Monthly Archives: September 2018

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Chapter 5

 

CHAPTER 5
Postgame Highlights

It was approximately 6:30 pm on Sunday, September 29, 1963. I had just recently returned to my room at the Surrey House Motor Hotel, a quaint and comfortable but less-than-luxurious accommodation provided by the Houston Colt .45s Baseball Organization. The final game of the 1963 season ended a few hours earlier. We had beaten the New York Mets, 13–4. It was the only game that year that the Colts had scored in double figures. I was particularly happy because I had the good fortune to play in my first Major-League baseball game. I did pretty well. I was up five times. I got three hits (all singles). I got three RBI and scored four times. I also walked twice. I made a few plays in the outfield without an error. It was exciting and fun! I was eighteen years old!

After I turned on the TV to watch the sports news, I ordered dinner from the hotel room service. My usual order was normally a couple of steaks or a few large cheeseburgers, with baked potatoes or fries, and maybe a salad. A large, thick malted milkshake was a customary drink, along with a Pepsi or Coke. While waiting for my dinner to arrive, Guy Savage came on the TV broadcast to deliver the news in sports. Almost immediately, he reiterated the game highlights, proclaiming the Colts’ greatest victory in the season’s finale. The two cellar dwellers were battling in “last place.” But the .45s were just too overpowering for the New York Mets, overwhelming their hapless opponents 13–4.

“It was the first time this season that the Colt .45s were able to get into double figures, thanks, in large part, to the extraordinary performance of young rookie outfielder, John Paciorek.”

(I couldn’t remember any special, congratulatory fanfare given to me by fellow players anytime after the game, either in the clubhouse or during transportation back to the Surrey House with those who were also staying there—just the traditional, obligatory “Nice game” salutation and “See you at spring training.” So I didn’t think my performance bore any great significance to any immediate or future reflection on the game.)

When my name was mentioned with such enthusiasm, my mouth gaped open while chill bumps circulated over my body. I felt an enormous sense of pride as well
as wonderment and awe about the way he described my seemingly auspicious accomplishment. He reminded me and other TV viewers that I had ended the 1963 season with a “perfect” batting average, 1.000. My on-base percentage was also 1.000, for five at bats. I drove in three runs. And I scored four times. And my fielding percentage was also 1.000, flawless in four opportunities. In concluding his commentary, Mr. Savage noted that he, as well as the entire Colt .45 Organization, was looking forward to the brilliant future that was surely in store for this phenomenal rookie and for the Organization itself.

My food had arrived, but I barely heard the knock by the room service attendant. So many joyous thoughts raced in my mind, along with nebulous feelings of uncertainty. I awakened from my “dream state” by the sound at the door.

As I signed for the food tab, I heard Guy mention, “In other sports news, Stan Musial announced his retirement after twenty-two years in the big leagues. He ended his career on the high note of another two-hit performance.”

I thought it odd that my performance (by an eighteen-year-old rookie) would receive greater press coverage than Stan “The Man” Musial. (I later found out that on the national level, Stan got the fuller coverage while my performance on most broadcasts didn’t receive any mention at all.)

Nothing could normally disrupt my mealtime regimen, especially when two medium—well, Porterhouse—steaks were waiting to be devoured. And it wasn’t! But I couldn’t exactly give my undivided attention to the scrumptious delicacies on the coffee table in front of me when one other pressing issue lay before me.

How in this world was I going to live up to this exaggerated moment of glory? It was thrust into my experience during one game in which I really wasn’t even prescheduled to play. And an even more “mind-bending” dilemma was predicated on whether or not my back would allow me to sustain another season, or even another day, of performing on a baseball field. My standard for play was 100 percent or nothing. If I couldn’t be 100 percent, how could I play to my maximum efficiency?

(Although frantic thoughts seemed evident on the surface, deep within me I did harbor hope and reason to believe and expect that I would be able to play again. It seemed that I was born to play!)

It was my first taste of “professional fan adulation,” and I liked the way it made me feel, even for the moment. Countless thoughts were randomly being processed through my brain, but in a manner so haphazard that I could find no consolation from ideas trying to address them. Yeah! I was a good athlete, and I always felt that I belonged in the “big leagues.” But with my limited professional experience, I hadn’t given any solid evidence that I belonged. Sure, I just went 3 for 3, three RBI, scored four runs, and walked twice, but I did not tear the cover off the ball. In fact, I felt that I was pretty lucky. Every circumstance provided me with opportunities the other players would have hoped for. I just happened to be the one with the “magic wand.” I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something must have been choreographing my “excellent day.”

“How could I do what I did and not make a single mistake? Perfect!”

In the morning, I had picked up the paper (Houston Post) at the Surrey House before my taxi took me to the doctor’s office. After I found the sports section, the front page boasted a headline that proclaimed a tremendous victory for the Colts that reissued a last-place finish for the Mets. There were lots of pictures— picture of me rounding third-base, with a caption, “John Paciorek scoring one of his four runs in the Colts’ romp over the hapless New Yorkers.” 

The bumpy traveling conditions prevented me from reading, so it wasn’t until I arrived at the doctor’s office that I perused the article. The writer elaborated on the details of my first-game exploits and ended the article with the not-so-obvious conclusion that conferred upon John Paciorek “the unofficial Major-League batting title.” While in the waiting room, a current New York Times newspaper was left on the table, and I found the following statements in one of the sports articles: “Paciorek found nothing difficult about the majors,” and “He doesn’t yet know what it’s like to make an out in the big leagues.”

The Organization had arranged flights home for all the players, and my plane was leaving for Detroit from Houston’s Hobby Airport at 10:00 am on Tuesday, September 31. This would be my final checkup by the doctors. Some of us were going home for the winter, for rest and “self-evaluation,” while others would again be going to fall—“Instructional Ball,” like I did the previous year.

At the last moment, the Organization asked if I would like to go to a fall league in Florida and play on a team that had Colt .45 players as well as players from the Boston Red Sox. I half-wondered why “they” asked me to go, but I told them I would love it. The doctors said that perhaps I wouldn’t need an operation if I could strengthen my abdominal and back muscles enough to stabilize the lumbar area of my (lower) back. So of course, I intended to follow the prescribed exercise program for strengthening those muscles in my own particularly over-ambitious manner. But would that be enough?

Next: Chapter 6 – Home: Sweet – Home?

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Chapter 4

 

CHAPTER 4
One Glorious Day?

So the final part of the lineup card was decided upon. On Sunday afternoon, September 29, 1963, Johnny Paciorek was going to make his long-anticipated major-league debut. The players had to be at the stadium by 10:30 am, so Johnny had to go to an early mass at Saint Vincent Catholic Church. Holy Communion was always a first consideration. A heartfelt, dedicated effort to perform simply for the “glory of God” was the prayerful purpose for which all his motivation was inspired.

He was at the ballpark at 10:00 am, mentally ready and soon to be physically primed to perform at his highest level of competency. All necessary stretching and warm-up exercises and throwing were completed. After pregame batting and fielding practice (outfield and infield), Johnny was ready to experience the “thrill of a lifetime.”

The Colts were the home team, so they took the field first. And of course, the first person to be seen, sprinting out to his position in right field, was Johnny P. After a little “catch” with the center fielder, Ivan Murrell, Johnny’s arm and body were ready to expend all the energy necessary to give a masterful performance for all the 3,899 fans in attendance. (From the start of the game until its finish, there was never any thought given whatsoever about his back!) He was there for the duration, and his only consideration was to be and do the best and the most that he can.

The game began with nineteen-year-old Chris Zachary on the mound; twenty-one-year-old John Bateman doing the catching; nineteen-year-old Rusty Staub at first base; twenty-year-old Joe Morgan was playing second base; twenty-year-old Glenn Vaughn was at shortstop; and Veteran Bob Aspromonte rounded out the infield at third base. The outfield consisted of twenty-one-year-old Jimmy Wynn in left; nineteen-year-old Ivan Murrell, from Panama, in center field; and eighteen year-old John Paciorek was in right field.

The top of the first proved relatively uneventful, with only a hit batsman making it to first base. But as Johnny viewed every situation, there was always some circumstance ready to avail itself for someone to make a great play. He was constantly looking for it! He could just imagine a base hit to him in right and the runner on first thinking that he might test the arm of the rookie. Johnny was ready! Nothing materialized, so the top of the first produced no heroics to speak of—except perhaps Johnny’s sprinting to the third base dugout, to beat Aspromonte down the steps!

