Before he was Hank Sr., he was a sandlot sensation at third base. Scouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers and nearly every other team coveted him. Hank Wells, eldest of 6 sons from Flatbush was the talk of New York when he finally signed with Brooklyn. “When are Dem Bums bringin’ up Hank? What’re they waitin’ fer?” That was before he got the call. Not from the Dodgers brass, but from his father. “Your mother is dying. Leave the team now. Your place is home. Come and help me run the hardware store and look after your brothers.”
It was in the genes. The uniform felt better than a custom-made suit. He pinched himself to insure he wasn’t dreaming. Hank Jr. slowly rounded the bases in a well-practiced homerun trot. After crossing third base, he glanced over at Box 14, Seat 1. Hank Sr.’s seat was empty. Ironic. In over two decades, Hank Sr. had never missed a home game, but he wasn’t present to witness Hank Jr.’s major league debut. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, down by 3 runs, Hank Jr. smashed a pinch-hit grand slam walk-off homerun. This was beyond fairy tale stuff. The most inept Hollywood hack writer wouldn’t dare try to shove this script down a producer’s throat. This was really bad fiction. Fifty thousand strong couldn’t have cared less. They celebrated the unlikely victory late into the night. Not Hank Sr.
The sign outside the batting cage read, VERY FAST. Iron Mike swung its mechanical arm in jerky fashion, scooped a ball, and hurled it toward Hank, Jr. Whoosh! Thwack! Into the heavy hanging burlap and passed Hank Jr. before the 9-year old boy had a chance to move.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” screamed Hank Sr., “Swing the goddamned bat!”
Whoosh! Thwack! Again the 100 mph ball flew by Hank Jr.
“Are you kidding me, son? Swing the bat before I break it over your head!”
The words were barely out of Senior’s mouth when the next ball sped toward Hank Jr. Whoosh! Thwack! His swing was a full second too late.
“You should be wearing a dress, Junior. Keep your eye on the goddamned ball!”
“Step into it. Stop being afraid of the ball. Jesus Christ, I raised a fairy. Swing like you mean it, or would you rather go home and play with little dolls?”
Hank Sr.’s fingers squeezed the chain link backstop. He fed another quarter into the coin machine. “Five more pitches. Hit something!”
“What the hell have I been teaching you? Man up, boy. I’m going to make you a big league hitter if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Son, we are going to stay out here all goddamned night if that’s what it takes to teach you how to hit a goddamned baseball. Jesus Christ, I’ve never seen anyone so pathetic.”
Whoosh! Thwack! “But, Dad, I…”
“Shut up and watch the ball for Crissakes. Get closer to the plate. Bend your knees in there. Keep your elbows out and straight. Focus on the ball. Keep your head straight. Swing!”
A small crowd had gathered around the batting cage, watching the futile efforts of the young Hank Jr. A guy with a baseball cap and a stub of a cigar stepped forward. “Hey you!” He was directing his conversation to Hank Sr. “Leave the kid alone. The machine is too fast for him. Anyone can see that. Why don’t you let him take some swings in the medium speed cage? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”
Hank Sr. turned around. “Who the hell do you think you are to tell me how to raise my son? This is my kid and I’ll teach him how to play baseball any way I damn please. My kid’s going to be a major leaguer. What’s your kid gonna do? Dance ballet or play the flute? Get lost!”
“Suit yourself, asshole.”
Hank Sr., LOUISVILLE SLUGGER tattooed across his forehead, didn’t see the homerun. He was elsewhere.