Schwartz: A Few Minutes With The Captain

My family made it’s first trip to Canton, Ohio two years ago, an excursion centered around a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Billy Joel concert in Cleveland along with a short drive the next day to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While we were in our hotel in Canton, I came up with another idea and that was to check out Thurman Munson Stadium, once a venue for an Indians minor league team and now a ballpark for local youth and high school baseball.

Thurman Munson was my favorite baseball growing up so I was, just like so many Yankees fans and New York area sports fans, devastated when he passed away in a plane crash on August 2nd, 1979 at the Canton-Akron Airport. I asked the person at the front desk of our hotel how to get there and he gave me the directions. He was also curious as to why I wanted to go there. When I said that I was a Yankees fan and that Munson was my favorite player, he gave me another place to visit.

He gave me exact instructions to the cemetery where Munson was buried.

So before we drove home to New York the day next, we went to see The Captain’s final resting place. Last year, we were back in Canton for a week because my son Bradley played in the USA Football Middle School Bowl Game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Our hotel was not far from the cemetery so I once again paid a visit to see the great Yankees catcher. I was by myself this time so I felt more comfortable sharing some thoughts at the gravesite and noticed that since my last visit, some fans had left a few Yankees momentous on the monument.

This week, we’re back again because my son is once again playing in the USA Football game, so on Wednesday, I made what has become my annual visit with my favorite baseball player of all time. So many people will remember where they were that day he perished in that plane crash. I was twelve years old and was in the playground across the street from the Forest Hills apartment in Queens that my family and I were living in. My uncle, on his way home from work, would always stop by if he saw me and that day he and he delivered the bad news to me.

I’m lucky in my life to have met two of my favorite players from other teams, former Islanders right wing Mike Bossy and former Jets tight end Mickey Shuler, but I never had the chance to meet Munson so if we are fortunate enough to have other trips to Canton, I’m always going to stop by and say hello to my favorite baseball player, a guy that my kids now know a lot about because of my stories and my collection of Munson memorabilia.

There is one Munson item that I would like to acquire one day. My dad took me to the first bat day at the “renovated” Yankee Stadium in 1976. Back then, the Yankees gave up bats with different player names on it and of course I wanted the Munson bat. As we entered the ballpark, a security guard was handing out the bats and I saw a Munson bat sticking out of the box. I asked the security guard for that bat and he handed me a Lou Piniella bat and said you can’t pick what bat you get.

My dad pleaded with the guy and but he wouldn’t give me that Munson bat. Perhaps I’ll find one on-line one day or maybe someone reading this story that has one can reach out to me and we can discuss it…LOL

During my visit with Munson on this trip, I told him how much he meant to me growing up and how special I think this current Yankees team can be. I joked that maybe he can help Gary Sanchez with his defense a little bit and also told him that both of my kids played catcher in little league and that my wife’s favorite player was Gary Carter. Yeah we have a mixed marriage because she’s a Mets fan, but the we’re in agreement on the catcher position in baseball being special to our family.

How great is my wife Sheryl despite her rooting interests?

The day before our wedding, we were shopping at a Flea Market on Long Island and there is a sports memorabilia area. One vendor was selling this beautiful framed collection of all of Munson’s Topps baseball cards. It was a little pricey so I couldn’t justify the expense the day before our wedding. A couple of days after we arrived home form our honeymoon, we were back at the same Flea Market and that guy still had the Munson piece. My wife implored me to get it because she knew how much Munson meant to me.

This coming August 2nd will be forty years since the passing of Thurman Munson. He was a special baseball player and he was taken from us way too soon. During these three visits to his final resting place, I had a chance to reflect on moments that will forever be etched in my memory and it does bring a smile to my face. He was a great player and his presence can still be felt during every trip to Yankee Stadium.

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