The bottom of the first proved even less eventful, as Vaughn, Morgan, and Wynn succeeded each other with consecutive outs while Rusty languished patiently in the “on-deck” circle. The second inning began within what seemed a heartbeat, but Johnny raced to his position with intent to do something of a more productive nature.

He didn’t have to wait long because the Mets’ first batter launched a fly ball to right field. It didn’t look or sound like it was hit that well. But Johnny’s propensity for throwing some grass into the air before every pitch revealed the wind blowing out to right. He thought it might come out farther than originally expected. As he paused momentarily, he could detect that the ball was carrying deeper and to the line. He moved back initially then darted to his left and caught the ball on the warning track. Good catch, and the fans showed their appreciation with a round of applause.

The next batter made an out, and the third batter of the inning hit what could have been the first hit of the game. It was a blooper over the right side of the infield. Second baseman Joe Morgan was giving chase. At one point, Joe called for the ball. But Paciorek—realizing that the wind was blowing out and the play would be difficult for Joe—raced in, called off Morgan, and made the running catch.

(Johnny had a knack for getting “the jump” on any ball hit, because it was part of his daily practice ritual during batting practice, before every game. He didn’t just shag balls like most of the others in the outfield while pregame batting was taking place. He deliberately watched the batter’s swings and eventually gained an uncanny sense of the direction and the impact of the balls off the bat.)

The fans applauded as the half inning ended. Those would be the only “putouts” Johnny would have for the entire game. He later would field cleanly two balls that were hits: one, a line drive single, and the other, a “bloop-double” down the right field line.

(Even though he didn’t see much action on defense, that condition would never stop Johnny from hustling to back up plays in both the outfield and infield. He would race toward first base in case the third baseman or shortstop overthrew a ball to first base, or toward second base on double plays starting from the left side of the infield. The same with the outfielders adjacent to him! He never allowed a base runner to advance if he could help it. In Johnny’s mind, an outfielder doesn’t get many chances during a nine-inning game, so he who would be “great” can’t afford to miss any opportunity to help his team. Selflessness is a key component to defining the ideal outfielder temperament. He cannot hesitate to expend his energy in any situation, even when the play is obviously not within his immediate “sphere of influence.”)

Racing again to the dugout, Johnny knew he would be batting fourth this inning. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on his bat. Rusty made an out to begin the Colts second inning, while Aspromonte reached first. Murrell also made an out, and the moment Johnny was waiting for finally arrived.

With utmost confidence, Johnny stepped into the right-hander batter’s box. He’d been there before—not only in his mind, but in big-league spring training camp. It’s not going to be any different.

I hit ’em then, I’ll hit ’em now. This is where I belong, here I’ll stay, were the thoughts calmly resonating through his mind.

Standing tall, in a slightly open stance, with his bat held high (the same stance he had since high school), gave him the sense that he could see the ball clearly as well as feel relaxed. He probably presented a posture that might be intimidating to some pitchers. (His stance was quite contrasting to those of Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, and Jimmy Wynn. He could detect their better sense of balance, but he could not, at this point in his career, feel confident enough to copy their styles.)

Larry Bearnarth was a young right-handed Mets pitcher who looked to be quite formidable. But in Johnny’s eyes, it didn’t matter how good he was. Paciorek decided that anything the pitcher could do would not intimidate him. He would look for any pitch over the plate, fast or curve. If it was over the plate, he was going to give it his best swing.

Bearnarth’s first pitch was a fastball strike, and Johnny strode into it and let everyone know he doesn’t take a first-pitch strike merely to check it out. He swung hard and fouled it off to the right (he may have been a little late). The Mets’ pitcher followed with three straight balls before Johnny swung at another fastball strike and pulled it on the ground down the third base line. (From his high stance, Johnny could somehow sense that he might not be able to get under and drive a good, low fastball. It wasn’t like high school, where no pitcher could blow a fastball by him.)

On the next pitch, Bearnarth missed the outside corner, and Johnny was credited with his first major-league base-on-balls. He then raced to first base, as he customarily did. He was already thinking about what could possibly happen next. And he wanted his body to be ready to apply itself with “full speed ahead.”

Three pitches later, with Aspro on second and Johnny on first, John Bateman slammed a shot to right field, over the head of Mets’ Kranepool. With two outs, Johnny and Aspro were running on contact—Johnny telling himself instinctively that he was not stopping until he crossed home plate.

Aspromonte scored easily, and the speeding Paciorek, close on his heels, also scored standing up. Bateman ended up on third base with a triple. Pitcher Chris Zachary stranded Bateman at third. But the Colts had a two-run lead as the third inning was about to begin. Johnny couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to have so much fun!

The Mets scored one run in the top of the third and three more in the top of the fourth. They took a 4–2 lead into the bottom of the fourth. The Colts started their part of the inning with three quick singles by Staub, Aspromonte, and Murrell. Ivan
got his first big-league hit by laying down a perfect bunt on the third base line. That left bases loaded with no outs, and Johnny was coming to bat for his second chance.

He walked his first time up and was still looking for his first base hit. Paciorek thought, Just put the ball over the plate, and I’ll be swinging.

Bearnarth’s first pitch was a ball, outside. His second pitch was hit by Johnny’s bat down by the trademark. But Paciorek “muscled” it over the shortstop’s head for his first major-league base hit. He drove in Staub from third base and Aspro from second. (Although there was no lack of confidence anywhere in Johnny’s mind or demeanor, he sensed that his long stride, from his open-stance position, didn’t always allow his front foot to plant into the ground quickly enough to swing on time. Morgan, Staub, and Wynn had shorter strides.)

The score now tied 4–4, John Bateman came to the plate with Murrell on second and Paciorek on first. A base hit by Bateman scored Murrell and gave the Colts a 5–4 lead, while sending Paciorek to second. Bearnarth was pulled from the game, being replaced by Ed Bauta.

Bauta gave up a bunt single to Al Spangler, who pinched hit for pitcher Jim Umbright. Spangler’s bunt single sent Paciorek to third base. Pete Runnels then pinch-hit for Glen Vaughn and on the first pitch hit a fly ball to right field. The speedy Paciorek “tagged up” immediately and scored his second run of the afternoon, making the score 6–4. The Colts scored again, making it 7–4, before the inning ended.

The Mets scored nothing during the top of the fifth. But in the bottom of the inning, the Colts again came alive with Aspro leading off with a triple. Ivan popped up for the first out. So with one out, and Aspromonte on third base, Paciorek came to the plate again with a chance at another RBI.

Bauta’s first pitch was a curveball, low and away. Even though Johnny was anxious to get another RBI, he didn’t “bite.” The second pitch was also low, and Paciorek patiently held up. He was waiting for a pitch in his “wheelhouse.” With the count now 2–0, Johnny anticipated a fastball from Bauta and was ready to connect. The Met pitcher was a seasoned veteran and probably knew Johnny was ready to “tee off” on a fastball. So he threw a curve for a strike that Paciorek didn’t swing at (his first called strike).

With the count now 2–1, Johnny was looking for any pitch over the plate. The next pitch was a fastball, and Johnny seemed to be jammed. But he managed, again, to muscle the ball to the outfield. Aspromonte scored, so Paciorek just got his second major-league hit, and third RBI, of the day. He’s 2 for 2, with a walk, three RBI, two runs scored.

John Bateman then walked, sending Johnny to second. New pitcher, Tracy Stallard, relieved Bauta. Bob Lillis came to the plate for the first time since he replaced Vaughn at shortstop. Lillis quickly hit a bullet off the glove and past the Mets’ third baseman. Johnny took the opportunity to speed past third and score another run for the Colts. It was his third of the day. The score was now 11–4 (first time this season that Colts had scored in double figures). The fifth inning came to an end.

When Paciorek came up to bat in the sixth, there was one out. A new Met pitcher, left-hander Grover Powell, was on the mound. His first pitch to Johnny was a fastball, and he was ready, taking a hefty cut as he strode into the pitch from his “high, open stance.” Behind in the count, Paciorek took the next three pitches, out of the strike zone.

With a 3–1 count, Johnny was looking for a good pitch to hit. He didn’t want to walk again. Powell fired a fastball, and Paciorek was swinging. Johnny had another good cut but, again, was a little late. He fouled it off to the right and into the stands beyond the first base dugout. With the count now “full,” Johnny was hoping for another strike so he could have an opportunity to make solid contact and show off his power. However, Powell’s next pitch was low, and Paciorek walked for the second time.

While pitching to Bateman, Powell threw a “wild pitch,” allowing Johnny to advance to second. Bateman then grounded out to third, keeping Paciorek at second. Bob Lillis came to the plate for a second time. He looped a single into center field.

