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The day to tell his story



Published: Sat, June 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



He grew up in Akron, one of eight children in a small house in Kenmore. His father was a gas station attendant. His mother stayed at home raising the kids, listening to the Indians on the radio every summer, shouting at the Browns on TV every fall.

He became a sports fan because of her.

One day in high school, while eating at a B & amp;K Root Beer stand, he saw a pretty young curb girl (that's what they called them back then and maybe still do) and he asked her out and she said, "Oh no, you're too young for me." And he laughed because he was older than she was. They married a year later. He was 21. She was 20. He became a cop. She became a nurse. Over the next few years, they had four kids and bought a house in the suburbs. There wasn't much extra money, but there was a lot of love. And that's all they really needed anyway.

Sharing hislove of sports

He read the newspaper every day and he turned to the sports section first, living (and mostly dying) with the three Cleveland teams. On Saturdays in the summer, he'd bring his youngest son along to watch him play softball. He wasn't very fast and he couldn't hit very well, but he was tough and had a big mouth, so they put him at catcher. And he loved it.

When his youngest son was 10, he took him to Cleveland Stadium to watch the Indians play the California Angels. He bought his son a painter's cap and a souvenir baseball and a hot dog. In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians trailed by four and the bases were loaded and two men were out and Joe Carter was going to be a hero until he checked his swing and hit a grounder back to the pitcher and the game ended. His youngest son cried as they walked back to the car and he just laughed and told him to get used to stuff like that.

He listened to every Indians game in the summer as guys with funny names like Candy Maldonado and Oddibe McDowell struggled to master the curveball and a guy named Herb Score struggled to master the language. His youngest son made fun of him for loving such a terrible team, but he'd just chuckle and say, "That's OK. I told God he's not allowed to take me until the Indians win the World Series." And his son felt better knowing his dad was going to live forever.

All four of his kids went to college. He told them that they could be anything they wanted to be, except a cop. One became a therapist. One became a youth pastor. One became an accountant. And the youngest became a sportswriter.

They all moved away and they didn't see their father as much, but he understood that they were busy and that was what happened when kids get older. His knees got bad and he eventually retired, giving up police work and softball and a lot of other things he loved. But he never complained. "I've had a good life," he said.

The night thatchanged his life

Then, on a Friday night last October, his youngest son got a call telling him that his father had just had a stroke and was in the hospital. It was almost 1 a.m. but his youngest son left work immediately and drove an hour to Akron, crying the whole way, praying the whole way, hoping the whole way.

The next few days were a whirlwind of words. Terrible words like cancer and radiation and chemotherapy. But he never worried. That wasn't his way.

And over the next few months, as his family tried to help him, he was the one making them feel better, joking about his hair and his weight and his memory. The youngest son tried to visit when he could and help when he could and do what he could, even if it was just talking about the Indians and how the bullpen was better and the pitching was pretty good and the bats were starting to come around.

Then, a few weeks back, as his youngest son was getting ready to leave after a visit, he looked over and asked, "Hey, when are you going to write about your old man in the newspaper?"

And his son smiled, but he didn't have an answer. Until now.

Today, Dad.

And by the way, thanks. For everything.

XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com.




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