It is a day late, but I finally have my Memorial Day post.
Thank-you, Burke Waldron, for your service, for making me feel young, and for having the integrity not to embarrass yourself, your contemporaries, and everyone else by making pathetic attempt at throwing a baseball.
I’m not sure which elements of Ethics Hero 92-year-old WW II veteran Burke Waldron displayed yesterday, as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Seattle Mariners game on Memorial Day. Call him a holistic hero. He’s a hero, like all of the fallen soldiers—including my dad—of past wars, because he risked the horrors of combat to defend our nation and the values it stands for…well, at least until Donald Trump is President.
He’s a hero because he represented his generation yesterday with style, verve and energy, running to the pitcher’s mound—in his uniform!—as thousands cheered. Most of all, to me, he’s a hero because he took his assignment seriously, and didn’t emulate the pathetic rockers, politicians and even retired athletes who defile their first pitch honors by throwing the ball like a 7-year-old T-ball player, because they couldn’t be bothered to practice. Petty Officer, 2nd Class Waldron threw a strike to his catcher…
…just like another war hero, Ted Williams, did in his last appearance on a baseball field, at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston.
My father, an admirer of Williams’ wartime exploits as well as his slugging, maintained that Ted’s opening pitch that night to Red Sox Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk was as impressive in its way as his home run in the Kid’s last at bat. For the Ted Williams who through that pitch was in his 80s, in poor health, nearly blind after several strokes, and unsteady on his feet. Still, he was determined not look feeble or pitiful before his hometown crowd and a national TV audience.
Williams had practiced the throw for weeks so as not to bounce it or throw it short or wide. Nobody would have thought less of him, of course, if he has unleashed an errant throw, but Ted Williams was a perfectionist and a proud man. He was determined to make a good throw for himself, for baseball, and for everyone who, like my father, admired and identified with him.
Burke Waldron was equally determined. I’m sure he practiced too, because he wasn’t going to represent his deceased comrades in arms by botching a symbolic moment in their honor. Like Ted Williams, he didn’t botch it. He aced it.
Many years ago, I saw 1912 Red Sox star pitcher Smokey Joe Wood wheeled onto the Fenway Park field to throw out the first pitch. He was a hundred years old, and his five-inch “pitch”—he literally let the ball drop out of his hand—was so sad it bothers me to this day, as it seemed to be too-vivid proof of the inevitability of mortality, decay and death. After all, here was Smokey Joe in his prime, as strong and vital a young athlete as ever put on a uniform (Joe won 30 games that year):
I said that pathetic pitch haunted me until this day, but it will haunt me no longer, thanks to Burke Waldron. His strong throw reminded me that there is nothing to fear from passing time and age, if you just resolve to stay as vital as you can as long as you can, to keep fighting the war of life, be true to your values, and to always live in the present. That was my father’s philosophy, come to think of it.
So I thank you, Mr. Waldron.
And my Dad thanks you too…
…for truly honoring him and all the other heroes on Memorial Day.