by Carol L. Peszka
On Aug. 20, my dad, Frank Gunther, would have turned 103 years old. On the morning’s sports news that day, I remember hearing the commentator say that even though it was mathematically possible for the Phillies to be in the playoffs, it was pretty much not going to happen. I was sad hearing that prognostication, both for the fact that my dad was no longer here to celebrate another birthday and the “Fightin’s” were not going to celebrate a World Series championship in 2012. (My dad, who worked at Philco Corp. in Kensington as an expeditor, died in 1998 at the age of 89.)
When an invitation to a wedding in October offered an opportunity to be in the area of the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, my husband and I jumped at the chance to make a long weekend include this wonderful nugget of baseball memorabilia. We lucked out with incredibly beautiful autumnal weather and a bed-and-breakfast in Cooperstown that was beyond description with an owner who was not only a great hostess and cook but had a wealth of knowledge of the area and opera; yes, I said opera.
Since 1983 Creekside Bed and Breakfast has been a home away from home for scores of theater people. Gwen and Fred Ermlich helped found Glimmerglass Opera Productions. Today, memories of stage productions still play an important role at Creekside. Before becoming an inn, the house had expanded out of necessity just meeting the needs of hosting both opening and closing night parties for opera productions.
Fred is now gone, but Gwen invites families to roam the acres of land that offer plenty of room for touch football as well as a floating dock that beckons fishermen to the trout-stocked stream. This is still the family home, and we were lucky enough to meet Gwen and Fred’s two sons, Patrick and Paul, and their wives and children.
After a very delicious and hearty breakfast, we were off to the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame. Going to the museum at this time of year was wonderful in that there were no crowds, and one could wander at leisure through the various exhibits reading every explanation involved. I reveled in the discovery of an idea, thought by many to be invented by Abner Doubleday, that evolved into the sport that so many of us know, watch and love.
My dad inspired my devotion to the sport at an early age. I vaguely remember my dad “rooting” for the Philadelphia Athletics. Connie Mack was the grand old man of baseball, and his name was revered in our house. In 1901 the American League claimed Major League status by placing franchises in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. Shibe Park was opened April 12, 1909, named for Benjamin Shibe, a co-owner of the franchise.
J. D. Shibe and Co. were manufacturers of baseballs and sporting goods. For many Philadelphians of a certain age, the words Shibe and baseball bring memories of a long-gone era. In 1953 Shibe Park became Connie Mack Stadium honoring the man who in 1902 led the Philadelphia Athletics to the first of nine pennants won under his tutelage. By 1910 the Philadelphia Athletics began a dynasty that produced four pennants in five years.
Connie Mack lived on Cliveden Street in Mt. Airy and was a Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus, Santa Maria Council, in Flourtown. His first marriage produced three children. After his wife died of complications from childbirth, he remarried, and the couple had four daughters and a son, Cornelius, Jr. His great grandson is Connie Mack IV, who is currently running as the Republican Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida.
My fondest memories are the days of the 1950s’ Whiz Kids with my dad taking me to games to see Robin Roberts, Del Ennis, Dick Sisler, Eddie Sawyer, Curt Simmons and, of course, the incomparable Richie Ashburn. Who knew that so many years later, “Richie,” along with the sonorous tones of a man named Harry Kalas, would bring such pleasure on a summer day with the words “It’s outta here”?
Most of us are familiar with Veterans Stadium, which opened April 4, 1971, with the last game being played Sept. 28, 2003. Citizen’s Bank Park, aka the Bank, opened April 3, 2004. Over these years we often watched, enjoyed and experienced heart-pounding games that we would remember for years. However, my biggest sorrow was the day Richie Ashburn died. It was also the week Princess Diana died, and as much as I admired Diana, my heart was with Richie as I heard the sad news. When my dad died, one of my sons, Christopher, wrote a eulogy honoring him that I sent to Richie’s daughter, Karen.
She was so touched that she wrote back to me because Christopher mentioned Richie in a funny story about my dad. Harry Kalas was never the same in the broadcast booth after Richie’s death. There was never again the comment that it would be nice to have a pizza during an extra-inning game, and shortly afterwards a pizza would magically be delivered to the broadcast booth from a local pizzeria that adored the dynamic duo. Sadly, Harry the K joined Richie at the broadcast booth in the sky on April 23, 2009.
As he was readying for that day’s game at the Bank, he collapsed and died.
Yes, a walk down memory lane was just what the doctor ordered as I mourn three men who gave me my love of baseball to this day. And now I have a grandson, Matt, and I am able to continue this love as I enjoy watching him play second base, catch and roam the outfield.
Life is good.
Carol L. Peszka has been a resident of Erdenheim for 37 years.