THE SECOND INNING—HEROES (From Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance pp. 23-35)
Darrel’s Big League Hero
Darrel met his hero in 1969, Darrel’s rookie year in the Big Leagues.
Darrel and the Reds didn’t have much to celebrate as they neared the halfway point of the season with a weekend series against the Chicago Cubs and Darrel’s hero, Ernie Banks. Cincinnati sat in third place in the NL West, 2.5 games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves but playing just five games above .500. The Cubs, conversely, were in first place in NL East, 8 games ahead of the New York Mets. They displayed their first place prowess in the opening game, beating the Reds 14-8, with Darrel going 0-2.
Darrel’s failure to reach first base kept him from experiencing the fulfillment of a dream that started nine years earlier.
On a beautiful spring afternoon in Hammond, Indiana, kids piled off the school bus at Delaware Ave. Girls in dresses cradled their books in their arms as if trying to protect themselves from the boys who teased them as they horsed around–running, hollering, and burning off the energy built up from a day of classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School. It was also known as OLPH, which the public school kids teasingly referred to as “Old Ladies Pool Hall.”
Darrel had better things to do and without turning to the left or the right, he ran straight home. With his books tucked under one arm and his jacket slung over his shoulder, he cleared all the front porch steps in one jump and crashed through the front door. “Hi, Mom, I’m home!” He threw his books onto the living room sofa and turned on the TV for his favorite afternoon activity, watching the Cubs play baseball.
In 1956 almost all Major League Baseball games were played during the daytime. The Cubs, however, didn’t begin playing night games until 1988, so every home game was played under the sun, which was fine for Darrel. For an eager boy it was a long time to wait for the black-and-white TV to warm up. He could hear the voice of the Cubs’ play-by play announcers, Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau on WGN, Channel 9, before the picture came into focus, and it only increased the anticipation.
Darrel loved baseball! It didn’t matter to the young fan that the Cubs were not very good in 1956. That April, they had only won three games. In May, they “improved,” with one more win. But seven wins in two months was simply dreadful! By the end of the season, they would finish 33 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had won 93 games, about as many as the 94 the Cubs lost. The Dodgers would go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees in a seven-game classic. For young Darrel baseball was baseball, especially in April, where hope sprung eternal. In the age before ESPN and superstations with just about every game being televised, it was just great to be a Cubs fan and get to watch them on TV.
The fire of Darrel’s love for baseball and watching the Cubs, was fanned by the young shortstop, “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks. Entering his fourth season in 1956, he was coming off an All-Star season as the starting shortstop for the National League, when he hit almost .300 while slugging 44 home runs. He finished third in the MVP voting, behind Roy Campanella and Duke Snyder but ahead of Willie Mays. Darrel was in awe of Ernie, who could do everything on the baseball field: hit for power, run the bases with speed, play with a great glove at shortstop and throw like a shot out of a gun. As a Little Leaguer, to the best of his ability, Darrel tried to copy every move and technique of his hero. Darrel couldn’t get enough of the Cubs, Ernie Banks, or baseball. “I want to make it to the Big Leagues and be a short stop like Ernie banks,” he declared to himself and to anyone else who would listen.
He watched every game on TV and would scan the sports page of the newspaper the next day to check the standings and read about his team and his hero. He cut out pictures and put them on the wall of his room. Being a Big Leaguer was all he talked about, so much so, that Carlos and Ellie, his parents, Larry his brother, Mary Kay his sister and all of his friends began to notice how much this meant to Darrel.
It was easy for Darrel’s dad to encourage his son’s admiration for Ernie. He knew that there were a lot of little boys who wanted to be like Ernie Banks when they got older and a lot of men wished they could play ball as well as Ernie Banks. Beyond baseball, Ernie was a man worth emulating. His attitude was unfailingly positive, no matter how abysmal a season his team was having. His demeanor and smile were contagious and his character, noble. Kids absolutely loved him because he always took time with them, looking each in the eye and asking them questions as he signed autographs.
Over the next four years while playing Little League, Darrel watched as many Cubs games as he could and applied all he learned from watching Ernie to his playing. It was a good time for both players. Darrel grew exponentially in his skills as a shortstop, pitcher and hitter. Ernie Banks was becoming one of the Major Leagues’ major stars, posting impressive numbers. In 1957, he was second in home runs behind Willie Mays. In 1958, he led the Majors by hitting 47, which was five more than Mickey Mantle, and then was named National League MVP. In 1959, he duplicated the feat. The Cubs were still a sub .500 team but Ernie’s unwavering commitment and consistent performances gave Chicagoans something to cheer about and young admirers, a lot to look up to.
To everyone’s great pleasure, Ernie accepted the invitation to speak to the Hessville Little League at their awards banquet on August 25, 1960, in Hammond at St. Michael’s Hall. Carlos’ involvement, Darrel’s leading role on his team, and the league all-stars helped the Chaney family get seats at a table near the platform for Ernie’s speech. “I’ve waited all my life for this. Tonight I’m going to get Ernie’s autograph.” After what seemed like a lifetime, even though it was only about four years, and watching all those games on TV and a few at the stadium, Carlos’ strategy and Darrel’s dream seemed to be coming true.
Ernie managed to find time for these kids and their families in his Big League schedule. After the game at Wrigley that hot August day, Ernie drove to Hammond to keep his appointment with the Hessville Little Leaguers and their families. The speech was scheduled after dinner but the empty seat beside the podium kept the eager boys, especially Darrel, too nervous to enjoy their meal.
From the back of the banquet hall, when everyone was enjoying their dessert, a raucous of nervous excitement broke out. There, bigger than life, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and tie, and flashing that amazing smile, was Ernie Banks in person. Darrel stood at his table to get a better look, but his dad grabbed his arm and told him to sit down and mind his manners.
“This is all wrong, Dad. Those guys in the back are getting his autograph, and I’ll never get to talk to him.” A mob of worshipping kids surrounded Ernie. He signed a bunch of programs and laughed as he maneuvered his way to the platform. The parents managed to get the boys back in their seats as Ernie passed. Darrel tried to be happy to see Ernie but couldn’t believe he would get this close and not be able to meet him or get an autograph. “Be patient, Darrel. We’ll try to get it after Ernie speaks and before he leaves,” Carlos told Darrel, trying to save the evening so Darrel could enjoy the speech.
