BUFFALO — I did not plan to write another column about baseball until at least October, when the World Series will be played. Yet, two events, within the last 10 days, show us the best of times and the worst of times, in professional sports. First, the worst.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was the prime target of Major League Baseball’s investigation into the link between the biogenesis anti-aging clinic and performance-enhancing substances provided to more than a dozen players. A-Rod received a suspension that would sideline him without pay, for 211 regular season games – until the end of the 2014 season.
Many fans have already turned their backs on him, as he appeals the suspension and remains eligible to play. The suggestion of scandal has ruined his legacy.
Those who love baseball received salvation, in the form of an 80th birthday party Saturday night for Rocky Colavito, one of the best home run hitters in the game. It was hosted at Progressive Field, by the Cleveland Indians, the team with which he grew to legendary status.
Colavito was traded by Cleveland to the Detroit Tigers, the day before the 1960 season was scheduled to open. Some Tribe fans say the deal left a dark cloud over the team that has prevented it from winning the World Series, ever since. Even today, Cleveland fans fire back “Don’t knock The Rock,” whenever an ill word is said about him. Colavito continued to make headlines, before retiring in 1968 and taking on multiple, non-playing roles, off and on, with the Indians.
His name still surfaces when writers and broadcasters reference the 16 players who have hit four home runs in a single game, or that handful of position players who came into a game in an emergency to pitch – and earned a notch in the win column.
I saw Colavito play twice, during his second tour in Cleveland, before short stints with the Kansas City Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, Yankees and Chicago White Sox. I met him when Buffalo hosted old-timers games in the 80s, at War Memorial Stadium and the former Pilot Field, now Coca-Cola Stadium. Still playing the outfield in his late 50s, he was gracious and friendly.
Saturday, I stood at the edge of the Indians dugout and extended my hand to him, as if we had just seen each other, the day before.
“You made my childhood,” I told The Rock. “Every time I went up to the plate, I pointed my bat at the pitcher. I stretched by pulling the bat over my head and between my shoulders. My neighbor called me ‘Rocky.’ He never called me ‘Dave.’”
Colavito wagged his head in humility, as he did over and over again, that day. He would later say that Cleveland’s outpouring of friendship was overwhelming.
“It’s hard to explain it in words,” Colavito said, in an interview with mlb.com. “So many people remembering you and telling their kids about you, and they remember you. It’s definitely a wonderful feeling. It really is. I love Cleveland. It’s my favorite town in the world.”
It was a day that was a long time coming, for the Bronx native, who played at a time when doubleheaders were common and most players worked tough jobs during the winter, to support their families.
I came to the game hoping to have him sign a ball for me, made more meaningful if he would add “8-10-13” to his signature. But, with his family surrounding him, I did not want to intrude any further. Or maybe I was so excited that I forgot.
Suddenly filled with confidence, I asked if I could have my picture taken with him. That click was better than any autograph.
David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.