CURVE BALL

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Chapter Seventy-Five

Jack stopped at a café on the way to his gym. The newspaper stand off Avenue Victor Hugo had a copy of the L.A. Times. In Paris there was always time for a café and a brioche. He took his seat and watched Parisians stroll by. He waited to open the paper until the waiter brought his coffee. He turned to the sports section. There was a black banner across the top of Fred’s column. In bold print, it said Fred had died and in place of his column was a still picture of him with a pad of paper talking to Tommy Lasorda the former Dodger manager. Jack put his cup down. Although, Fred never knew, he had kept Jack going. His writing connected Jack to what his life had been. He stared into space. Time had rushed by him. Was it a lifetime since he heard his father’s voice? Or in the hotel after the Series win that Fred told him how he survived the War. His eyes became watery. It had been a long time since he felt the urge to cry. When he recovered he paid the bill and took a walk. He went by buildings with signs in French, heard French spoken on the street. It all seemed so foreign even though he had lived there for years. It was time to go home. Shadows remain shadows only until there is light. He needed to return to the U.S. to pay his respects… whatever the danger.

He flew to L.A. and arrived ten minutes early. Inside the chapel people were in line to sign the registry. When it was his turn, he wrote his name but left no address. He took a program found a seat in the back of the room. He glanced at the booklet. There were four speakers: the rabbi, of course, two colleagues, then Fred’s daughter. She looked like her old man. She was of the same height and had his wispy build. Her blond hair was shoulder length, and she had Fred’s smile. She walked to the podium her eyes teary, but resolute.

“My father,” she began, was a baseball fan through and through. Although, his life began in Poland with a couple of strikes against him, he never let that get the better of him. He kept his eye on the ball and hit for average. His daily column was more than just a recitation of the game. He got into the players. He had the ability to get people to talk and he wrote from their point of view. He looked at life as a baseball season with all its ups and downs; the comebacks, the victories and defeats. The game had to be played everyday. That’s how he lived. The beauty of baseball was the drama produced by the length of the season. You had to wait until the end of October to see how it turned out. Dad took each day as a gift. That joy was in his writing, and the conversations he had. It didn’t matter who you were, he sought out your story. That was my Dad.”

When the service ended, Jack introduced himself.

“I’m an old friend of your father. He was…” Jack held onto her hand. His eyes misted. “A mensch.”

“Thank you,” she slid her hand from his grip. “How did you know him?”

He did a quick look around the room and then in almost a whisper said, “I’m Jack Rakow. I pitched for the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series.”

It had been thirty-three years since that game. Jack grew to believe that the thugs who messed-up his life were either dead, too old to care, or in jail. He moved to Chicago. To his surprise sports people remembered him. ESPN did a story about the 6th game of the “81 Series. After that he got a call from Fred’s daughter. She had picked up from her father. They talked. She was the female version complete with her use of the term ‘boychik’. He promised to sit for an interview. But it didn’t happen.

He became a regular at O’Brian’s the neighborhood bar, and became acquainted with Bobby Stegert, the athletic director at Lakeview High School. On a whim he convinced him to let him do some coaching. He had a blast. A photo of him appeared in the sports news in connection with that year’s World Series. A year went by. He stopped looking over his shoulder. He was home.

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