Darrel was on the edge of his seat, right in front of the podium. Ernie did not waste the opportunity to be a positive influence on this crowd. “When you go to play, play hard. When you go to work, work hard. And when you go to pray, pray hard. And learn to tell the truth and you will never have to remember what you said.”
As Ernie wrapped up he said, “Before I go, I want you all to know I realize I’m a role model for a lot of your kids. I understand what that means. I understand there is someone here who pitched a no-hitter this year.” Darrel, thought, “I pitched a no hitter.” “And there is a young man here who is an all-star short stop and wants to be one like I am.” Again, Darrel thought, “That sounds like me.” “I also understand there’s a young man in the audience who wants to be a Big Leaguer like me.” “I want to. He must be talking about me.” “I would like to meet that young man. So, Darrel Chaney, would you please come up here.” Darrel, with his mouth wide open in awe, looked at his dad and then his mom and was getting out of his seat and squeezing his way between the backs of chairs as he made his way toward the platform. Carlos handed Darrel a program and pulled a pen from his pocket. “While you’re up there, get that autograph!”
Carlos knew what he was doing when he arranged for that front table. The applause died down as Darrel approached his hero at the podium. Ernie put his arm around him and said, “Now Darrel, tell the audience the truth. What do you really want to be when you grow up?” He said, “Mr. Banks, all I ever want to be is a Major League Baseball Player, just like you!” Ernie took the program and signed it and said to him in front of 1,000 kids, moms and dads, “I’ll see you in the Big Leagues!”
Darrel took the autographed program home and hung it next to the crucifix above his bed. Ernie’s words settled in his mind, heart and soul, and they were lived out in his actions. He played hard, worked hard, prayed hard and told the truth, so he could make it to the Big Leagues.
For the next three years, Darrel played with the Tigers in the Hessville Babe Ruth League. There were no dugouts, fences or sponsors for the boys who wanted to play at the next level. They sat on a solitary bench when they were not in the field and a few parents watched from a six-step set of wood bleachers behind them. The boy who could hit a ball into the patch of woods beyond left field was awarded a home run. Darrel, a natural lefty, learned to switch-hit with the supervision and permission of his manager, his dad. It worked. He hit home runs and batted from both sides of the plate for the rest of his baseball career.
Next was Hessville Post 232 of the American Legion, which sponsored the team for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who played their home games at Hessville Park. At this age, the team experienced road games, playing other American Legion teams in nearby towns. Mr. Hankins managed Darrel’s team effectively, and with only one arm. In an accident at the manufacturing plant of American Can Company, he lost his left arm. He could still hit grounders for infield practice by throwing the ball up and grabbing the bat from under his right arm with the same hand, then swing it in time to hit hard grounders to the infielders as well as high-pops to the outfielders.
Dale McReynolds, a scout for the Reds, saw Darrel tear it up in American Legion with a .462 batting average. The day after that meeting in the living room when Darrel signed with the Reds, Mr. Hankins announced to the team and to the parents, “It is with sadness and pride that I tell you, tonight will be Darrel’s last game with us. He’s signed with the Cincinnati Reds and will be leaving tomorrow for the minor leagues.”
The Reds drafted Darrel in the second round of the Rookie Draft, the same draft in which the Athletics took Reggie Jackson in the first round, and the Twins got Steve Garvey in the third round. Twenty two of the sixty in that draft made it to the Big Leagues.
After he signed with the Reds in the living room of his home surrounded by his family, Darrel only had one day to say his good-byes. The next day at 7:00 in the morning, Dale McReynolds picked him up and put him on a plane at O’Hare airport for a flight to Sioux Falls, SD. Darrel had become a member of the Reds’ Class A Rookie League team, the Packers. He only batted .206 on a team whose average was .177 but playing at the next level was a huge step toward his dream.
His first summer as a pro wrapped up in early September. After a couple weeks at home, Darrel headed to the Instructional League in Clearwater, Florida, where the Astros and Reds took their high picks, the players with the most potential, to develop their skills. Hard work and a lot of practice didn’t bother Darrel because he had a great work ethic and, after all, it was all going to help him make it to the Big Leagues. At times, Darrel would get to play with Big Leaguers because they would come down to the Instructional League to work on their timing, get some more at-bats and find a way to fit some more baseball into their year.
In 1966 baseball was not a lucrative career. The dream was to play the game, travel to America’s great cities, win, and have your name included with your hero’s on scoreboards, in newspapers and on baseball cards. During the off-season, Darrel would get a job at home, in the city of Hammond. Even though he was thankful for a little money, the job only made him dream about baseball as he drove up and down the alleys of Hammond making sure people put their trash cans where they were supposed to after garbage pick-up.
Darrel had a successful spring and jumped up to the AA Knoxville Smokies to play ball under manager, Don Zimmer. But his baseball season was cut short so he could serve his country in the Army Reserves. His Big League toughness and skills were developed in others ways; through basic training at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Sill, in Lawton, OK. Six months of mandatory active duty had to be completed before he could return to baseball.
On Christmas day, 1967, Cindy Pajak, Darrel’s childhood sweetheart and square dancing partner, all the way back to ten years of age, agreed to marry Darrel. Their marriage in February of ‘68 began in the uncertain world of the professional baseball player. Even after missing a year of baseball, Darrel was invited to Spring training in Clearwater, Florida. When the season started, he played for the Asheville, North Carolina Tourists AA Team, managed by Sparky Anderson.
In all he did Darrel’s focus remained clear. Along the journey the words of Ernie Banks connected with his commitment to work hard, play hard, pray hard and tell the truth, in order to make it to the Big Leagues. After three years in the Minors and at the end of Spring training, the suspense increased. What was the next step? Did he have what was required? Were the right people making note of his progress and, if so, would he find favor in their eyes? Was it going to be another year in the Minors? Would he go up a notch, or down? Would he even be released, return to Hammond with his new bride, and get a permanent job with the city of Hammond?