With two outs, Johnny was running on contact and, with his speed, scored easily for the Colts’ twelfth run and Paciorek’s fourth. After a third out ended the sixth inning, Johnny sprinted out to his right field position. He felt a little disgruntled over the fact that, although he was doing well in the eyes of just about everyone in the stadium, he had thus far not given any concrete evidence of his potent batting prowess.

I have more natural power than Morgan, Wynn, and Staub, he thought. But their abilities to hit the ball with more authority confounded him. “I would like to bat like they do, but I don’t feel comfortable, except in my tall, opened stance,” he muttered silently to himself.

It seems logical that a low stance would have a stronger center of gravity and provide a quicker means to respond to a variation of pitches. It would also provide a smaller strike zone and better perception, especially if a batter would limit his stride.

“My most powerful hits are those in which I am way in front of the pitch, where I can get under it,” he realized. Because my hands are so high, even when I hit a ball hard, it is usually on the ground, especially low pitches, he thought.

No runs again for the Mets in the seventh. The Colts scored one run in the bottom half but left Paciorek in the on-deck circle while the third out was made by Murrell. While on the bench, Johnny made a point to watch Morgan, Wynn, and Staub batting ahead of him.

The things they had in common were their low center of gravity (lower than Johnny’s), their bats and hands were at the level of a high strike (not above the shoulders), and their bodies were “closed” to the pitcher (not like Johnny’s open stance). Their strides were relatively short, a back bent knee being evident after the hips had turned through the swing.

Joe had an idiosyncratic habit of slapping his back elbow against his side just before the pitch was delivered. Jimmy had his front bent elbow raised up in front of his tucked chin. With eyes peering over his left humerus, his bat lay flat in his top hand, just below his shoulders. After the ball was pitched, he would stride, lower his front arm and shoulder, while his top hand brought the bat perpendicular to the ground. Then he’d quickly flatten it again before he swung at the ball. He looked like a miniature version of Frank Robinson.

After not scoring in the top of the eighth, the Mets’ Powell was going to pitch the bottom half of the inning. The first batter he would be facing was John Paciorek, coming up for possibly his final at-bat. Johnny took a first pitch, strike; he wasn’t expecting a “big-league” slider. He must not have seen a good one before.

The second pitch was a fastball low for a ball, and a 1–1 count. Paciorek swung at the next pitch and missed it. With the count now one ball and two strikes, Johnny thought he’d probably throw a curveball for the “K,” or just “waste one.” Powell threw a curve, but it caught a little too much of the plate. Paciorek had what he thought was his best swing of the afternoon and hit a hard ground ball down the third base line.

The Mets’ third baseman dove to his backhand side and knocked the ball down. As he found the ball and threw it, the speedy Paciorek was already at the bag. Johnny just got his third hit of the day.

Dave Adlesh then pinch-hit for Bateman. Johnny was hoping to score his fifth run of the game. However, his plan was foiled when Adlesh hit the ball back to the pitcher. Powell caught it, turned, and threw to second base for a “force” on the hard-sliding Paciorek trying to break up “two.” The shortstop evaded the slide then relayed the ball to first to complete the double play.

Johnny jogged back to the dugout, disappointed that the Mets got him out, for the first and only time. He didn’t need to worry. It was still a perfect game in all legitimate categories.

I’ll use the off-season to work on a more productive way to swing my bat, as well as get my back in perfect physical condition, he thought as the game ended.

Handshakes and congratulatory expressions of “good-game” by teammates to each other ended an otherwise exciting and eventful experience for all rookies and veterans alike.

Next: Chapter 5 – Post-Game Highlights

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Chapter 3

 

CHAPTER 3
Circuitous Path to Glory
In 1963, the Houston Colt .45s were a second-year expansion club whose management expended a lot of energy, time, and money developing its youth. The Organization’s future success lay in quickly promoting the young “phenoms” thriving in the minors, while gradually weeding out veteran players whose value was waning. Management wanted to use the final games of the season to showcase a group of talented young athletes that would excite the hometown fans with the prospect of future prominence. The end of the season also was an opportunity for big-league teams to expand their rosters. So during the last few weeks of September, the Colt .45s arranged an assortment of mixed lineups comprised of veterans and rookies, to see what athletic chemistry might work best in the quest to become great.

On September 27, the Colt .45s experimented by fielding an all-rookie team in a game against the New York Mets. Although the lineup included some outstanding athletes and future major-leaguers like Brock Davis, Aaron Pointer, Sonny Jackson, Jerry Grote, John Bateman, Joe Morgan, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, and Glenn Vaughn—the aspiring Colt .45s lost 10–3, and the Mets’ season victory total rose to 51. 

The following day, Manager Harry Craft decided to start five rookies and four veterans against the Mets. The Colt .45s won the game by a score of 9–1, raising the Mets’ losses to 110 for the season.

Since the Colt .45s’ record against the Mets at this point of the season was 12 and 5, Craft certainly didn’t want his team to lose the final game of the season and leave the fans discontented. But General Manager Paul Richards was still intent on showcasing the team’s best prospects for the coming years. The decision was made to field a starting team for the third and final day that was composed of seven or eight rookies led by a nucleus of two veterans. This seemed a practical formula for a successful game.

With nothing of real substance on the line, management needed to convince the fan base that these erstwhile “bonus-babies” were truly worth the investment and that they were likely to ensure the city’s future prominence in the sports world. (In 1963, the city’s only athletic venues were located at Rice University, University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and the Houston Oilers, so football was the only major sport represented on the national level . . . and dubiously at best.)

Paul Richards  , a well-regarded baseball aficionado, was determined that Houston would be a grand major-league city, even though the sweltering heat and humidity, monster mosquitoes, and other nocturnal varmints did nothing to enhance the prospect of attending baseball games. With the completion of the revolutionary, climate-controlled “domed stadium” still two years away, officials needed to enthuse a starving, mildly interested, and mosquito-bitten fan base by exhibiting a new storehouse of talent and well-played games that would serve as a strong indication of good things to come. The fans needed to be persuaded that they were supporting a potential pennant-contending team.

With that idea firmly in place, the only thing to decide was the starting lineup for the final game of the 1963 season. Most of the positions were decided early: 
• Chris Zachary, a nineteen-year-old who had been with the club for part of the season, was a respectable candidate for pitcher.

• Glen Vaughn would again play shortstop.

• Joe Morgan would play second base.

• Jimmy Wynn, who went 2 for 4 with two RBI in the previous game, would play left field.

• Rusty Staub, who went 3 for 4 in the previous game, would play first base.

• Bob Aspromonte, resident handsome dude and veteran third baseman, would play his usual position.

• Ivan Murrel, a nineteen-year-old Panamanian rookie, would play center field.

• John Bateman, a twenty-two-year-old rookie, would play catcher as he had all season.

With most assignments now in place, the only question not yet resolved was whether or not eighteen-year-old Johnny “Nature Boy” Paciorek would be able to play. He was in Houston primarily for doctors to evaluate and decide if he needed surgery for a recurring back problem. Johnny was an apparently excellent physical specimen, whose determination and dedication to every superficial aspect of the “game” was well documented by everyone who was familiar with his work ethic, skill, and potential. His was an unflappable desire to be the best that he could be.

Precursor:

Johnny stood at six feet two inches tall, weighed a constant 210 pounds of solid muscle, and was an energetic nuisance to the sight of anyone who didn’t want or need to regulate his life to the continuous regimen of exercise. He seemed to be driven by an insatiable desire to be the best at every aspect of the game (any game). His inordinate exercise rituals made it obvious he wanted to be stronger and faster than everyone, throw and hit a ball farther and harder than anyone, and most importantly, give the impression that he could and should be able to do all those things.

Johnny signed for (what he considered) a modest “bonus” in mid-August of 1962, at seventeen years of age. He graduated from Saint Ladislaus High School in June but couldn’t sign until August 15 because of some technicality, which he never fully understood. He was expecting to command a larger bonus than he would receive in August.

In June, he was in top physical shape and had performed extremely well as a senior during the high school baseball season. But because he couldn’t sign in June, he’d have to wait two months—a period during which he’d be playing in a high-quality summer baseball league. There all big-league scouts would have additional time to evaluate their main prospects.

Johnny was primed and ready to put his best foot forward. He fully expected to show everyone why he deserved the highest consideration for monetary dispensations. But fate and an extremely poor decision conspired to arrive in his life at the same moment. While waiting to sign a contract, an incident occurred that would have grave consequences.

