When I was a young boy growing up on E.39th Street in Flatbush, most of my days were spent on wondering if the Mets dealing Tom Seaver to the Reds was somehow my fault. Perhaps if I had spoken directly to M Donald Grant, I could have told him that Doug Flynn would never hit a lick, Steve Henderson was simply not good enough, Dan Norman a suspect, not a prospect and that Pat Zachry was made of paper mache.
Why the passion? Blame my dad. After his first two sons showed little interest in sports, let’s just say that when I started to mime swinging a bat at two years old, he knew he’d have someone to watch a game with. Not that he loves me any more than he does my brothers or sister (he doesn’t; he’s a great dad to all of us), he just knows that when he wants to know who the Mets are planning on using as their left-handed specialist, he knows who to call. Otherwise, I’m just one of his four kids. That’s fine with me.
Maybe one of the reasons that my father is such a good one is because he grew up with nothing at all.
Ron Healey spent most of his childhood at St. Vincent’s Home for Boys. My siblings and I don’t know much about those days for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that he likely doesn’t remember them too fondly.
Most of what I know about his times there are the good things; playing ball with his buddies like Hank, Sep and Sarge, and getting to – on the weekends – go to their houses from time to time for a taste of a real home. I’ve often wondered what that must have been like, having to go back to the darkness after a glimpse of the light. But to his credit, and my everlasting gratitude, he never complained about it, never was consumed with bitterness about it, and sure as hell never took it out on any of us. He was adamant that his kids would have everything he didn’t.
For him, not being far from the shadows of Ebbets Field was an escape from loneliness. Cheering for his Brooks was probably the greatest joy he experienced during those dark days. It was during those rare afternoons of getting to go to a game that more than likely turned mere fandom into baseball fever.
He handed down that wonderful gift to me, the love of the Great Pastime, and it’s the main reason you’re reading these words right now.
Whether it was his story of running into a young, athletic “guy who looked like a ballplayer (Willie Mays) so we ran after him and got his autograph” or his taking me and my buddies (when he really couldn’t afford to do) in the 1974 Dodge Dart (Special Edition) to see the dreadful post-Seaver Mets of the late 70′s, I was hooked and hooked early.
My dad’s a Mets fan these days (and has been since the Dodgers left Brooklyn), and he still won’t read (or says he doesn’t) read anything I write about the Yankees. “I hate the Yankees,” he says, quite matter-of-factly, as if it were a natural state. ”I want them to lose every game they play.”
It’s quite possible he might not read this, but I suspect that even if this piece was about the Bombers, he’d sneak a peak to see what his “Markito” has written.
We still talk as much baseball as we ever did. He probably watches as many (if not more) games than I do, and given the fact that he’s a dead-ringer for Terry Collins, the Mets manager, I think he roots for the Mets just a little bit harder lately.
I don’t love my dad because we share a love for baseball. I love my dad because he went from being an orphan with nothing, to loving and supporting a family all of his life. He was a rough and tumble street kid that was never ashamed to hug his kids. Despite having a really good city job, still went to night school to get his degree from Brooklyn College, because he wanted to instill in his children the value of a college education.
I could go on and on. But all I really want to say is, Happy 75th birthday, Pop. You’re the best.
And thank you.