I’d just hung my casual teacher spikes in my garage,
My days as chalkboard cavalier ended.
I rewarded myself by enrollment at Detroit Tiger Fantasy Camp,
at a stadium silenced by time.
It sat temporarily groomed before meeting its demolishers.
I needed to recapture my childhood and my faded baseball glory
gone many moons ago during DiMaggio heydays.
I held my head high trying to recapture my youth at seasoned Tiger Stadium.
My fake swagger disappeared when I stepped on a turf where I felt that
Cobb, Kaline, and Greenberg patrolled.
I felt immersed in melancholia.
I carved my way thru the freckled tunnel and stumbled into a major league locker room.
Oozing aromas of coffees and foods beguiled.
My brows rose toward the heavens when I saw my name boldly plastered to a locker.
I reached down, groped for a bench, and plopped.
The big three sauntered.
The trio of former major leaguers began baseball demonstrations.
Then, number 26 commandeered the stage.
I stood mesmerized, staring at Gates Brown.
His legendary journey thru the record book as best pinch hitter of all-time fascinated me.
He instructed deliberately and with an effusive sense of humor veiled behind a friendly grin.
He said, “Always start slow, then taper off.”
Laughter mushroomed, and dismissed my tension.
God blessed me with a ticket to Brown’s team.
I signed up with my friend John, a former school superintendent.
Immediately, after jogging onto the field, Gates called, “Doc, come step up to my plate!”
Following that, I heard, “Professor step out here too!”
Our shrugged shoulders abandoned us since we realized that he’d nicknamed us.
My friend John was “The Doc”, and he tagged me, “The Professor.”
A powerful and giant of a man sporting boundless energy faced me.
In our dugout he seamlessly dashed player-to-player, chatting,
demonstrating, and managing his team.
Laugher continually resounded from our dugout, always initiated by Manager Brown.
I looked up and said, “Look, swirling and threatening clouds, and the sky is rumbling.”
He merely pointed to the field. We all sprinted out.
My mouth was agape when Gates selected me as the starting pitcher.
Eight runs later, I finally got the third out.
I wondered why he’d not relieved me. He read my face, then looking at me with a wide-eyed grin,
he said, “You did say your fantasy was pitching.”
He added “I considered handing out face masks and chest protectors
to your fielders as safety precautions.”
Nodding my head and camouflaging embarrassment, I snickered on my dugout return.
Later, Gates visited me in the batting cage and asked, “You okay?”
I chuckled “Of course.” Gates suggested that we were similar.
“We both throw right handed and bat lefty,” he observed.
I answered, “Coach, that’s all we have in common baseball wise.”
I hit for several minutes, nearly falling on my face after an overzealous swing.
Opening the cage slightly, he waved me over to the gate, and then said, “You Mantle?”
He whispered, “Line drives. See the ball hit the bat. Practice that, hitting will be easier.”
Sitting at the camp ending Awards Ceremony,
I remembered many of the wise words from this baseball Preacher Gates,
such as, “Ton, I’ve never seen a man hit the ball to that right field fence
and get his butt thrown out at second.”
After that, with apologies to Marlon Brando, I thought I had Gate’s expert instruction in high school,
“I might have been a contender.”
At the end of his camp speech, as he prepared to hand me a shirt, Gates said,
“Tony D’Alessandro’s third base play brought back memories of Aurelio Rodriguez.”
Standing, I started stutter stepping head down toward my coach.
I felt humbled. He’d compared me to a Golden Glove winner.
Sadly, after that our lives were separated by the winds of time.
Years later, I ran into one of his teammates and he mentioned that
when he came up to the Big Leagues,
Gates took him under wing and advised him.
Brown was more than a great hitter; he was an outstanding and humane gentleman.
Lately, baseball has wisely recognized previously ignored athletes
and selected players like Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges, and Buck O’Neil in its Hall of Fame.
It rewarded key relievers like Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera who locked up and saved victories.
How about pressure filled key moments when hits are needed to salvage games?
That domain belongs to the pinch hitter. Reflecting that, Gates Brown’s name echoes in my mind.
Time for Cooperstown to roll out its red carpet and open its gates for Brown.
Time for Cooperstown to acknowledge the greatest pinch hitter in baseball history.
Time to bestow Hall of Fame honors to Gates Brown!!!