Because of Johnny’s inexhaustible energy and lusty workout ethic, combined with a narcissistic urge to display his all-around athletic abilities, he couldn’t refuse the challenge of participating informally in an outdoor summer basketball league. With locally talented high school and college players strutting their stuff on many of the prominent Detroit courts, Johnny wanted to show off his ability with the big round-ball.

Johnny could run and jump well. He played staunch defense and “skied” for rebounds or “boxed out” larger opponents. On offense, he dribbled well and drove to the basket with either hand, while exploding for a quick jumper, or going to the hoop for a right- or left-handed layup, or an occasional “slam.” He was working a good defender, right and left, found an open lane, and darted to the hoop. As he was about to plant his left foot for what he anticipated might be an impressive right-handed dunk, he stepped onto the foot of another defender. Rather than skyrocketing to the hoop, his plant foot buckled inwardly, his ankle abruptly and violently turned outwardly, and he plummeted to the hard concrete with a severely sprained ankle.

His good buddy “Krazy” Kraiza drove him home where he stayed for the next day and a half, icing and soaking his ankle in the hopes of being able to play in the baseball games that were scheduled for the following days. He managed to play but wasn’t very productive or impressive. He was adequate at shortstop but couldn’t get to balls he ordinarily could. His arm was always good, but he knew he was straining it since he couldn’t put full pressure on his front foot. But worst of all, he couldn’t hit—not for average and completely without power. Since it was difficult to press down on his front foot, he was swinging as if his (plant) foot was still in the air as he was turning his body and bat into the ball. Even when he did make contact, the ball was either a semi-pop-up to shortstop or second base or a slow grounder in the infield.

The scouts who were coming out to see him play were not impressed, and most stopped coming out. The only ones who continued to come out were from the Houston Colt .45s. That was probably only because Paul Richards had seen him play during his high school season. (Johnny could only imagine what the scouts were thinking about Mr. Richards’s ability to discern baseball talent.)

But as the weeks passed, his ankle was healing, and he began to look like his old self. A few of the other teams’ scouts came back, but his performances by that time were “too little, too late” to command the treasure he had been expecting just a couple of months earlier. Luckily, the Colt .45s were still willing to give him a handsome offer, even without any other teams competing for his service. He could assume his somewhat implied threat to play football at the University of Houston heightened their incentive. They paid him $45,000 to sign (plus college scholarship money), which was a substantial sum in 1962 but far beneath what he wanted or would have received had he not been so “stupid”!

* * *

When Paciorek decided to sign a professional baseball contract at age seventeen, he disappointed many college football coaches, including those at the Universities of Michigan, Nebraska, Alabama, Michigan State, and the University of Houston. Houston was in the process of going “big time,” hiring an imaginative, dynamic, and affable new coach out of Michigan State University named Bill Yeoman , who was an understudy to the legendary Duffy Daugherty.

Both Daugherty and Yeoman were largely successful in their recruitment processes because of their witty and congenial dispositions. Yeoman probably didn’t know where he would use Paciorek on his team, but that didn’t stop him from proclaiming Johnny as his number one recruit. He could throw a football “a mile” (estimated at close to a hundred yards), was an accurate passer, and he could run with power as well as with quickness and surprising agility.
He was always the punter on his high school team. From his freshman year on, he could always be found walking through his house practicing a three-step rhythmand-kick of a punter. From the beginning, he would see how high he could quickly stretch and bring his straight right leg forward and up while extending a flattened foot to a height well above his head. By his senior year, he consistently punted the football sixty to seventy yards in the air. When his football coach knew of his imminent baseball signing, he told Johnny that in the baseball off-season he could probably make it as a punter for some pro football team. He kept that thought in the back of his mind, while daily continuing the punting exercise as part of his ritual.
* * *

Johnny was thrilled to begin the 1963 baseball season at spring training in Apache Junction, Arizona, which was the same field on which he had played during “winter ball” in the Arizona Instructional League during the preceding October and November months. Spring training in Apache Junction was reserved for major-league players and highly recommended prospects. Houston’s minor leaguers trained in Moultrie, Georgia, more than half a continent away.

Johnny was proud to be a member of that elite group of big leaguers. His physical stature, work ethic, and predisposed natural sense of belonging in that specific environment gave him an inherent, unofficial right to “be there!” And his performances both on defense and offense gave solid evidence to claim this right. His mind-set clearly communicated that he was not going to be intimidated by any situation, circumstance, or major-league pitcher. Consequently, he had one of the highest batting averages, was a stellar performer in the outfield (usually center field), and he displayed an uncanny knack for hustling to back up plays on the entire field by anticipating any possible scenario that could occur.

Therefore, it was with extreme disappointment and unconvincing compliance that he accepted the Organization’s plan to send him to the minor-league spring training facility in Georgia. It was explained to him as follows:

If he was one of the three rookie players who were mandated by the league to stay on the twenty-five-man roster, he, like the other two, would get very little playing time, and the year would be a virtual waste of valuable developmental experience. Apparently, they thought more highly of him than they did of the many other rookies and expected him to be back, in full bloom, before the end of the season. He couldn’t deny their logic, but he also knew that his natural defensiveness might not permit him to reap the intended rewards of such a patient, motivational strategy.

And just as his predetermined attitude had dictated, his experience in the minor-league setting was not very profitable. The facilities and field conditions were woefully inferior to those of which he had recently grown accustomed and entitled. Thus his motivation to excel was diminished. He didn’t realize that this quality differential was merely the nature of things in pro ball, so his new situation was quite a let-down. He felt as though he had left a luxurious silver-spoon environment of daily filet mignon and room service to be relegated to the dingy cloister of a canned soup kitchen and hot dog extravaganza with rank Army barrack accommodations. The irony that this setting was what he was accustomed to from birth (and from which he was desperate to disassociate himself) was completely lost on him.

Although it was difficult to adjust to the culture shock of his present circumstance, Johnny was determined to make the best of this bad situation. The close quarters in the locker room and dorm barracks should not have been so egregious since, being the oldest of eight kids in a small family house, Johnny was used to cramped facilities.

It was more a question of a lack of privacy amongst individuals of different nationalities, races, religious, and cultural backgrounds that made it difficult for him to adjust and trust. In his relatively short big-league experience, none of that really came into play (at least not apparently to his eyes).

Less than a month beyond his eighteenth birthday, Johnny was becoming conflicted by the subtle proclivities of human nature. Growing up in Detroit, in the relative sanctuary of his neighborhood environment, he was never aware of what would be considered racial bias, most likely because there were no black families living within a mile radius of his home. However, he could recall an undefined tension that seemed to arise whenever he or his brothers were cast into unfamiliar surroundings where races intermingled. But it always seemed temporary and never seemed to leave any emotional mark.

In winter ball (1962) and spring training in Apache Junction (1963), blacks and whites and Spanish, Mexican, South American players were seen by Johnny as nothing other than “ballplayers”—all having equal status except for their varying abilities to play the game. When Johnny left Arizona for Moultrie, Georgia, all the other rookies except three (Dave Adlesh, Brock Davis, and Chris Zachary) went with him. There were a handful of other white players and coaches, but the majority were black and dark- or light-skinned Hispanics. The group flew from Phoenix to Tallahassee, Florida. From there, the team traveled by bus to Moultrie, Georgia.

After a few hours of travel along the Florida and Georgia country roads, everyone was getting hungry and ready for a late lunch. The bus driver came across a friendly-looking roadside diner that looked like it could accommodate (and would appreciate the business of) a busload of hungry guys. The bus emptied, and the players entered the diner and settled down around tables placed on a sawdust floor.

As Johnny and those with him were greeted with a sunny Southern hospitality, he couldn’t help but notice that his dark-skinned teammates were being escorted out the back door. He got up from his chair to see where they were headed. He saw through a window that they apparently had to sit at outdoor tables behind the restaurant, where the trash and garbage cans were attracting lots of flies.

It took only an instant for a feeling of outrage and disgust to penetrate his psyche, and he immediately insisted that the entire team of players and coaches leave the diner and continue their trek to Moultrie. Although everyone was hungry (especially him, whose custom of five “squares” a day was already one in arrears), there was a complete show of solidarity as they returned to the bus and went on their way.

It took a little while, but the bus driver eventually found a roadside barbecue vendor whose service was available to anyone willing to eat at his comfortable display of outdoor tables. He appreciated the business, and the food was satisfying. But Johnny’s normally voracious appetite was tempered somewhat by the events earlier in the day and left him feeling emotionally drained.

