Two weeks ago we lost one of the all-time greats. It wasn’t George Washington, it wasn’t Einstein, it wasn’t Elvis, and it wasn’t Babe Ruth.
It was my grandfather, Ben Robinson. Grandad was a special, special man who truly cared more about the welfare of others than that of his own. He had a huge impact on my life and I miss him a lot, but why on Earth would you visit a Phillies blog to read about my grandfather?
In addition to sharing Grandad with the world, my purpose for this article is to demonstrate the powerful connection a simple game of baseball can create between two human beings. You see, baseball does not see in color, it does not care where you live, and it does not recognize age. Who among us can stake that claim?
Few ten-year-olds have much in common with their 70-year-old grandfathers. My situation was no different. Grandad grew up in West Philadelphia, never graduated high school, spent four years fighting for our country in World War II, married a woman ten years younger, and retired with a pension from PECO at the age of 57. In contrast, I am unmarried, grew up in the quiet Philadelphia suburbs, attended a harmless public high school and a large public university, work in corporate America, and my combat experience involves a plastic gun that squirts water at its enemies.
Yet I shared a powerful bond with a man 60 years my senior due in large part to a stupid little game with a white stitched ball and a wooden bat. Here are a few of my stories.
Our connection began in 1984. I was standing in the backyard of Grandad’s home at age 5 in Ocean City, NJ. Grandad took me out back, set a ball on a tee, and told me to swing away. In a sure sign of things to come, Humpty-Dumpty could have perched on the tee without as much as a breeze. But Grandad would not let me quit until I hit the ball. Unaware at the time, I fell instantly in love with the game of baseball.
Two years later, Grandad took me to a baseball card show (at the Ocean City Boardwalk) and introduced me to Bobby Thompson, the architect of the shot heard round the world. “Big deal,” I thought to myself. “Who cares about an old dude from a random team who hit a ball thirty years before I was even born?” All that interested me was the set of Topps 1986 baseball cards staring at me. But it was also another link in the chain connecting me and my grandfather.
Grandad migrated in winters to Bradenton, Florida in the same temporary home as the Pittsburgh Pirates. What a joy it was one year when he returned from Florida with a baseball signed by nearly the entire Pirates squad! Guys named Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke, Drabek; all of their names were on my baseball. Even as a rival Phillies fan, this was the coolest thing EVER.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very bright kid. Rather than put the ball in a case, I decided to leave it in a bucket in the garage with the other used baseballs. My dog Max (the same dog who later in life tried to pee on me) decided he also liked the shiny ball with all the words on it. Let’s just say that when Max was finished it more resembled a half-eaten meatball than a baseball. My dog’s work eclipsed that of Hercules in the movie “The Sandlot.”
To put it kindly, Grandad was a fair weather fan who began at an early age. Born and raised in Philly he decided to become, ehem, a Yankees fan. Hopefully Saint Peter won’t hold that against him. I guess nine years out of the playoffs was enough to drive him to the Pirates during their three year playoff run before hitching his saddle to the Braves’ bandwagon in the midst of their record 16 straight division championships. Then he conveniently came around to the home team Phils in 2007 after the first of four straight NL East titles.
My family tried our best to show respect for our grandfather, but he received no such respect when it came to his bandwagon habits. The three men in our household who lived through one playoff appearance in 23 years with our Phillies showed no love towards someone who jumped from champion to champion. Boy, those were some fun battles, though!
These may just be my stories, but there are countless other tales just like mine where baseball played a large role in forming the relationships in American boys’ lives. I wish you all could meet my grandfather because God doesn’t make ‘em like that very often. But in a sense you have met my grandfather and I have met many of yours, because the lifeline of baseball runs strong through all of us.