case, it was a lot like life: A relief pitcher, especially as a team closer, that’s who I was. We must learn how to compete under far less-than-ideal conditions.
“That’s life. That’s What It’s All About”
Easy or strain
Maybe too damn hot
Could it be your lucky old sun
Try not to complain
The guy on our team
I loved the most
Was always there to encourage us all
No teammate worked harder toward success
– Harvey Kalmenson –
George (Sparky) Anderson was not only a teammate during our once-in-a-lifetime ride to the top, but also my sincerest high school best friend as well. There was a time many years ago, while I happened to be throwing batting practice, I stopped for a couple of seconds to dry my brow… for whatever reason I glanced away from the guy in the batter’s box and caught sight of my dad playing catch with George’s father on the sidelines. I smiled from inside out, and I caught sight of my friend, Georgie, admiring the same incident. Two fathers enjoying themselves. It was indeed pride personified. Two dads together celebrating without a word being spoken.
Today and forever, within the confines of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, you’ll find a statue and a story about George “Sparky” Anderson, one of the few managers to win the World Series while managing two different teams, one in each league. I, on the other hand, have a baseball signed by George Anderson a few years ago in 1952. We were teammates and champs.
While my teenage swagger may have been better than his, it fell into disrepair shortly after high school ended due to a freak injury on a baseball field which abruptly evicted me from the dreamland I was living in. It all took place almost exactly as I received my high school diploma upon graduation. I had recently turned down getting a college scholarship. There were no other choices for me.
I became a walk-on baseball player and student at Santa Monica City College. On Saturdays and Sundays, I pitched for a variety of Major League-funded teams that played off-season baseball here in Los Angeles, and as far east as San Bernardino. During the weekdays, I worked for my father in his factory. My heart wasn’t in either my dad’s factory nor did I have a love affair with traveling to the furthest reaches of Los Angeles county to pitch baseball for a few bucks. It wasn’t a great day for me. I guess a crossroad in almost anyone’s life can become trying. A decision had to be made, and so I did. The clock was ticking, 1952 was ending. It was definitely time for a new beginning.
And so, Harvey Kalmenson said goodbye to his family, cohorts, and friends. And hello to the United States Army. I volunteered for the draft. In a few days, I was on my way. Hello, Korea. I was about to discover things I had never realized about myself, and what a narrow life I was living. Being able to pitch a baseball is playing a game. True teamwork is synonymous with what you can spiritually make out of it. You’ll hear from me next week, God willing!
Now pitching for Kalmenson & Kalmenson