On the last day of 1969 Spring Training, Darrel still did not know what was next. Manager Davey Bristol of the Big League Club scheduled meetings with Clyde Mayshore and Darrel. One more spot was available. The rest of the team already knew that they had made it, were heading for the Minors, or worse, going home. In the locker room, for Darrel and Clyde, the mood was tense. They knew that one would experience the thrill of making it to the Big Leagues and the other’s dream would be deferred. Today, one player would take the giant leap closer to his dream and the other would step back into the Minors and, perhaps, closer to the biggest disappointment of his young life.
Clyde’s appointment was first. Darrel sat nervously in the locker room, with sweaty palms, dry mouth and butterflies in his stomach wondering what was going on behind closed doors.
The door opened and Clyde came out crying. He tried to hide his emotions and profound disappointment. Clyde quickly made the painful walk to his locker where he packed his belongings and headed out to another season of trying to prove himself. He would not be part of a team which was getting ready to begin a Big League season filled with hope and potential.
Darrel was pretty sure he made the team and his meeting with Davey was brief and to the point. Yet, it was not until he heard the words from Dave’s mouth that he could really breathe again. “Congratulations Darrel, you made the club.”
On April 11th, Darrel’s first game experience was to pinch-run for Fred Whitefield in the top of the ninth inning in the Reds’ 6-4 loss to Atlanta.
On April 19th, the eighth game of the 1969 season, Darrel took the field as a Big Leaguer for the first time. Bob Aspromonte hit a grounder to Darrel who threw him out at first for his first big league defensive play. Darrel went 0 for 3 that day but he was not alone in a low performance. The Reds were shut out.
Darrel’s first time with the Reds playing the Cubs was a three-game series early in June. Every game mattered but this game was at Wrigley Field. Darrel would not be in the stands watching as Big Leaguers played America’s favorite past time. Instead of sitting on the couch in his living room watching other guys on TV, he was on the field, in the game and the TV announcer was calling his name.
As Cubs’ fans were arriving, Ernie Banks was down the third base line as always, spending time with the kids and giving autographs. Darrel was on the field running his warm-up sprints, hitting batting practice and getting ready to take the field, but part of his attention was still focused on Ernie Banks.
Ernie’s influence had been a presence in Darrel’s life in his formative years and his climb to the Big Leagues. He looked at the autograph on his Hessville Little League program countless times, “I’ll see you in the Big Leagues.” The words and even his voice from the Little League banquet often rang in Darrel’s ears and thoughts. “When you work, work hard and when you play, play hard and when you pray, pray hard. And always tell the truth and you won’t have to remember what you say.” Darrel knew that Ernie had a significant part in his success and it felt as though he had been there through it all.
It matters what people think about you, especially if it is someone you consider to be significant. Darrel wanted to find a way to let Ernie know that he made it to the Big Leagues. If Ernie could only know a fraction of how much he meant to Darrel or as Darrel hoped, remember the words he wrote to Darrel, “I’ll see you in the Big Leagues”. Darrel was only a kid then, one of a countless number of fans whom Ernie met over those nine years, one of thousands to whom he gave an autograph. Even though Ernie cared, he could not possibly remember the kid from Hammond.
Players from the opposing teams did not fraternize in 1969. Darrel was going to have to meet Ernie on the field during the game but it would have to be natural, a perfect series of events. Darrel was nervous and excited at the thought of playing on the same field as Ernie. He was also a Big Leaguer now and he wanted Ernie to see that he not only made it, but that he also deserved to be there.
On Friday afternoon, Darrel came to bat at the top of the second inning with two outs and nobody on base. He took one more swing with two bats, tossed one bat down and made his way to the plate. Ernie was just 90 feet away. With his heart beating so hard he could feel it, he stepped in the batter’s box for his first at-bat at Wrigley Field. He managed to contain his nerves and lay off the first pitch. With a 1 and 0 count, he jumped on the next pitch and hit a grounder which was caught on the second bounce by Nate Oliver, who then fired it to first for the third out of the inning.
Tommy Helms drew a walk to open the fifth inning. Darrel took the plate, only a little less nervous but no less determined to reach first. With the count, two balls and two strikes, he went down swinging. In the sixth inning Jim Beauchamp pinch-hit for Darrel who would come out of the game. He would not get to first this game but he used his glove for four putouts in the field: a high pop-hit by Willie Smith, a line drive by Ron Santo, a double play on a grounder from Don Kessinger and a pop-fly by Billy Williams. The Cubs won 14 to 8.
Saturday afternoon was a great day for a ball game. The crowd was full of excited people off for the weekend, out with family and friends, and excited to watch their first-place Cubs play baseball. Everybody around Darrel knew he was the most excited one at the ball park. Even the press knew Darrel wanted to meet Ernie. The human interest story of the kid who made it to the “Bigs” and got to play with his hero, made the sports page. But, once again, Darrel’s dream would be deferred when he led off the third inning with a ground-out to the short stop. In the top of the fifth, he missed Ernie again but he let him know he could hit when he lined a double in the gap to right field.
In the top of the seventh, Darrel came up after Johnny Bench grounded out and Tommy Helms doubled to center field. In the on-deck circle, Darrel cast a glance at his proud parents who were sitting near the field on the visitors’ side. Darrel gave them the tickets he was allotted as a player and Carlos had the day off from Sinclair. His eyes filled with tears as he saw his son batting in a Big League ball game.
Darrel dug in at the plate, cocked his bat and locked on Bill Hands for his wind up. His first pitch was a curve ball. Darrel hit it on the end of the bat and it was a bouncer to second. Tommy who was running was safe at third and Darrel, with good speed, in a bang-bang play, stretched to beat the throw at first.
“Safe,” the umpire yelled and spread his arms out with palms down. It took Darrel ten steps to slow down and he turned into foul territory and walked back to the bag. With his left foot on first and his hands on his knees he glanced at his parents and bowed his head for a quick and simple prayer, “Thank you God for getting me here.” An arm reached around his shoulder and he looked over to see the hand that grabbed him. He thought it was the first base coach giving him instructions on what to do with runners on the corners and one out, but it was a large black hand. Darrel snapped straight up and looked his hero right in the eyes from just inches away.
“Darrel Chaney. I knew you’d make it! Welcome to the Big Leagues!!”
Then in front of 36,000 people Ernie Banks gave the kid from Hammond a Big League hug.