He had seen in movies, and heard, of both the congeniality of Southern graciousness as well as the blatant intolerance and religious hypocrisy of a God-affirming Confederate mentality. But this experience was the first one where such belligerent, uncaring, inhumane behavior pierced his conscious sense of right and wrong.

What undefinable mechanism of mortal mentality is so depleted of common sense as to cause otherwise normal people to behave in a manner that is so drastic and inhumane? Johnny had heard of, and seen, pictures depicting “lynching,” which purportedly occurred in the deep South. Were Georgia and Florida considered to be “deep”?

What can I expect to see next? was a frightful query he did not even want to imagine!

But once the team arrived at the minor-league complex, a sense of normalcy returned to everyone. Although the living arrangement in the barracks seemed archaic, as well as eating arrangements for each meal being inadequate, at least the facilities seemed safe and useful. And besides, all they were expected to do was play baseball. What could be bad about that?

The complex was a series of moderately kept fields containing ninety-foot bases, pitchers’ mounds, dugouts, and a drinking fountain on each field. But even the main field where most games were played was surely a far cry from the first-class facility that Johnny had left behind. He longed for Apache Junction’s cushiony green infield and outfield, level areas where a ball could be fielded with a minimum of danger to life and limb. In Moultrie, there were not to be found drinking fountains or cooling containers of ice water in every dugout!
* * *

A glaring feature of the Moultrie home field facility that housed the Class D Colt 22s for the past few years in the Georgia–Florida League was the restroom and drinking fountain accommodations for the spectators who attended the games during the regular season and spring training. At first, Johnny didn’t know what to make of the practicality of having separate restrooms for black men and women andthose for white men and women. It sure looked to him as a waste of space. A big sign above the restroom doors and the water fountains spelled the words “Colored” or “White Only!” Everything looked identical, so he couldn’t even begin to think about why this was—except “dumb”! When no one else was around, he sneaked into the “colored” restroom and drank out of the “colored” water fountain. He couldn’t notice any difference and didn’t get sick from the water.

What kind of a mind would think up something like this? he thought to himself. And how come we can go to the same bathrooms and drink from the same fountain at our practice fields? his mind pondered. He hadn’t experienced this kind of segregation in Houston or in Arizona. Who’d want to make his home in the deep South, especially if he were Negro? was his last thought on the subject—for the time being.
* * *

Most importantly for batters, on all the practice fields, there were no large green or dark-colored backgrounds in each center field that allowed hitters to clearly see a pitched ball with no visual obstruction or glare.

Not here, in Moultrie! No legitimate background for batters to confidently take batting practice or participate in intra-squad games. No smooth green grass, just uneven patchy weeds. No view of home plate from center field. No way to practically apply his patented fast-moving “charge-scoop-throw” technique for fielding ground balls in the outfield. (After turning “pro,” coaches asked him if he wanted to continue in the infield [shortstop] or be an outfielder. His favorite players were Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, so he told them he preferred to play center field.)

One of the first things he asked was for someone to hit him some “fungoes,” while he tried to master all the outfield positions. But after only one session of live batting practice with raw, young, and wild minor-league pitchers, on a field with no “background,” he decided to relegate himself to the batting cages and the “iron mike” auto pitcher that threw strikes. He thought to himself, There’s no way I’m jeopardizing my big-league career under that kind of circumstance. (In his youth, he had heard about a few outstanding prospects for the big leagues who suddenly vanished into oblivion after being struck in the head by a pitched ball. Those circumstances never hampered him before, but now there seemed to be something more tangible at stake here.)

Sometimes there were situations where the coaches insisted that Johnny bat against live pitchers. When that occurred, it was likely to see him “bailing out” on just about every pitch and hardly ever making good contact with his bat. When he played in games on the one “good field,” he was always markedly better and more confident. Still, his main thought was always to preserve himself for the major-league club.

What am I doing in the minor leagues? he would lament. I want to be like Al Kaline,  who never played a game in the minors when he began his career with my hometown Detroit Tigers, at age eighteen. I remember shaking Al’s hand when I was fourteen years old . . . My story is supposed to be like his!

His dad had told him that one of the most important and impressive attributes of a star athlete was his strong hands. Johnny’s hands were big and strong from all the hand exercises he did since early childhood. Dad said that scrubbing pots, pans, and floors was the best—so when he shook hands with Kaline and Norm Cash, their hands were smaller than his and their grips were as if they were putty in his own.

As he went through the daily regimen that was required for all minor leaguers, Johnny—despite being the most prominent and potentially prosperous-looking athlete at the complex—could not help but admire and appreciate the athletic abilities of all the prospects at the camp. (Just as he had done when he was younger—if someone seemed to be better than he was, Johnny would take note of any peculiar characteristic that would generate that particular prowess and then practice continuously to duplicate or even improve upon it.) Although his position would probably always be in the outfield, he would still have coaches hit him grounders at all the infield positions so that they would be reminded of who was still the “best-looking” fielder at those positions.

One specific individual whom Johnny took a fond interest in watching was probably the smallest player at the complex (and possibly in the entire Organization). Joe Morgan was unimpressive-looking at first glance, especially looking at him in the practice uniform he was given to wear. (All players in the minor-league camp were provided with old “hand-me-down” uniforms that were originally used by big-league players three years earlier.)

The uniform they gave to Joe was probably the same size they gave to Johnny. But as could be imagined, it may have looked a little differently on Joe’s five-footsix, 130-pound frame. The first couple of days, Johnny would silently chuckle to himself (as probably would other players as well) at the sight of Joe walking from the “clubhouse” to the baseball fields. The pants were not only baggy but long. It looked as if the waist was first lifted up then rolled down and finally wrapped around his waistline.

All the players were given what were obviously short-sleeved (flannel or woolen) buttoned shirts. But when you looked at Joe, you’d have thought he was given a “long-sleeved” jersey. The bottom of the sleeve was at his wrist. At first it was difficult to tell what quality of prospect he was, but he surely looked as if he was at an extreme disadvantage. You’d think he would feel self-conscious, but he seemed never to be bothered one iota.

After only one time watching Joe Morgan taking batting practice on one of the “horrible background” fields, Johnny’s observant eyes caught sight of an astonishing display of bats-man-ship that he could hardly believe. Not only was Joe pounding out line-drives to all parts of the field with what seemed a masterful stroke, but he was accomplishing the feat against a hard-throwing, young, side-arming leftie. And at times, a pitch would get away and send the left-handed Morgan plummeting to the ground to avoid getting “nailed.” Then Joe would get right back up and smash a few more liners until he was asked to let another batter have a turn.

Johnny knew then that Joe Morgan was someone special. But he seemed to be a walking paradox. He had none of the typically outstanding physical characteristics that most scouts looked for. Rather, he displayed a presence both on and off the field that clearly defined him as having a big-league attitude.

Joe’s defensive position would have to be second base because it appeared he didn’t have the arm strength to play at any other spot on the diamond. He fielded the ball pretty well, but on balls hit to his right, after fielding them, his throws to first base were almost always in the dirt. Even while working double plays, during practices or games—with his perpetual counterpart at shortstop, “Sonny” Jackson— it was a continuous trial of patience and determination for them as well the coaches.

Jackson had a strong but erratic arm and would usually throw the ball from the back end of a double play into the bleachers or into the first base dugout. But their individual and cooperative devotion to mastering their tasks became evident as each gained a much higher degree of proficiency before the team broke camp. Their desires to improve gave marked evidence in their individual climbs to ultimate success as “big-league” players.
* * *

Joe obviously had the batting skills, plate discipline, courage, confidence, and the essential mechanical technique that provided power to drive the ball as well as players almost twice his size. In many respects, Joe reminded Johnny of a small but superb ballplayer he had played with and against in the Apache Junction spring training just a few weeks earlier. His name was Jimmy Wynn, a twenty-one-year-old, whom Houston picked up from the Cincinnati Reds over the winter as a third baseman. But apparently, he was being converted to the outfield because of his speed, throwing ability, and hitting skills.

He, like Morgan, could demonstrate power from somewhere not obvious to the casual observer. He was a little taller than Morgan but more wiry-looking and a right-handed batter. And he had a peculiar habit of always having a toothpick in the corner of his mouth the entire time he was on the field.

The toothpick caught Johnny’s attention because he remembered a good player, back in the sandlot leagues, who always had a peach pit in his mouth while he played. Johnny thought that was pretty cool until one day when that player had to “hit the deck” to avoid a pitch and that big old pit lodged in his throat. He almost lost consciousness before it was dislodged. From then on, Johnny no longer thought it was cool to have anything, other than bubble gum, in your mouth while playing.

