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You Should Always Throw Strikes

Last night, somewhere around the time when Daniel Cabrera walked his third or fourth batter, I found out that my grandfather died. My mother called me. I mention the timing of this not to provide some macabre detail of how death can sneak up on us, but rather, because it almost felt fitting. As I watched Cabrera, and tried to remember that I had a job to finish, I kept hearing my grandfather's voice.

Let me explain. From the first time I picked up a baseball, my grandfather -- not my parents, who never much cared for sports -- was the closest thing around to a pitching coach. Of course, his advice was limited to two words, which never changed, regardless of the situation or the level. "Throw strikes," he'd say. Nothing more. During all my games, from Little League to high school, my grandfather would prop his folding chair somewhere near the dugout and give the two-word encouragement, again and again and again. He didn't have a naturally commanding voice, especially in relation to my grandmother, whose words carried like a trombone. But somehow, on the mound, I always heard what he said.

"Throw strikes."

Of course I gotta admit, he was far better as a grandparent than as a pitching coach. I could walk four straight, or even 16 straight, and still he'd take me out to Denny's for apple-ice cream pancakes. For all the hours and days I spent with him as a child and teenager, I never saw him get upset; his love and generosity were so uninterrupted, so pure, that it felt ... well, almost purposeful. He was a man of purpose. A man of action. He believed that if you do something, you should do it well and not talk much. You should dress well. You should lose with dignity. You should take some risks. You should throw strikes. He started his own business. He raised a family. He never left the house in anything less than a sport coat. He played tennis with his buddies. This January, he and my grandmother shared their 60th wedding anniversary.

I marvel at what he overcame. He fought in World War II, a nose-gunner in airplanes, and it's crazy to think that the normal life he led came after that. Except for his time in the Pacific, he lived in Pittsburgh for almost his whole life, which probably explains the passion for sports. He owned Steelers' season tickets dating back to when they played at Forbes Field, and when I hit third or fourth grade, I went to games with him every Sunday. I remember weekend afternoons when he'd play football with me and my brother, 2-on-1. He called himself Swervin' Mervin, though that nickname probably oversold his juking ability. More recently, he had been fighting cancer and Parkinson's, which is sort of like facing two pitchers are once. That's a battle you don't win, no matter how well you swerve.

So this is my roundabout way of explaining why I'll be heading home for a few days. Sorry to abandon the work duties, but I need to spend some time with my family. Thanks for your understanding.

By Chico Harlan  |  May 12, 2009; 2:18 PM ET
 
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Comments

Lovely tribute on a sad occasion. My thoughts go out to you and your family.

Posted by: JennX_ | May 12, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

He sounds like he was one helluva a guy and grandfather. I'm sorry for your loss. My prayers are with you and your family.

Posted by: Section505203 | May 12, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

So sorry for your loss.

Posted by: Section314 | May 12, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Chico - thanks for sharing that nice story with us. Best wishes to your family.

Posted by: Kev29 | May 12, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry for your and your family's loss, Chico. Your piece is a moving tribute to your grandfather. Take care.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | May 12, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Well said, Chico.

Posted by: deMille_Ondefloss | May 12, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for you loss Chico. Take as much time as you please my friend. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

God Bless.

Posted by: FloresFan | May 12, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Great story, Chico, and great advice.

Sorry to hear of your loss. You will be in my thoughts until you return.

Posted by: ihatewalks | May 12, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for your loss.

You can do worse than having "throw strikes" as a way to approach life. Being truthful, giving a good effort, getting done what needs to be done.

Your post threw a strike.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | May 12, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Chico -- my condolences to you and your family.

Posted by: erocks33 | May 12, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse


Great man, great tribute.
May all his games be perfect,
Watching from above.

Posted by: HaikuMan | May 12, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

So sorry for your loss, Chico, but what a lovely tribute.

Posted by: skippy1999 | May 12, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

takes guts to put this out there, well said, i only hope we can all be so lucky, give the man a fitting tribute, time matters not

Posted by: bford1kb | May 12, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute.

Posted by: Kristen23 | May 12, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Condolences, Chico. We are grateful for what he taught you and how that part of him lives on.

Posted by: Section506 | May 12, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Chico, I'm sorry for your loss.
"Throw strikes" was great advice for you as a pitcher, and it's a great reminder for all of us as we approach our everyday lives.