Did Ernie remember Darrel? Did he read it in the paper or did someone tell him the story? Who cares? It didn’t matter.
It was a defining moment for both of them. Ernie received the reward of living the life of a role model. Darrel experienced affirmation from his hero and the realization that he had made it to the Big Leagues.
THE BOTTOM HALF OF THE SECOND INNING—HEROES
Every Man Needs a Hero—Every Man Needs to Be a Hero
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” Psalm 71:18
“The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American politician.
We need heroes.
Having a hero expands our world. It connects the dream God gave us using a real person that inspires each of us to believe that we have both purpose and potential. That purpose and potential becomes strength and determination when attempting difficult challenges, taking high risks, and achieving monumental results.
Laura Boswell, Editor of Healthy Kids Magazine, wrote, “From Amelia Earhart to modern-day heroes, we all need role models to look up to–people who inspire us to new heights. For children, too, heroes are important in that they help kids overcome fears, set personal goals and accept challenges.”
“It’s important that kids have these kinds of heroes as they demonstrate a way of making the impossible attainable; it gives children something to stretch for,” said Rebecca Elder, Ph.D., St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Ernie Banks was a sports hero that made a difference in Darrel’s life.
I am old enough now, to look back over my life and identify a few men who measured up to the level of hero in my life. It was not in sports and, at the time, I did not recognize their hero qualities. Yet, I recognized their attributes as mentors or encouragers in the struggles of ministry and everyday life.
My Dad rises to the top of a small list of my heroes. Grief jolted me in my approach to the first anniversary of his death. A big part of grief work is learning to live with a piece of you missing. I did not realize how big of a piece of my life he was. It is too often true that you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore.
We had a genuine, respectful and strong relationship even though it was long distance. The only thing that separated us was miles. As an adult I never lived closer than a couple hundred miles from where I grew up. College took me seven states away from home and my ministry opportunities never brought me much closer. Opportunities scattered around the country had the most appeal to me.
Dad did not like to travel. Most of the times I saw him, it was on our annual vacation back home. Maybe he blamed me for moving away but I only thought it made sense to expand my world and pursue opportunities of ministry in exciting places. Occasionally in the early years, he and Mom would visit us but he was not comfortable being away from home and he always had a reason to hurry back. My kids knew their grandfather and what he stood for but they did not get to have many conversations or enjoy hanging out with him.
The bigness of his life existed in his unwavering commitments to God and His church, to our great country and to his family. He lived beneath his means, spent less than he earned, saved a little, gave at least his 10% tithe and, beyond that, was generous to those in need.
He epitomized the greatest generation–what he did in WW II was heroic. And he has the medals to prove it. He never talked about them or showed them to me but after he died, I was reading his discharge papers and learned that he earned battle medals with clusters for service “above and beyond the normal call of duty.”
Normal duty was as a machine gunner on a B-17 named “Lassie Come Home”. On June 7th, 1943, Dad was in the belly of the plane for his 28th bombing mission. This time, he and the crew of 10 were loaded up for a bombing raid over Germany, headed for Berlin.
Grandma’s battle was fought through prayer. She devoted every Wednesday to prayer. For hours at a time, she would remember, by name, missionaries, pastors, churches, the sick, neighbors and families in need asking God to bless, protect and care for them and be glorified by their lives. Dad credits his survival to his mother’s prayers.
Resistance was tough on the flight that Wednesday in June 1944. There was flak and fighter fire. Debriefing reports revealed that his plane was hit by fire from a diving fighter. When Dad saw the wing on fire he knew they were going down. He immediately unmanned his 50 Caliber machine gun, ripped off his oxygen mask, and turned for the door at the back of the fuselage where he was going to bail out at 25,000 feet. It would be his first jump. Before he got to the door, the many sounds of war–racing engines, guns firing, men screaming and the burning plane with the g-forces throwing him beyond his control–crescendoed into a fiery explosion and the debris of “Lassie Come Home” fell to earth. The sound of the wind from a free fall was all he could hear but he did not remember how he got out of the plane nor did he remember pulling the rip cord to deploy his parachute. He knew that he must have because he remembered reaching the ground, the throbs of a severely sprained ankle greeting him, along with a handful of German farmers with pitchforks, shovels, and a shotgun. There was no time to find his missing chute. He was carted off, put in a cell with stone walls in the back corner of the local jail until German soldiers came and took him. He was made an official Prisoner of War for the next 11 months, housed in one of Germany’s five major Stalags for U.S. and Allied Forces prisoners. Five of his crew never saw another day.
Maybe that had something to do with why he did not like to travel. When he got stateside, he built the life he fought for and his buddies died for. He did not drink or go to parties in college–college was for education. His social life was simple. He would go hunting and fishing with Jack Connelly, Uncle Stuart and his buddies. He met his Geri Young at church. They were married, lived in a little upstairs apartment of his parents’ house until he built his own on an adjoining lot. During the booming 50’s, that is what a man did, and my Dad did it with faith and devotion. He kept his job at Lycoming for more than forty years. It is a plant where small airplane engines are still manufactured.
He avoided the vices of smoking and drinking–he saw enough of that during the war and did not believe it pleased God.
For many years, he taught Sunday School classes to young boys, sent many of them to Susque Boys Camp and, beyond his expectations, became a hero of at least one of those boys. I know, because in an amazing twist of fate, I met him 45 years and 1,600 miles away from that class. When I met Bob Newton in Colorado at my church, he asked me if I was from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and if Bob Hettinger was my dad. After my affirmative answer he said, “He was my Sunday School teacher when I was a boy and, when I went to college and they asked, ‘What man in your life do you most want to emulate,’ I said, your Dad.”
Dad cared for his parents and when my widowed Grandfather could not live alone anymore, he and Mom took him in. One momentous day, my 97-year-old grandfather told my Dad something that was long overdue. He called him to his side in the bedroom where he was living. My dad sat beside his wheelchair. Grandpap placed his still strong and impressive hand on my Dad’s leg and said, “You are a good son. I love you and I bless you.”