In an intra-squad game—on a beautiful, hot, dry, sunny morning in Apache Junction—Johnny and Jimmy both played center field on opposite teams. The first time Jimmy came up to the plate, Johnny could barely see the little guy from deep center. His custom for every batter was to throw a few blades of grass into the air, to see how the wind was blowing, or not. The air was calm, no wind at all, so Johnny moved way in, since Jimmy’s size gave no indication of power.

On the first pitch, Wynn connected on a shot that was hit to deep center field. As Johnny raced back, he initially thought he had a chance to make a great catch (think Willie Mays) since the wall was 455 feet away. But when he reached what he thought would be the right spot, he looked back only to see the rocket fly way over his head, then bounce off the 455-foot sign! Johnny quickly fielded the ball while the speedy Wynn was held to a three-base hit. Had a sudden gust of wind helped with the drive? Johnny tossed the blades of grass again—no wind!

“How could that little guy hit the ball so hard and far?” he asked himself. “That must have been the best hit he had ever gotten in his life.”

Thinking it had been just luck, the next time Jimmy came up to bat, Johnny checked the wind as usual then moved in closer toward the plate. No way lightning was going to strike twice. But this time, on the third pitch, smack! He found himself racing back again, and this time the ball ricocheted even higher off the elevated portion of the 455-foot sign. And again, Johnny held him to a triple. He decided to watch Jimmy Wynn carefully, to learn how a small player could hit the ball like that.

Maybe it was the toothpick! Did that little habit affect his attitude when he came up to bat? Johnny began to wonder about factors, other than physical prowess, that might make a difference in how an individual played.

* * *

When 1963’s spring training ended, Johnny along with Joe Morgan and a host of other players who would later make it to the majors (including “Sonny” Roland Jackson, John Hoffman, Danny Combs, Leon McFadden and Carroll Sembera) were assigned to play for the Modesto Colts, a team in the California League, designated at that time as C-Ball. Houston was the major-league city. Oklahoma City was the AAA team; San Antonio was AA; and the rest were generally considered A ball. Their specific designations were B—Durham, North Carolina; C—Modesto, California; and D—Statesville, North Carolina.

Anxious for a new beginning in Modesto, Johnny started the season by hitting for a good average, clobbering long home runs and playing excellent defense in center field. He was running bases well, stealing and scoring at an impressive clip. He obviously hoped that he could climb the ladder quickly and eventually head back to the “bigs” (via Durham, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and then Houston). But after his quick start, he hurt his arm and shoulder/upper back while diving for a ball. He made every effort to “gut it out” and still be productive, but his performance went downhill over the course of the next month. He finally told his manager, Dave Philly, about the arm and upper back trouble then rested on the bench until he was capable of resuming play.

But while he was recuperating, he noticed a gradual stiffening of his lower back. One thing led to another, and he ended up going to Houston to have his back looked at by orthopedic experts. After thorough examination, the doctors told him that he apparently had an abnormal condition since birth, but it never affected him adversely until he sustained the shoulder and upper back injury. How was it possible that, at age eighteen, he had a potentially career-ending congenital condition, yet he had played every sport fiercely and competitively over the years and looked like the epitome of health and athleticism?

The Houston doctors must have concluded that the condition wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from playing, so they sent him back to Modesto to finish up the season. However, he did not play well and was in pain much of the time. At the end of the season, he went back to Houston for a more in-depth medical examination. He was headed back to Houston, one way or the other!

While being inactive for a while, his back wasn’t hurting all the time. In fact, when Johnny didn’t have medical appointments, he was at Colt Stadium working out in the hot sun and high humidity before the major-league team showed up for their practices and games. The scouts and coaches who were around to observe him couldn’t help but be impressed with his running speed and fielding dexterity. He seemed to feel great. When he was in “his perfect element,” he ignored negative things and focused on more important issues. Without realizing it, he was again experiencing how factors other than physical prowess might affect a player’s ability and success.

September 27, 1963, was fast approaching, and many minor leaguers had already been called up to the majors after their respective seasons had ended in late August. The Houston Colt .45s were planning an all-rookie team to play against the New York Mets on the first day of the final home stand. Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson were there after their respective seasons in Durham and Modesto had ended. Johnny knew they were likely to be assigned to play in that game. But once the big day arrived, the Colt .45s lost to the Mets 10–3.

Johnny didn’t attend any of the night games, for he was in Houston solely for medical evaluation and some therapeutic treatments. The only time he went to the field was to work out in the late mornings after his therapy sessions. He was certainly distraught in seeing his former teammates getting the opportunity to play in the big leagues while he was relegated to dealing with his unfavorable injury situation. So it wasn’t just the horrible mosquitoes that kept him from the night games; it was also to try to hold his resentment and discouragement at bay! But since his back was feeling good most of the time, he wondered if rest during the upcoming off-season would aid in his recovery. Johnny never saw Paul Richards, but he had a comforting sense that Paul was watching him. He knew that Paul would have wanted him to play. In fact, after the team’s loss on September 27, a few coaches casually asked Johnny how he felt. He’d always reply in the affirmative, and the inquirer would usually smile in agreement. Then as he was sitting in the doctor’s office on September 28, a message was delivered asking if he would like to play in the last game of the season, on Sunday afternoon, September 29. Without stopping to think of anything else or giving them a chance to recant their offer, he responded with an emphatic, “Yes, I would”!

Next: Chapter 4 – One Glorious Day?

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Chapter 2

 

CHAPTER 2

Every time I tell my better-feeling story, I feel better, and the details of my life improve. The better I feel, the better I get. The better I get, the better it gets. Baseball is an endearing and enduring embodiment of the fabric of life’s journey, with a perpetually new beginning.

An Old Story:

Most of my relatives and longtime friends had contended that I could have been one of Baseball’s greatest players, an All-Star and a prime Hall of Fame candidate. Their opinions were based on my physical athletic ability, as well as on my dogged determination to do what it took to be the best. They thought I was being uncommonly humble when I’d tell them that, in my former mind-set, I could not have been a big-league star.

I had not yet acquainted myself with the astute but indecipherable mental characteristics of a Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan, Jim Wynn, Tony Conigliaro, Tom Paciorek, and others with similarly intelligent approaches to hitting a baseball. Nor did I want to. I was big, strong, and fast . . . so I was content to rely on my instincts and quick reflexes to master the impediments to batting and fielding proficiency.

Fielding wasn’t a problem, as I worked diligently and perfected every aspect of that dimension of the game. (Better throwing mechanics would have eliminated some arm problems.) But a mastery of hitting a baseball had components for which my purely natural tendencies were not compatible. (The true principle of batting acumen was to be discovered only after my long apprenticeship in the observational arena.) It eventually became obvious that the challenges in facing the professional mounds-man went beyond a batter’s physical stature or how good he looked in his uniform.

After “The Game”

The 1963 regular Major League Baseball season had ended on Sunday, September 29. Less than a week later, I was at home in Detroit, preparing to leave again for a month of winter baseball in Sarasota, Florida. I would play on a co-op team with the Boston Red Sox.

I can remember sitting on the bed in a room that I had sometimes shared with two other siblings, in our modest family home at 13432 Moenart Street. At that time, it was the fifth house from the corner, between Luce and Rupert, in what could be considered a low-middle-income Polish Catholic community. (Less than fifty years later, it would become the corner house due to inevitable social decline and fires that destroyed the first four houses.)

Our neighborhood consisted of rows of two-story wood-framed houses, spaced about eight to ten feet apart, with oak trees lining the streets. This tract of land, whose area covered at least a few square miles, was developed during and after World War II. It offered housing to GI veterans returning home and facilitated their use of government loans that were available in appreciation of their good service and securing a US victory.

My dad fulfilled his obligation to the Army while attending to the defense of the Pacific front. He made it back physically unscathed. But a close brush with death might have instigated a reformulation of thought that ultimately had future consequences for both him and his newly expanded family.

While stationed in the Philippines, near the end of the war, he, along with an Army buddy on each side of him, were moving with other soldiers up a hill that they perceived to be unoccupied by enemy fortification. When they reached the top of the hill, enemy fire ensued, and his buddies were shot dead beside him. Later, like any normal respondent to such catastrophe, he interpreted the incident as an omen that should cause him to reevaluate his life’s future. He had to wonder, “Why wasn’t I killed?”

