On Thursday February 21st, a gathering took place at the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice Florida, a gathering to raise money for the Plantation Community Foundation.
The foundation, founded in 1988, has raised and granted 2.2 million dollars to non-profit agencies and organizations throughout South Sarasota County Florida and they have done so, in large measure, with the contributions of the Celebrity Golf Classic.
Yesterday marked the eighth year that I have had the honor and privilege of emceeing the annual Celebrity Putting Contest.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the day is the group photo. Trying to corral these guys together to simply take a picture is in and of itself worth the price of admission.
Plantation Director of Golf Operations Keith Struble waves the group into position for the annual group photo.
I must tell you this event never gets old for me, and I anticipate it with the excitement of a child at Christmas. I never know what is going to unfold and it never disappoints me. Yesterday was no different and that is for a number of different reasons.
To begin with it is a delight to spend time with individuals who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession. There is an energy which emanates from that which is palpable. Then add to that the wisdom of age which increases their appreciation of the lives they have led and in that appreciation comes a desire to give back. The end result can only produce a day of joy and so it was.
Boston Celtic great and NBA Hall of Famer Sam Jones is introduced, to the right is his putting partner , Red Sox Hall of Famer, Rico Petrocelli. Sam’s teams won their flight in the tournament with a record-setting 55!
Secondly comes the simple opportunity to hob knob with the men who brought me so much joy and excitement as child and “when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”
I had the wonderful fortune to play golf with a giant of a man, literally and figuratively. A giant of a man who came into my world in the summer of 1961.
My playing partners, left to right, Don Schwall, Gary Hess who played in the minor leagues with Don, Darrell Hess (in the cart) and Don Guercio addressing the ball.
Don Schwall was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1961.
One of a handful of players to start a season in the minor leagues and end up winning the Rookie of the Year Award, the 6’6″ righty was signed by the Red Sox in 1958 off the campus of the University of Oklahoma where he played basketball and baseball.
He tore through the minor leagues going 23-6 with the Alpine Cowboys in the Sophomore League in 1959 which earned him a promotion to triple A. With the Minneapolis Millers in 1960 he was 16-9 and he started the ’61’ season with Seattle in the Pacific Coast League and after a 3-1 start the call came from Fenway. He made his debut on May 21st in the second game of a double-header at Fenway Park. His opponent was the 1959 Champion White Sox and the affable hurler beat them 4-1 going eight innings allowing only six hits and a walk while striking out four.
He won his first five starts and was chosen for the American League All Star team and to top it off one of the two All Star games that year was played at Fenway Park. He pitched three innings at Fenway Park the highlight of which was striking out Stan “the Man” Musial with a runner on third.
Stan and Schwall before the ’61’ All Star game at Fenway Park.
He finished the year 15-7 leading the team in wins and launching a career that would take him to the Pirates and Braves before retiring from the game. But that is not the most important thing that happened that year. The most important thing that happened that year happened in the bullpen.
I know it seems unlikely for a starting pitcher, for the bullpen is not where they usually find themselves, but on an early summer day in 1961, Don asked manager “Pinky” Higgins if he could spend the game in the bullpen. “I just wanted to see what happens out there” he told his skipper.
Well what happened out there was a lovely young lady wearing an orange sweater caught the young pitcher’s eye. The young lady’s name was Patty and she was an airline stewardess from Pittsburgh enjoying a day off in Boston. They “flirted” throughout the game and Don left tickets for her for his next start. Patty returned and the rest, as they say is history.
The Fenway Park bullpen, where it all began for Don and Patty Schwall.
The best part of my day was at dinner hearing them retell that story, and the best part of the story was that last April 20th, when Fenway Park celebrated her 100th birthday, Don and Patty made their way to the bullpen before the game to have a photo taken where it all began. I will not soon forget the joy on Don’s face as he pulled out his phone to show me the picture of him and Patty in the bullpen.
On February 9th they celebrated their 50th anniversary.
The day offered a very personal joy for me as well for I got to introduce a man who is a powerful force in this community I live in. A man who molds and shapes young ball players and motivates them to be the best they can be both on and off the baseball field. Venice High School Head baseball coach Craig Faulkner joined the ranks of the celebrities lending their hand to the cause and it was a treat to introduce him to the fans at the putting contest.
Craig Faulkner (R) played eight years in the Orioles, Cardinals and Brewers organizations. He has been the Venice High School Baseball Head Coach for 15 years building the program to one of the finest prep programs in the state of Florida, capturing state championships in 2007 and 2012.
Thursday, Fenway Park made its way south to the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice Florida. The echos of yesterday paused and mingled with the blessings of today and this soon to be sixty year old mingled with an eight year old boy pouring through his baseball cards and screeching with delight when he found this one!
On this morning of February 22, 2013 I am counting my blessings while my mind wanders north to that place that still “feels like home to me”.
“Relationships, it’s all about relationships.”