My Dad, in his late 70’s, did not seem to need anything but he was waiting a lifetime to hear those words. In the late years of his life, they meant everything to him and he did not want my brother and me to have to wait as long. While he was not frequent in telling us that he loved us, he did. It was not a routine expression at the end of a phone call or the appropriate thing to say when we left Pennsylvania at the end of one of our rare visits. He really meant it when he said it but he wanted us to have even more.
The feeling of completion and strength that he received when my Grandfather blessed him was a Biblical reality that he would give to my brother and me. I admit it felt awkward to sit with him standing beside me, his hand on my head as he prayed God’s blessing over and into my life–maybe it was because my wife and kids were watching. The unfamiliarity of it was uncomfortable but beneath that self-consciousness was an undeniable feeling that this was right. It was strengthening my soul and would transcend all of my circumstances.
Dad never departed from those values and commitments through his life and he finished the way he lived. He followed the example of his mother and intensely prayed for my brother and me, our wives and our kids, until the day he died. In the wee hours of the morning, the week before he died of acute leukemia, his pain was out of control. I was afraid he was going to die with just the two of us there as he cried out in pain. There was the hope that he was going to Heaven but he wanted, one more time, to pray for each of his family by name and ask God to care for and bless his wife, his sons, their wives and each of his grandchildren. The pain meds began to do their work and he was able to go to sleep, but his hero status was forever engrained in my mind.
Ernie Banks had talents and opportunities that gave him a platform to be a hero to many adoring fans. He worked hard to be the best shortstop he could be and he played the game with intensity and excellence. He also used those opportunities to make a difference in the life of someone as impressionable as Darrel.
Bob Hettinger also had a platform that came from being a dad, a WW II veteran, a hard-working man who built a house and made it a home for his family. He used his platform to make a difference in the lives of his sons, and, at least for me, in ways that were not always understood or esteemed with the value he and his actions deserved.
As different as Ernie and Dad were in their platforms, talents, and lifestyles, they were alike in embodying the traits of true heroes.
They both lived life as though it mattered.
I wonder what Ernie thought after his speaking engagement with the Hessville Little League. Did he really expect to see the 12-year-old Darrel in the Big Leagues? If he is like most public speakers, on his ride home, he was thinking about what he should have said and did not, what he did not say and should have, and already planning to do better on his next speech. He was probably not so full of his own importance that he thought, “I said what I should have, the way I wanted to, and the kids listened attentively and received just what they needed so I am sure their lives will be changed because of their encounter with me tonight.”
When I called my Dad and told him I met one of his students from a class he taught many years earlier, he quickly remembered the boy in his class, Bob Newton. When I told him how much Bob admired him, my Dad was shocked to think that his meager efforts at his first teaching opportunity to that small class on Sunday afternoons, made a life-long impact on one of his students. I also doubt he realized how much I admired him and the way he lived his life, as well as the magnitude of his influence on me.
For both Ernie and Dad the results were immeasurable. There was a conviction that you do what is right because it matters, even if nobody is looking and you cannot see an immediate result. There is meaning to our lives that is bigger than we are. We are given a life to live in a way that we can make a difference. God will work in and through our lives to accomplish something too big to measure. Whatever they did, they did it as though it mattered. And it did.
They took time to give attention to others.
Big Leaguers do not need to speak to Little Leaguers—not at banquets nor for autographs before or after games.
Dads have their own interests and problems. How can a young man find time to teach a bunch of boys who really do not want to be in a class on a Sunday afternoon? Why would a dad, who was getting old, spend the time to think about the need to bless his sons and how he was going to do it?
Taking time for others costs something and heroes are willing to pay that cost. They know their life is expanded in what they give to others. Their satisfaction comes in giving themselves away.
They gave hope and vision to someone’s future.
An experience in the 12-year-old Darrel’s distant future was established when Ernie blessed Darrel with the words, “I will see you in the Big Leagues.” For the next nine years, there was a vision in Darrel’s heart and mind of an encounter on a Big League field in a Big League game.
Bob Newton taught kids in my church 45 years after being in my Dad’s class. It was not his first time to lead a children’s ministry. He saw in Dad something that he liked and he saw it in a way that made him think, “I want to do that. I can do that.” And throughout his adult life, he did just that.
Ministry has been very different than I dreamed it would be when I was in Bible College learning Theology and taking Preaching Classes. My naiveté had visions of grandeur with little cost, no conflict or suffering.
But, in spite of my immersion into the harsh realities of leading people, even after many years with many struggles and disappointments, my energy and hope for life and ministry continues to grow. I realize that God gave me the hope of a future, the trust for results from the example and blessing of my Dad. It is not the results that I see that count, but the confidence in knowing that my life matters to God and is producing fruit even when I do not see it. I know my life matters because it did to my Dad, who assured me that my life and my work matter to God, as well. I can expect greater things in the future because he put his hand on my head and spoke blessing into my life and into my future.
In the book, Letters From Dad, Greg Vaughn, describes three types of blessings.
“First are General Blessings.”
“Second are Blessings from God to Christians.”
“Third are the Blessings we can give to each other.” (From the book, Letters From Dad, by Greg Vaughn, Grace Products Corporation)
Blessings are spoken into our lives like Ernie did to Darrel or in a formal ceremony, like my Dad prayed over me. Every man longs for a Blessing. We have the power to speak blessing into another’s life.
We value words of appreciation and positive affirmation. They are not mentioned often enough in the course of everyday life and we long to hear them. Just a word can fuel a man’s motivation and energy. It can be the blessing that a young boy or another man is looking for.
Words can give a future to hope in, to strive toward and to work for.
The person who means the most to us is the one who has listened to our dreams and observed our talents and determination; one who has given us a vision for our future and, actually, gave us a future to live for. Perspiration, sacrifice, and struggles will not stop us in our pursuit of it because we are filled with strength of purpose and character. Whatever the endeavor, there is the assurance we have made it to the Big Leagues.
They recognized someone’s accomplishment and conferred honor on the one who achieved it.
When Ernie greeted Darrel at first base with the words, “I knew you’d make it, welcome to the Big Leagues” and, with the physical touch of his arm around the shoulder and the hug in front of the 36,000 fans and fellow Big Leaguers, his recognition honored Darrel and conferred upon him the reality that Darrel was a Big Leaguer. The road ahead would not be easy. That reality would be tested with a year back in the Minors, time on the bench, boos from the fans, difficulty with the bat and drama in his personal life with moves, finances, and the death of his mother.
