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Praying for Jerry Koosman (from Re:member)

December 28, 2013

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Doing some reflecting on growing up tonight. Here is a story from Re:member:

Praying for Jerry Koosman
(San Antonio, Texas circa 1973)

I was just ten or so when we lived in San Antonio but I have few good memories of our time there. To be honest, (thanks to good, old fashioned repression) I have few memories at all. I do remember being so poor we could not pay attention. I do remember being afraid to go to school. I do remember eleven months of summer and one month of rain. On a happier note, I also remember Gateway Christian School opening in our final year there. That was good. I also remember trips home to Illinois at Christmas and I also remember the Sammy Tippit and Fred Starkweather families fondly. Our dads were Bible smugglers and our three families lived in three consecutive rental houses. My mom explained to me that we were Jesus People who lived by faith. (Translation: Idealistic Christian hippies with no discernible source of income) I cannot describe how difficult those years were for me. I was ripped from an idyllic rural life in Southern Illinois (I had two ponies for heaven’s sake) and plunged (I mean plunged) into life in a transitioning neighborhood in San Antonio. It was simply horrifying.

In those years, I took solace in my Topps Baseball Cards. They were my best friends. I had a few hundred of them and kept them neatly organized according to team, year and number. I played with them, flipped them, drew moustaches on them and wrote the players new team on the card when they got traded. Once I had a 1964 Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford fight each other in the bathtub (this one is nearly too painful to relay to you). In my metal container were dozens of bundles of rubber band wrapped cards. The backs of those cards opened up a wonderful world of wins, loses, home runs and batting averages which I could visit any time I liked. It was my Narnia. I visited this world nightly and it was revealed to me through packs of baseball cards containing sticks of hard pink gum that made wax marks on the top card.

My first discovery of baseball occurred a year after the New York Mets won the World Series in 1969. (For me following baseball was always a year behind.) My first packs of baseball cards were purchased in 1970 alternately from Walker’s Dime Store and the Ben Franklin Store in Pinckneyville, Illinois. From the playoff cards (verses the Braves) and World Series card (versus the Orioles), I learned of the heroic exploits of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Cleon Jones, Jerry Grote and Ron Swoboda.
The Mets became my favorite team and my favorite player was the young left-hander Jerry Koosman. I have no idea why Koosman was my favorite player but he was; many nights I would pray for Jerry Koosman after I prayed God would send rent money and food to families like us who “lived by faith.” Koosman had an excellent (though non-hall of fame) career winning 20 games in both leagues (for the Mets and later the Twins), making a couple of all-star teams, bringing home two World Series titles (1969 and 1973) and winning over 200 games. He retired in 1984 playing mostly for bad teams after starting out on a good one.

After baseball, Koosman got into some trouble with the law (I believe over taxes) and spent some time in prison which broke my heart. Not because a childhood hero let me down, but because he helped me when my life was not so good; I felt like I should be there for him. I have always hoped to meet Jerry Koosman but I doubt I ever will. If ever I do meet him, I will tell him thank you for helping a little strawberry blonde boy with freckles get through a tough stretch of highway forty years ago in the Texas heat. To be honest with you, I still pray for Jerry Koosman. I probably always will.

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