Monday, April 11, 2011

What A Great Tribute And Why Didn't I Think Of That?

A sketch with tone for a later painting!
A few years back my high school baseball coach passed away. Wilfred "Skeeter" Theard coached many kids over his long and illustrious career. Anyone in New Orleans who was casually or intensely involved in baseball for the last four or five decades knew, revered and loved the irascible coach. I played for him for three years as did my more talented brother, Tony. My father, who played ball with Skeets when they were in the Evangeline League, told me that Skeeter got his moniker by being real good ball player for his age and, for being so small... small and pesky, like a mosquito.

At his funeral, half the local baseball world was there. Former ballplayers, professional and amateur, sportscasters, journalists, coaches, nuns, teachers, colleagues and old friends all came to show their respect and share stories about the coach that are only half truths; the stuff that makes ordinary people legendary. For sure, Skeets was a legend even as he lived. Busted bats repaired with brads and tape, restitched covers on baseballs, recycled uniforms, having the team search the entire field to find one lost baseball were only the beginning of the many stories that abound!

My two brothers came to pay their respects while my younger brother, now a physician, came with an used baseball. It was one of those grass stained balls that had seen better days with scratch marks, cuts and scuffs, but was still in great "Skeeter-Shape".  I was surprised to see it in his hands because Bob never ever played a sport that involved a ball. At an early age, Bob was myopic and I think it bothered him most of his life that of a family of eight, he was the only one who didn't play the game. Yet, there he was, dressed in a suit with that baseball in his hand. He came up to me and asked me to sign the it. I was as flattered as I was confused. When I looked at the ball, I noticed that it had other signatures on it. Other signatures that I recognized and some that I didn't. In my best Mickey Mantle imitation, I had scribbled my autograph on the ball. Bob smiled and then passed the ball around for others to sign. Soon, the ball was almost completely black and blue with signatures as he invited me and my brother to walk up to the casket and join him along with his two sons to respectfully set the baseball next to Skeet's rosary draped hands.

"The Egyptians used to leave their loved ones, as well as Pharaohs, with gifts for the afterlife," he said. "I thought this would be a appropriate gift for Skeeter." I was blown away. What an incredible thing to do, I thought. A baseball signed by many of the ball players he either played against, played with or coached and taught the love of the game. Bob never even played the sport and nor did his children, but he hit a home run on that day.

"Bob, I said, as my eyes started to well up,"That's such an incredible idea. With all these ballplayers here, why didn't any of them think of that?" What a great tribute!

And... come to think it, why didn't I?

 Copyright 2011_Ben Bensen III


  1. Ben:

    I attended the Funeral even though I did not play baseball. I did it out of respect and recognition for what this man did and stood for. He was my Math teacher. He will never be forgotten and certainly never replaced.

    1. Thanks Mr. Anonymous for taking the time to read my tribute and also for commenting here on my blog. Skeets was a family friend as well as my coach. He and my father went to the same schools together and were pretty much "cut from the same cloth". I wasn't a bit surprised at the turnout for his funeral. I got to see many a ball player I played with and against there.

      I am sure, like you, there were many in attendance that weren't ball players... he touched so many of us!