Experiences of affirmation, similar to the one Ernie gave to Darrel, do not happen every day–they are rare. But if we experience just a couple of them in our lives, they become defining moments that last throughout a career or maybe a lifetime. One of my Dad’s proudest moments was the day of my ordination. He travelled to see that ceremony. He even stayed for the reception afterwards and celebrated at our house in Ohio. A few times over the years, especially after a difficult battle or in the middle of a painful struggle, he would remind me that I was in something much bigger than I could see. This was God’s work–it was the Big Leagues. It was for Him, it would be by Him, and the results were up to Him.
A lot of men have never heard anyone say, in any way, shape, or form, I am proud of you; you have made it; you are a man; your life matters; you are in the Big Leagues.
Without even realizing it, men’s spirits are thirsty for this blessing and confirmation.
If a man has not received this type of confirmation from a significant man in his life–a hero–then he needs to pray for and look for a man who will pronounce this significance and blessing into his life.
This reality also empowers each man to become a hero.
John Trent instructs fathers on how to be heroes by pronouncing a blessing to their children in the classic book, The Blessing. Through meaningful touch, spoken words, expression of high value, a vision of a special future, and an active commitment, all of the ingredients of an effective game plan are in the playbook. (From the book, The Blessing by John Trent, Pocket Books)
If baseball teams have scouts for skills and talents who recruit, sign, coach and train, then certainly pastors, churches and men of God can also produce the environment where every man can hear the words, “I will see you in the Big Leagues” and then some day celebrate the reality, “I knew you’d make it. Welcome to the Big Leagues.”
WHAT’S THE SCORE AT THE END OF THE SECOND INNING?
What has been hit to you?
Who is your hero?
Has any significant man blessed your life? Told you that you matter? Affirmed your skills and talents? Cared about your dreams? Given you hope for a bright future?
When you are up to bat, what are you going to do?
Pray for God to bring admirable men into your life?
Who, in your life, needs a hero?
What can you do to bless him?
From page 154 of Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance
“Darrel, I want you to be ready when the game comes to you.”
“Yes sir! I’ll be ready,” Darrel said as he reached his hand out and gave Sparky an I-mean-business handshake.
It was not the time for words, but for action. Sparky could see Darrel was a revived man with a new vision for the game. He returned the hand-shake, then went back to his desk as Darrel headed out the door and down the hall to the locker room.
Purpose has an amazing affect on a man’s motivation. Knowing that being a utility player was his purpose and that he was a strategic part of the team which enabled every position to be its strongest, Darrel got ready for every game.
He was always one to work out, but his workouts became more intense. Before and after games, he would wear the rubber warm-up shirt so his two or three mile jogs would have maximum sweat and results. Workouts in the weight room increased his strength, but did not bulk him up or decrease his mobility. His humor and enthusiasm returned and so did the Reds’ winning ways. Not that it was all about Darrel, but the second half of the season was a lot better than the first. They ended up winning the division with 99 wins.
As it happened, the game did come to Darrel; sliding into third base that day, Davey Concepcion broke his ankle and was out for the rest of the season.
Read Proverbs 3:5, 6
God makes everybody with a purpose. There is a place on his team for you. You are made with a design and there are things you can do that nobody else can. That means the team needs you!
Page 153, 4 From Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance (below)
“No, sit down and listen to me. Here is your purpose. If Pete gets sick, I will need you to play third. If Davey gets injured, you go into shortstop. If Joe needs a rest, you are the guy I go to. Do you understand? I need you. If I need a bunt, you are one of the best bunters on the team. If I have to pinch-run, you are one of the fastest and smartest runners we have. If we are going to be competitive, we need you to be the best utility player in the majors.”
On that team, Darrel was the only guy who played for Sparky in the Minor Leagues with the AA Asheville Tourists. It didn’t hurt that they had a history together. Darrel had confidence in Sparky’s knowledge of the game and his assessment of his team’s individual skills and potential. Sparky knew Darrel’s skills and the intangibles—his love for the game, intensity, positive attitude, teachability and dependability.
Darrel was getting it and Sparky could see the enthusiasm returning. His body language changed from sitting compliant with his hands on his lap and his head hanging, to sitting alert, leaning forward, and looking straight into Sparky’s eyes with hardly a blink. What Sparky was about to say would be some of the most motivational words Darrel would hear in his entire baseball career.
Below from pages 152, 3 of Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance
“Can we talk a minute?”
“Sure, Darrel. Come on in. Close the door. Have a seat.” He motioned to a seat at the conference table, then moved over there to sit down across from Darrel. Even while Sparky was moving his chair to sit down, he began, “I’m glad you came in. I’ve noticed your attitude has been off a little, lately, and it is affecting the guys on the bench. I don’t want it to affect the team.”
“Well, Sparky, I’m a little frustrated because I want to get some more playing time.”
With Sparky and Darrel both sitting across from each other at the conference table, Sparky led the conversation.
“I’m glad you want in the game, so let’s go, position by position, around the field and see where I can put you. Okay?”
At first, this seemed like a good idea to Darrel. “Alright. Let’s see.”
“I know you are an infielder, but you could play the outfield if we needed you to, so let’s start there. Let’s see how right field looks first. Okay?”
“Ken Griffey (the senior) is there and is having a great season. He has power, speed, and makes a great lead-off hitter. He might even be Rookie of the Year (he did have a great year, but Gary Matthews took Rookie of the Year honors). We probably should not make any changes there. Agreed?”
“Cesar Geronimo is in center field. He is a gold glove winner with a good arm, power and a go get ‘em attitude. Don’t you think we should leave him there?”
“You might actually be able to play left field defense better than George Foster, but he does alright, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“No, not really.”
“On the infield, we have Tony Perez on first base. He’s going to be in the Hall of Fame some day. Should I take him off of first base?”
“You can turn a double play from either side of second, so I know you can play second. But Joe Morgan is there and he’s another guy that has Hall of Fame potential. So doesn’t he deserve to be there?”
