-Story by Jack Smiles–
“Great-grandfather, tell me about the home run you hit off Warren Spahn. And tell me about the time you drank beer with Mickey Mantle.”
“Home run, no. Mantle, no. Beer, yes. And the beer was half the damn reason I didn’t.”
“Didn’t what, Great-grandfather?”
“Didn’t hit a homer off Warren Spahn or anybody else. Didn’t make it, damn it. And stop calling me Great-grandfather.”
“But you did, Great-grandfather. You made it to the major leagues, and you hit three home runs—and one was off Warren Spahn. It says so right here in my baseball encyclopedia: Stanley Bendis, born Benton, Pennsylvania, height 5’11”, weight 170, bats left, throws…”
“Yeah—blah, blah, blah. Don’t it say, too, I only got in fifty games and batted .220?”
“Thirty-nine and .207. But Great-grandfather, you were a professional ballplayer for eleven years.”
“Professional? I coulda made more in the mines. Why do you think they call them the minors?”
“Very funny, Great-grandfather. But still—you were a major-leaguer. You played in Baker Bowl. It’s the coolest thing.”
“Cool? Oh, brother. And stop calling me Great-grandfather.”
“What should I call you, then?”
“Pops. Stanley. I don’t know.”
“The little kids call you Pops. I’m big now, Great-grandfather.”
“Yeah, you are big. Well, tall, anyway.”
Jacob visited his great-grandfather at his grandmother’s house every week, sometimes two or three times. He always lugged his baseball encyclopedia which showed Great-grandfather’s Major League record and printout of his great-grandfather’s minor league record. Great-grandfather sat at the kitchen table with a beer while Jacob loomed over him and peppered him with questions.
What was it like in San Antonio? Did you ride the rails all over California? Do you know you led the New England League in stolen bases in 1948? Do you know you were teammates with Jimmy Piersall in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and what was it like there?
Jacob’s great-grandfather spit nails. At least that’s what he said: “Answering your questions is like spitting nails.”
One day Jacob brought Brandon with him. “He’s my friend from school and he wants your autograph.”
“Autograph? What kind of cockamamie stuff has Jacob been telling you?”
“He said you played in the major leagues, sir.”
“So did a million other guys—why don’t you get their autographs?”
Brandon turned red and squirmed. “I don’t know any of them other guys,” he said.
“Huh, what’d you say, kid?”
“Great-grandfather,” said Jacob, “please?”
Brandon handed Great-grandfather a ball and pen and he signed it.
Later Jacob asked Great-grandfather to come to school for show-and-tell.
Great-grandfather moaned. Jacob thought he might really spit nails. “I don’t want no damn kids staring at me like I’m some kinda freak.”
Jacob’s eyes grew moist. Great-grandfather couldn’t stand to see Jacob cry, so it was off to school the next day.
Jacob stood in front of his classmates. Great-grandfather sat in the teacher’s chair. Miss Redding stood by the door.
“This is my great-grandfather Stanley Bendis, and he played baseball in the major leagues for the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Phillies. You can ask him any questions.”
Hands shot up.
“My dad says baseball players are a bunch of millionaires and half of them are on dope. Are you a millionaire?” Max asked.
“A millionaire? I’m lucky I got a pot to piss in.”
The kids giggled. Miss Redding flushed.
“Sorry. No—I’m no millionaire. Ballplayers today are, but I played a long time ago. I’m not even a thousandaire.”
The kids laughed at that.
“And I’m not on dope.”
They laughed again.
They asked him how old he was. Eighty-nine.
They asked him who was the best player he ever saw, and who was the worst.
Ted Williams, and himself. They asked him if he played Little League. There was no such thing in his time. They asked him what he did after baseball. “Roofs,” he said.
“Roofs?” asked Miss Redding.
“Yeah, I put a roof on half the houses in this town and tarred the one above our heads right now.”
“Tell us about the first time you batted in the major leagues,” Jacob said.
Jacob turned to his notes. “Baker Bowl, September 7, 1950, against Bobby Shantz of the Philadelphia A’s.”
Great-grandfather paused and cleared his throat. The room went quiet. “Probably struck out,” he said.
Jacob laughed, the kids all laughed, and Great-grandfather laughed with them. This was the first time Jacob could remember seeing his great-grandfather laugh.