You know, I met George Kissell once.
The year was 1994, and I was fourteen years old. As a fourteen year old, I was much, much smarter than the world around me, of course, and that fact, coupled with an emerging reliance on various recreational substances to get through the day, made me fairly unpleasant to be around most of the time, to be completely honest.
That day in 1994 was also the last baseball game that my grandfather ever attended, in a small bit of coincidence. He had taught me everything I knew about baseball; the two of us had spent more hours breaking down pitch sequences and John Tudor's mechanics than you would believe. Of course, at that particular point in my life, I had less and less time and patience for my grandfather. Regret is a bitch, isn't it?
My grandfather was actually a minor leauger in the Cardinal system in the years following the war. He was a center fielder by trade, and fast as the wind. Strangely enough, considering he met the woman who would eventually become my grandmother while in St. Louis getting a tour of Sportsman's Park, in a way you could say I exist because of the St. Louis Cardinals. Weird, huh?
Following the game (I cannot for the life of me recall how the game actually went), grandpa and I wandered down to the railing by the dugout, hoping to grab an autograph while the rest of the family headed for the car, already fighting about where to eat on the way home. I was shouting at Ray Lankford, trying to get his attention, when out of the dugout steps this little old man, with Coke bottle glasses and big ears, and my grandfather suddenly straightens up at the sight of him. I turned to look, saw this old guy, and asked who he was.
So grandpa waved him down, and Kissell walked over. They made their introductions, and before my grandfather could get even half way through explaining who he was, Kissell told him who he was.
"Center field, right? About '47, '48?"
He remembered, almost fifty years on, the boy who had come through his care briefly in the years following the war. He remembered that he wanted grandpa to be a pitcher instead of an outfielder, because he had such a nasty curve. He asked about the hip injury, suffered while working as a railroad switchman during the off-season, that cut short my grandfather's playing days.
I honestly don't recall what was said in all that much detail. I do remember being amazed at how much this man seemed to remember from so many years back. More than anything, I remember the look on my grandfather's face as Kissell finally said goodbye and we turned to head out of the park. I had never seen the look before, but I knew it immediately by the feel. It was the same look I'm sure that I wore all those years as we watched countless games ourselves. The look one wears when you see the best teacher you ever met, someone who made a real difference in you life. I don't know what you would call it exactly, but I know just how it felt.
Over the years, of course, I've heard all the countless stories about George Kissell, and how much he meant to the organization. The only thing I thought of, though, when I heard of his passing was that day in 1994, and the look on my grandfather's face. Really, that look was all I ever needed to know about the man.
You know, I met George Kissell once.
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