After much contemplation, he inwardly expressed deep gratitude for a second chance to show more appreciation for the Catholic religion that he had grown up supporting. He must have felt that he now had a direct order from God to be more responsive to the dictates of the Church (since it had validated itself to him as the only true religion). Dad eventually became a staunch advocate of the “infallibility of the pope,” since the pontiff was accredited by the Church as the “vicar of Christ” on earth. And Dad strictly enforced the Catholic rule upon all who were under his immediate sphere of influence—specifically, his children (eventually there were eight of us, and I was the eldest).

My parents were married in May of 1942, and immediately Dad was drafted into the service. He had a month-long deferment before he had to report for duty. During that time, the newlyweds began preparing for their extended family. However, the twins they were expecting were born prematurely and died. Then while Dad was on leave in San Diego in May of 1944, another attempt proved more successful, and I was born on February 11, 1945 (six months before V-J Day). Dad saw me for the first time on February 2, 1946, when I was almost one year old. My brother Tom was born nine months later, on November 2 of the same year. I could imagine the thrill of our first encounter! I was one of millions who were at the forefront of a new generation that would be known as “baby boomers.”

As a child, I thought of our community as a thriving, hospitable environment. Kids were safe and free to expend their energies in their yards or at one of the two enormous parks and recreational facilities available. Children of all ages would congregate within their own buddy systems and participate in “choose-up” games for any length of time during the day. Lasky Field was less than a block and a half away. Entering by foot from Luce, it extended southward to Charles Street and Fenlon to the west, an area of more than a mile. It was where my buddies, Tom, and I would meet and play whatever sport was currently in season.

During baseball season, our habit was to mark off the base paths on the soft grass areas, instead of using the softball fields with their all-dirt infields. We’d play all day long, hardly ever thinking of taking time to eat. That probably explains the tanned, skinny bodies that draped the canvas of our playgrounds and backyards at the time. Farther west was a larger grassy area known as Jayne Field, covering about two miles and bordered on the far northwestern corner by a metropolitan police station. The southwest corner harbored Cleveland Intermediate School (junior high), and adult baseball fields were located between those two focal points.

On the east end of Jayne Field were a bevy of well-kept softball fields along Fenlon Street, for adults and youngsters. And on the corner of Charles and Fenlon was a well-lit adults-only sports facility with an elaborately constructed bleacher system from which patrons could watch exciting fast-pitch men’s and women’s softball games during baseball season and high school football games during the fall.

On the other side of Fenlon Street, on the westernmost part of Lasky Field, was Lasky Recreation Center. It provided many wholesome indoor activities for kids— including boxing, basketball, badminton, as well as arts and crafts, woodshop, and other pursuits. (It was there that my dad insisted that my younger brother, Tom, and I learn how to “box.” He was apparently a good boxer in his youth and while he was in the Army.)

If there wasn’t a gang of friends to activate a baseball game, Tom and I would simply improvise a game of “strikeout.” We played on a section of the well-kept continuum of tennis courts that were strung out the distance of three city blocks (Keystone, Conley, and Fenlon Streets). The tennis court area itself was enclosed by fences opposite each side of the courts, surrounding its large rectangular dimensions. It was against the fence adjacent to Luce that the batter would stand while the pitcher would assume his position thirty or so feet south of home plate. The distance between the pitcher and batter varied with our ages and strength.

As we got older, the pitcher moved further away from the batter. The greater difficulty always was for the batter, since he really had to demonstrate quick reflexes and a good eye to hit the fast-moving tennis ball or rubber ball. But it also allowed the pitcher to develop any skills that might help him prosper later in his young “career.”

(Tom developed a superb curveball that eventually caught the eyes of discerning and astute Negro coaches who vied for his services at the Jayne Field Parks and Recreational League. They were “top of the line” coaches who handpicked quality “white” players to play on their “all-colored” teams. It was an honor for a ten-year old kid in our neighborhood to be chosen.)

In “strikeout,” the batter could get a single by bouncing the ball past the pitcher; a double if the ball went by the pitcher in the air; a triple if the ball hit the opposite fence on a fly; and a home run if the batter hit it over the fence within the width of an area designated as fair. The batter would bat either right- or left-handed, mimicking the stances and swings of his favorite MLB players. All balls caught were “outs,” but most outs occurred from “striking out.” The game usually played for nine innings, or until it was too dark to play anymore.

During football season, if the neighborhood gang wasn’t available, Tom and I would mimic the antics of running backs on NFL teams and play one-on-one in the backyard. The garage and house were separated by the distance of five yards, with a carpet of uneven, thoroughly worn grass. So we used that measure to score first downs and touchdowns by running back and forth from garage to house until the first down or TD was reached. It was particularly fun in the winter, when the ground was covered with a blanket of fresh, soft snow.

As I remember, my style of running mimicked the actions of an elusive “scat-back” like Doak Walker, or Elroy “Crazy- Legs” Hirsh, while Tom countered with the likes of Marion Motley or John Henry Johnson. Maybe it was because I was always bigger than Tom (at that time), and to avoid running over him, I evaded his tackles with cuts and spins, while he didn’t hesitate to run right into me, or through me.

Children were born in our family at varying intervals, but Tom and I were fortunate to be only one year and nine months apart in age. We could regularly practice our sports skills together, at least until I started high school.

Our younger siblings found creative ways to facilitate their own skill development. But it was always fun to include any or all of them in the various sports activities we would improvise in or about our small domicile. Marilyn, or Goog—as my dad used to call her—was always a favorite choice because she was fast, wiry-strong, and tough as nails. You had to be careful not to get on her bad side. You couldn’t beat her in a fight, unless you killed her. No matter what you did, she wouldn’t stop until you pleaded for mercy. It was customary to run and lock oneself in the bathroom (the only one we had, except the open-faced toilet in our grungy basement that no one ever wanted to use). The lineup of sports prospects eventually rose to eight: Johnny, Tommy, Marilyn (Goog), Joan (Josie), Bobby (Si), Michael (Mike-G), Carole (Yo), and James (Jimbo).

As I sat on the bed, back resting against the headboard, my thoughts suddenly segued from carefree childhood memories to last Sunday’s eventful moments. Already five days had passed, and I was just now getting a clear picture of how I felt about the events that occurred before and on that “fateful” day. My mind drifted into pleasant reverie, and I pictured the times and events as being narrated by the strong voice of a prominent Radio or TV broadcaster.

Next: Chapter 3 – Circuitous Path to Glory!

John Paciorek’s Book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Chapter 1

 

CHAPTER 1
Beginning at the End
The 2016–’17 school year had just been completed. A luncheon ceremony on the final day lasted longer than usual. A small celebration commemorating my retirement after forty-one years of service as a physical education teacher and coach was highlighted by the dedication of a new state-of-the-art batting cage in my name. 

With the new facility, I wondered who might be attracted to my “leading-edge” instruction for the perfect application of batting and throwing mechanics.

(Pictures of Brad Marelich – 8th Grade Student)

At 3:00 pm, returning home to our San Gabriel, California, residence, the mid-June, ninety-five-degree heat made it easy to appreciate the air-conditioned environment of our humble abode. I was exhausted and could not easily keep my eyes open.

My loving and indispensable wife, Karen , and daughter Kimmy (youngest of our eight children) had already prepared for and were about to embark on their annual one-week “family vacation” to Avila Beach. About twenty members of my wife’s side of the family would enjoy the company of each other, clustered together in an assortment of time-share room accommodations. They would have the time of their lives, frolicking in the more hospitable, cooler climate on the central California coast. I always enjoyed the company of all the relatives, but because I needed much more space in which to feel truly comfortable in satisfying my own peculiar idiosyncrasies, each year I declined the vacation opportunity. My demeanor favored, instead, a home-alone respite, from which I could be uninterrupted in my personal literary pursuits.

A small book-shelf in my study area contained an assortment of reference books and sports magazines. Just to its right was my desk, upon which sat my (our family) computer.