Darrel was feeling ashamed for asking. This was turning out bad. Even as they were going around the horn, Sparky, not a man of words or gentleness, spoke strong and convincingly but not condescendingly or carelessly insensitive to the frustrated and confused 24-year-old Chaney. Darrel answered, “Joe’s the best guy for second.”
“I know you wanted short but Davey has done a darn good job at short. He’s been selected to the All-Star team and his bat is coming around with power and a better average. So, what am I supposed to do here?”
“I guess Davey is in the right place for now.”
“Pete Rose is at third. You know Pete. Nobody is ever gonna beat him out of a position.”
“And last, behind the plate is Johnny Bench. Guess what. He’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame.”
“I get your point, Sparky. Thanks for your time, “Darrel said as he began to slide his chair back from the table. He stood up with a sigh and a heart heavier than when he came in. It was obvious that he was not going to beat any of that superstar team out of a position.
Read John 8:32
Now is the time for action and Darrel needed answers. He was good enough to make it to the Big Leagues. It is time to be courageous and ask the hard questions. There are risks with questions. You might not qet the answer you want or worse, you might even get in trouble for asking. Darrel took his chances.
(From pp 151, 2 in Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance
“Cindy, the only way I’m gonna get in the game is if somebody breaks a leg,” he complained on a hot July morning. “I’m going to talk to Sparky and see if I can get some more playing time.”
The All-Star Game was July 24th. Sparky Anderson, the Red’s manager was the manager for the National League team and five Reds were All-Stars. It was not a good first-half of the season for Cincinnati. June 30th they were eleven games off the lead. Before the All-Star break, it seemed like a good time to talk to Sparky. He had said, “My door is always open,” so Darrel thought he might as well give it a try. It couldn’t hurt, could it?
What if Sparky decided Darrel was only whining and ought to count his blessings just for being on the team? If he didn’t think Darrel was any good, he could just release him to get him “out of his hair.” On the other hand, if that was his plan, it might be better to know it and try to get traded or start looking for a job with the city of Hammond.
Inside Riverfront Stadium, the players’ entrance was off the parking lot in the lower level. Just inside the entrance a large and comfortable lobby was available for players’ wives. The players would go through that lobby, then through a door which opened into a hallway which went into the locker room–official personnel only. The Manager’s office was on the left side of that hallway. The office was furnished with a desk, a conference table, an adequate amount of furniture with a few chairs and shelves, and his own shower and bathroom. He had a blackboard and a large bulletin board, utilized for planning and keeping his players focused.
Darrel did not have an appointment on Sunday, July 22nd, the last game before the All-Star break. Darrel was not in the line-up that day either. So, he mustered his courage and took the opportunity to speak to Sparky in his office.
The door was partially open and, showing appropriate respect, Darrel knocked. Sparky was sitting at his desk doing some paper work, probably working on his line-up or comparing his bull-pen to the Expos hitters. He was in his baseball uniform, Darrel was in his warm-ups. Sparky looked up from behind his desk.
Read Matthew 7:7-12. Your life matters. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Sitting on the bench is painful. It is not part of a man’s plan. His game is thrown off. Doubt sets in. A guy can get messed-up in his mind and soul.
Maybe more than the every-day player, or at least in different ways, the utility player needs to focus on his heart, soul and mind in addition to his baseball skills. The inner battles are just as important as the on the field competition. Heart mind and soul training result in opportunities to get in the game when the game comes to you.
(Pages 149-151, Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance)
However interesting the story was from the outside, inside Darrel’s mind a battle was brewing over his future in baseball. What good is a player who never gets in the game? How long will I last if everyone who comes up from the minors takes away my position? Where is my place? Is this as far as I’m going? Is the dream over?
Watching baseball on TV gives a very simplistic view of a ballplayer’s life. The spectator may get a small idea of the nerves which produce butterflies in a clutch-hitting situation. A competitive baseball player does not want to strike out, especially when the game is on the line. Carrying the desires of the whole team, the fans in the stands, and the fans at home on their living room couches, make the next 93 mph fastball the opportunity to be a hero or a goat. Baseball players live for that kind of tension. If they made it to the Big Leagues, they want to be in the game when it is all on the line so they can win it for everybody who cares.
But the intrigue that goes on with teammates, coaches, the manager, the front office decisions, the press, the fans, and the effects on the family and conversations at home–these are elements of the game which most fans don’t know about nor pay attention to. To the player, it all converges inside his mind and his emotions. At times it reveals character flaws and he self-destructs under the weight of it all. Other times his inner strength connects with his physical strength to face these adversaries with a sense of destiny and purpose.
By 1969, Darrel had made it to the Big Leagues, but arguably too quickly. Sure, he wanted to be there, but a shaky start hurt his confidence and his chances. “Then all of a sudden, he found himself cast in a utility role and there was seemingly no way out. ‘I was only 21 years old and getting the mark of a utility man. I didn’t want that tag then and I don’t want it now, at 24. I don’t want it until I’m 34’ he said.” (Bob Hertzel, Cincinnati Enquirer).
But that is what Darrel had become. Davey Concepcion was the Reds’ everyday shortstop.
For the first half of the ’73 season, on game day, Darrel would come to the ballpark, work out, warm up, take batting practice and then sit on the bench. There were streaks when he went for weeks without seeing any playing time. He would do anything to help, even catching in the bull-pen when the pitchers were warming up. A pinch-hit opportunity or subbing for a few innings was a chance to get in the game, but it was rare and probably would be followed by two, three or four days, maybe even a week or two without playing time.
It seemed that the shortstop drama was over for the Reds but for Darrel, the decision which put him on the bench as a utility player, without the chance to earn a starting position, was taking its toll. Darrel’s nickname was “Norton” because he sort of looked like Ed Norton on the hit TV comedy show, “The Honeymooners”. Like his look-alike, Darrel had the ability to make guys laugh. His clowning was contagious and kept the clubhouse fun and the dugout entertained. But one has to be happy to be a good clown and Darrel was not happy. Darrel’s frustration was evident, even on the bench.
Read Colossians 3:23 It keeps the focus in the right place.
How do you get in the game when you are sitting on the bench?
There is a way!
