Chance Encounter

On occasion, Dave , my traveling partner and former boss, stop in a Virginia ABC store to catch up on what's happening and to replenish Dave's stock of alcoholic beverages since he no longer drives. It's interesting to see the changes that have taken place in the stores since we left and the employees, most of whom were not there when we both retired in the early 90s, are cordial and seem to like some of the stories we tell about the "old days." Occasionally, we will hit a long time employee and many of them admit that Dave and I weren't so bad now that they have had someone to compare us to.

Last week, we stopped at the store in Richmond on Broad St. near the Boulevard. We separated soon after entering the store and I soon noticed that Dave had struck up a conversation with a gentleman near the back of the store. I walked over to where they were and I heard the gentleman ask Dave if he was from North Carolina. I don't know what prompted the question but Dave does have a way about him that is North Carolina as a matter of style. Dave told him that he was not from N.C. but that I was and the gentleman immediately spoke to me of a rookie league in Rocky Mount. I nodded and said "Coastal Plain" which I intended as a code word to let him know that I was somewhat acquainted with baseball to see where the conversation would lead. Dave, at this point, asked the gentleman how many years he played in the major leagues and he responded by saying he had played in the major leagues for 16 years and in Japan for i year. At this point, I realized that Dave knew who he was but I didn't so I asked rather bluntly, "Who are you?" I'm Frank Howard, he said and you could have knocked me over with a feather for you see, even though I am 71 years old, I still have this thing about sports heroes. Not most of the players of today but those who rightly or wrongly were considered to be heroes in an earlier time.

I talked with Frank for a few minutes and then realized that he was in the store with a co-worker checking on the status of several products of a distillery for whom he now works as a field representative.

FH lives in northern Virginia and told me that he is building a new house, one more compatible with the needs of he and his wife now that all of the children are grown and have left. I asked him if he had read the book "Teammates" and he said that he had not but that he intended to in the near future. For those of you who may not be familiar with the book, it is David Halberstam's account of Dominic Dimaggio's and Johnny Pesky's last visit with Ted Williams shortly before he died. I told him that he should be prepared to be saddened at some of the things written about Ted William's health near the end. We also discussed how upset we are about the way his children have handled matters relating to his body after he died and Frank said, "They ought to just let the man rest in peace" and I agreed. Howard played for Ted Williams for 4 years with the Washington Senators.

For those of you who don't remember Frank Howard, let me give you a few specifics. He broke into major league baseball with the LA Dodgers in 1958 straight out of Ohio State. His first year of playing regularly was 1960 when he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He had a career batting average of .273 and hit 356 career home runs. He was a crowd favorite because of his size, (6'7", 255 lbs.) and he was known for his long ball home runs. I can see why he went to Japan because he is exactly what the Japanese seem to like. A real giant.

Howard looks like he is in pretty good shape for a 65 year old man. He still looks like he is 6'7" (you lose height as you age) and he has not gained a lot of weight.

As you know I try most of the time to tie my articles to UNC. Sometimes I do better than others and, occasionally, I don't even make an effort. In this instance, I had to be real creative to make the connection and some may call it a "stretch." However, here goes. Howard played for Ted Williams and TW attended UNC under the Navy Pre-Flight program in World War II as did George Bush. Some old timers still talk about the balls he hit on top of Lenoir Hall when he played for the Carolina Pre-Flight Cloudbusters. Baseball was played on Emerson field at the time and had been the football stadium before Kenan was constructed in 1927. I think the Davis Library is there now. I remember seeing the Cloudbusters play Norfolk Navy in 1942 at Devereaux Meadow in Raleigh, a game won by a Dominic Dimaggio home run for Norfolk. Devereaux Meadow is now the headquarters for the Raleigh Sanitation Department and can be seen from Capitol Boulevard near Peace St. Maybe it's time I realized that this group of people I refer to as "old timers" includes me. It's getting increasingly difficult to remember which stories I have told on this web site, message boards and in e-mails. It's hard to believe that I have now written close to 250 articles since beginning the web site 3 years ago. On Oct. 14th, the site will observe it's 3rd birthday. It's been a good ride.