In no particularly hierarchal order of sentimental or significance value, my special books lined up from left to right on the middle shelf, for easiest access: King James Bible; Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy; Many Mansions, Edgar Caycey; The Law of Attraction, Getting into the Vortex, and Ask, and It is Given, Jerry and Esther Hicks; A Course in Miracles, Helen Schucman; Plato’s Dialogues; and The Science, Art, and Philosophy of Chiropractic, D. D. Palmer. On the third/bottom shelf rested both my self-published The Principle of Baseball . . . and the not-yet-published Plato and Socrates: Baseball’s Wisest Fans . Along with these, a few books about the life, times, and works of Albert Einstein graced the shelf. Three others were The Tao of Gung Fu: Way of Chinese Martial Arts, by Bruce Lee; The Journeys of Socrates (a book on tape/disc) and Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman; and Gary Adams’s Conversations with Coach Wooden. Most of my written works are filed in my computer—within which I have submitted hundreds of essays, after conscientious study of various aspects of life, in baseball, metaphysics, and physics. My computer also facilitates the utilization of a website—www.johnpaciorek.com (prepared for me by a thoughtful parent)—which affords me the opportunity to post my essays for the purpose of enhancing public understanding of the correct mechanical application to batting and throwing a baseball. After seeing my family off, I immediately went to my study, where after finding a few good-feeling thoughts to contemplate, I sat/lay down on my ultra-comfortable recliner and almost immediately fell into a sound and restful twelve-hour sleep. But just before dozing off, I thought, If I knew then what I know now, what could have been?

Next: Chapter 2 – The Old Story!

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Preface and Prelude

Following the Preface, the Prelude includes the CBS Special about Paciorek – Go to Link!

PREFACE
A New Story Begins!
As I look back, in my seventy-third year, I have come to recognize that I could have felt differently about all my life’s experiences. Would I be in a better place today if I had not (over)reacted to every little episode in my life’s struggle? I now sense that I always had an inherent right to experience my life story in the way that I wanted it to be. I realize that I could have lived with an uncommon understanding that I do “create my own reality.” Instead of the irritation I felt toward the impositions that my life encountered, I now know that those perceived obstacles were merely self-imposed challenges that were testing my mind’s resolve. They should have been catalyzing agents to foster the conscious deployment of new ideas through my ever-expanding thought. They could have directed me upon that joyful path I more likely would have preferred. An endless search for a lifetime of peaceful coexistence with myself and the world, I would have co-conspired to create and establish. A joyous living experience might still be realized, and perhaps in a setting not unfamiliar to my present habitation and current perception! Join with me now in a reconstruction of an old adventure—the new purpose of which might be to inspire, in the mind of every reader, the recognition that hope lost can always be revived in the childlike imagination of those individuals not yet adulterated, nor easily discouraged, by the ravages of tragedy or disappointment. If you are hanging on from the lowest rung of a suspended ladder, where else would you go but up? But more than out of sheer necessity, you can climb with joy the “heights of mind” and rest your volatile emotions, or mutable human circumstances, in the tranquil state of a consistently inspired dream. It is with these ideas that I present in this book a new story—one that I have imagined did take place in lieu of my history’s less-than-desirable past. It is one more acceptable, not to the vanity of any former age, but to my heart’s credible new age longing to be in concert with my mind’s exhaustless intent to be—at each succeeding moment—the “best I can be”: perfect in spirit, mind, body—life’s perpetual/universal leading-edge demand of self.

PRELUDE
http://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_this_morning/video/0Gczy9M1_YFSmuahcP_ P6xUS_4ndES8v/paciorek-s-perfect-mlb-stats-after-one-day-career/

John Paciorek’s Book: If I Knew Then What I Know Now – Foreword

 

FOREWORD
Growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and early ’sixties, it seemed every kid’s dream to play pro baseball. Then in 1962, that dream came true for me. And for a brief instant, a sudden dose of fame and fortune came and passed ingloriously. A dismal future lurked in the shadows for a nineteen-year-old “could-have-been” big leaguer. If it weren’t for my dad’s instinct to insist that his son’s modest “signing bonus” include scholarship money for college, the post-baseball life of this previously “can’t-miss” superstar could have proceeded in a less-than-favorable direction. Darkness seems always to precede the dawn. Then the brilliant light fades, giving place again to darkness—thus “the evening and morning of the first day” (Genesis). For the past four years, I have been basking sporadically in the “limelight.” It had become evident to a good many of baseball statistical enthusiasts and historical sleuths that a brilliant one-game performance by this relatively unknown player/athlete had sauntered down through more than fifty years of unclaimed posterity. Even I was not consciously aware of the significance of my somewhat-phenomenal feat. It registered only after conceding that this dubious fact in baseball’s illustrious history is a record most unlikely to be broken by any subsequent major league player. To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my 1963 one-game performance, Ted Keith, from Sports Illustrated Magazine, wrote an extensive article based on his interview with me in 2012. The article garnered for me much notoriety and fanfare in my community and nationwide. A former sportswriter from the Los Angeles Times, Steve Wagner, saw the article and, remembering he had done a piece about me in 1991, decided to look further into my history. After much research and finding more interesting accounts, he decided to compile the data and eventually write a book about my story. He called and asked for an interview because he was writing a book about me. I was skeptical at first, since throughout the years, a small number of writers had asked me to contribute to their books. They usually contained a smaller or larger chapter about my professional experience. I asked how he could write a whole book on me. “How would you fill the pages?” He told me he already had two hundred pages! He just needed me to fill in some details. I was surprised but happy to comply with his wishes.

After Steve’s book Perfect was published and became somewhat popular with the media, I was contacted by my favorite sports TV station and asked to do an interview on Live-TV with my favorite MLB analysts and commentators. Not too long afterward, CBS TV contacted me about the recent book by Steve Wagner and asked if “they” could do a special interview for a TV spot on their CBS morning show. My brother, Tom, and Tommy Lasorda were included in the TV program.

 
All the notoriety being poured upon me in my seventieth year gave me pause to consider what could have been, had I not incurred a career-ending back operation that seemed to put my life in a state of suspended animation for more than fifty years. Could there have been a different and better story to tell? From my deliberate effort to tell a new story, I have established a new pattern of thought, providing me with a new “point of attraction” in my present, about my past, and into my future.

Tomorrow: Preface

If I Knew Then What I Know Now! – Book by John Paciorek

Since my Publisher listed the price of my new 414-page book at $56.00, I would suspect that many people would hesitate buying it, even if it were Pulitzer Prize quality. Therefore I will present it to you in succeeding chapters until the 53 chapters and Postscript have been posted, one chapter at a time. If at any time during your reading, you feel compelled to buy The Book, you can probably purchase it at your local bookstore and Amazon, or you can request purchase directly from me, for an autographed copy.

To begin posting, I’ll let you take a gander at the Cover, as well as the Table of Contents. The next Post will include the Foreword and Preface. Happy Reading!

 

CONTENTS:
Foreword
Preface
Prelude
Chapter 1: Beginning at the End
Chapter 2: The Old Story
Chapter 3: Circuitous Path to Glory
Chapter 4: One Glorious Day?
Chapter 5: Postgame Highlights
Chapter 6: Home: Sweet—Home?
Chapter 7: New Revelations
Chapter 8: Respite and Reevaluation
Chapter 9: A New Perspective
Chapter 10: New Applications?
Chapter 11: Adam Dream
Chapter 12: Progress: Greatly Enhanced Understanding
Chapter 13: Order of Reconstruction
Chapter 14: First Application of Principle
Chapter 15: From Light to Darkness, Then Light Again!
Chapter 16: Myths and Legends
Chapter 17: A Legend Is Revived
Chapter 18: New Hope
Chapter 19: Good Feelings
Chapter 20: Practice: Perfect!
Chapter 21: Setting the Example
Chapter 22: Appreciation (Past, Present, Future)
Chapter 23: Unexpected Joy
Chapter 24: Expectant Good
Chapter 25: Preparation for Consistency

Chapter 26: Good First Game—Fun!
Chapter 27: Even Higher Expectations
Chapter 28: Abiding within the Principle
Chapter 29: Step by Step, Line upon Line, Precept after Precept!
Chapter 30: Individual and Collective Success
Chapter 31: Every Aspect of the Game
Chapter 32: Adjusting to the Circumstances
Chapter 33: What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Chapter 34: Seek First …
Chapter 35: Closeness to Perfection
Chapter 36: Ready to “Face the Enemy”
Chapter 37: Let the Real Games Begin!
Chapter 38: Improve on Perfection?
Chapter 39: We’re Off to See The Mick
Chapter 40: “The Mick”: As Good as They Get
Chapter 41: One “Minor” Setback
Chapter 42: Cause for Concern?
Chapter 43: Rescued!
Chapter 44: First Night Game
Chapter 45: Einstein’s “Home Run” Principle
Chapter 46: Deliberate Home Run Hitter?
Chapter 47: Give It My Best Shot
Chapter 48: Quick Reflexes = High-Vibrational Frequency
Chapter 49: Penultimate—Leading to the Ultimate
Chapter 50: Can It Get Any Better?
Chapter 51: From Where Does the Power Really Come?
Chapter 52: The Grand Finale
Chapter 53: Getting Real!
Postscript