Last week I heard Darrel tell the story again and he never told it better. As many times as I’ve heard it, I got something new as I listened to Darrel–ANTICIPATION. When the manager needs to put the utility player in the game, he needs to be ready mentally and physically–knowing what’s going on and warmed up. Even before the manager makes the call, he knows it is coming. Darrel got ready to get in the game because he believed the game would come to him. It always does.
The story was on my mind all week and it helped me a lot. The were challenges and rough spots that tempted me with discouragement, but it was a great week. Good things happened. A bunch of times I felt like I was in the right place and the right time and was on top of my game. I was looking for God to give me opportunities. He always does.
This story might become a classic! It gets a standing ovation nearly every time Darrel tells the story. Every time I hear it, tell it or read, I am motivated with anticipation. So each day this week you will get to read a section of the 7th inning and put yourself in Darrel’s story and apply the words of Sparky Anderson, be ready when the game comes to you.
First, the hard part–time on the bench. (Next, pp. 148, 9 of Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance)
“Cindy began to expect the worst.
“He is going to be in a bad mood again tonight. He only pinch-hit once for the pitcher in the eighth inning and he popped out. 0 for 1. He won’t like that!” She could sense his frustration.
Darrel thought he needed to do something more. “Pinch-hit here, play a couple of defensive innings there . . . I’m better than that. I’ve got power, a glove and an arm. I’ve got to play more to get my average up. I’m gonna talk to Sparky and get some attention.”
The frustration was part of being a Big Leaguer but for the last four months, it was forming into a crisis.
It started in Spring training when Davey Concepcion was starting to play all the time. Darrel wondered what was going on.
Platooning worked well the previous season. For Darrel, it wasn’t as good as playing all the time but it was the next best thing. Davey would bat against lefties, Darrel would bat against righties. Darrel knew he would play a lot because the Reds were going to be facing a lot of right-handed pitchers.
The Reds finished the previous season with 95 wins, beat the Pirates in the National League Championship Series and went all the way to the Seventh Game of the World Series. Darrel played in all of the NLCS games as well as in four of the World Series games. Down 3 – 2 in the bottom of the ninth, the decisive game of the World Series, Sparky sent Darrel in the game to pinch-hit and get something started. He did not get a hit, but he got hit–in the knee. Take your base. The excitement was high and Darrel had the chance to be a hero and score the tying run. Unfortunately, he never crossed home. The A’s won the Seventh Game of the World Series, 3 to 2, but Darrel gained the knowledge of what it feels like to be on base for the final out of a World Series.
Entering Spring Training, Darrel’s first concern was to make the team. His next priority was getting to play and playing well. The more he played, the better he played. With the team finishing the 1972 season in the Series and Darrel hitting a respectable .250 average, compared to Davey’s .209, he, at least, deserved a shot at the starting position. His chances were pretty good. At least, that’s what he thought.
But change was brewing and people were beginning to notice.
“Chicago—The message came across loud and clear. It was the Opening Day of Spring Training, the start of the new year for the Cincinnati Reds.
Darrel Chaney was sitting by his locker as Davey Concepcion reported to camp–sitting and waiting. Concepcion came bouncing through the door and manager, Sparky Anderson, came over to greet him.
And what a greeting it was! Anderson threw his arms around the young Venezuelan in a gesture of affection. The scene was a warm one . . . .warm to everyone, but Chaney.
Chaney, you see, was supposed to battle Concepcion for the shortstop job on the Reds, the job vacated by Woody Woodward with his retirement. It was supposed to be a fair battle with each man starting equally.
But the scene in the locker room was the tip-off. Concepcion was ahead on points–Anderson was a Concepcion man. Chaney knew he’d have to do a whole lot to win the job.” (Bob Hertzel, Cincinnati Enquirer)
With a World Series appearance the year before, the Reds were a major sports story at this time. Dozens of newspaper columns were following the drama of the shortstop competition.
Davey ended up playing every game and, the more he played, the better he got. His place as the Reds’ #1 shortstop was looking more and more certain. And as Bob Hertzel wrote, Sparky Anderson liked him. It turned out to be for good reason. While Davey previously had performance challenges and some major attitude swings, he was a great defensive shortstop and his bat was improving. Sparky recognized the talent. It was almost as though he knew Davey was going to hit .287 with 8 home runs, 3 triples and 18 doubles, in 1973.
When a player like Darrel is one of the best his whole life and is competitive enough to make it to the Big Leagues, he does not want to sit on the bench nor does he expect to. When the team won and Darrel was riding the pine, there was the nagging feeling that “they” won, not “we” won. The guys who were playing all the time didn’t think this way nor did they treat Darrel like an outsider, but he did not feel like he was helping the team.
However interesting the story was from the outside, inside Darrel’s mind a battle was brewing over his future in baseball. What good is a player who never gets in the game? How long will I last if everyone who comes up from the minors takes away my position? Where is my place? Is this as far as I’m going? Is the dream over?
There will be more tomorrow.
Read I Corinthians 12:2 Your life, experiences and place on the team matters!
This column is dedicated to the memory of my dad, Bob Hettinger. He fought the fight for freedom in war and honor and devotion in all the battles and struggles of life in serving his God and family. He was faithful to the very end and finished as my hero. He fought the fight and won the prize.
The real battle is over the heart and soul of a man.
Across the ages conflict has raged and men and women have been drawn into battles to defend a cause and protect their territory. Evil has opposed God in large and small ways. The names of the warriors have changed and the battle fields are different, but when it is all boiled down, the struggle is for the heart and soul of a man.
Every scenario is filled with drama and emotional turmoil. Effort and cost is present each time. This is where the inner battle is won or lost–faith in God’s will and confidence the He will use you in His divine strategy to care for your family, bless our nation and further God’s kingdom of love and grace.
God knows you, gave you life to be alive today, made you with a specific design, invited you into His cause, works in and through you by His Spirit and promises a reward at the end of it all.
What you do matters because your life matters!
Short streaks they are, I know, so maybe inconsistency is the more appropriate label. Why? Maybe if I knew I would understand my own inconsistencies.
What do you think? Who is the most consistent team you ever saw? Who is the most consistent person in your life? (I’m going for positive not a steady screw up.)
I want to win. But sometimes I loose. There are days when I finish my tasks and days when I spin my wheels. Is there a reason? How long of a winning streak can a person put together?