As jca said above, your post threw a strike.

All the best to you and your family.

Posted by: usmc53 | May 12, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry for your loss, Chico. It sounds like your grandfather lived a great life. This is a really nice tribute to him.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | May 12, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

I never had a grandfather, both passed before my birth. I'd like to believe they'd have been like yours. What a fine testimonial you've written. Really.

You and your family will be in my prayers.

Posted by: outsider6 | May 12, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

Sorry to hear about your grandfather, but this is a lovely tribute. Spend time with your family. We'll all of us be here when you get back (sorry about that).

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | May 12, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

You and your family have my deepest sympathies Chico. I'm sure your grandfather is proud that your your writing abilities have taken over where your pitching abilities left off. Thanks for always throwing strikes.

Posted by: Steveo11 | May 12, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Right over the heart of the plate. Very nice work, Chico.

Posted by: joebleux | May 12, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

So sorry for your loss, Chico. As others have said, this was a wonderful tribute. Best wishes for you and your family.

Posted by: Section220 | May 12, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

We can all use a few more strikes. Some literally, some figuratively.

Sounds like a great man, Chico. My condolences on your loss.

Posted by: swang30 | May 12, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

sorry to hear that, chico, but it does sound like you'll have a lot of good memories to carry you through...

Posted by: sec231 | May 12, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Chico ~ a very fitting and inspiring epithet. The man would be very proud of you... throwing strikes.

Posted by: KilgoreQTrout | May 12, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

My condolence Chico, we'll be waiting here when you get back.

Posted by: BobBarker | May 12, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Condolences, Chico. A very moving tribute. You honor him well. I miss my grandfathers a lot today.

Posted by: ArlingtonNatsFan | May 12, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful tribute to your grandfather, Chico. The world is a little poorer today for his passing.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I'm sorry for your loss.

Posted by: ThatsRich | May 12, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

My condolences Chico. Your eulogy brought back memories of my own grandparents. Same dynamic. Quiet strong grandfather. Outspoken matriarch grandmother. Take care of your family, we'll take care of business here.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | May 12, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

All sympathies, Chico, and that was a moving tribute.

Posted by: BobLHead | May 12, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Chico thanks for sharing your Grandfather's story with us. It sounds like he lived a wonderful life and was a great man to those he cherished. Cling to the memories and pass them on to your kids so he can live on in them. Blessings to you and your family especially your dear Grandmother double helpings of God's mercy and grace to her.

Posted by: Berndaddy | May 12, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Take care, Chico, and thanks for the story!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | May 12, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Perfect strike Chico. Perfect.

Posted by: dand187 | May 12, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Chico, my condolences. I think you'll find you're going to keep hearing your grandfather's voice for the rest of your life, just when you need it the most. Safe travels home to your family.

Posted by: baltova1 | May 12, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Tom Brokaw had it best...The Greatest Generation.... condolences to you and your family.

Posted by: 1of9000 | May 12, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Chico for sharing your tribute to him with us. I'm happy that your family and community in P-Burg will have you there to help them through.
Geezer

Posted by: utec | May 12, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for the story.

Hope you get to spend some time with your family.

I'm sure the Nat's can manage fine without you.

Best wishes.

Posted by: soundbloke | May 12, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It reminded me of my grandfather and I thank you for that.

Posted by: rew_23 | May 12, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Chico, best wishes to you and your entire family. I had a different but equally important relationship with both of my grandfathers, one of which passed just a couple of years ago.
Something tells me your grandfather would be quite proud of your ability to put your feelings into words in such an eloquent way.

Posted by: ajtrue78 | May 12, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Never havkng met the man, I'd still bet he would have appreciated the loving description you gave of him. My condolences.

Posted by: tmp2234 | May 12, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry for your loss, Chico. My own father passed away 12 days ago. He taught me to keep the scorebook when I was 8 and he proceeded to keep the official book at over 50 of my son's Little League games. I'll bet he and your Dad find each other at the ballpark in Heaven. God bless them.

Posted by: scorekeeper | May 12, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

What a loving, and beautifully written, tribute to your grandfather. I hope you share it with the rest of your family.

Posted by: Natsgal | May 12, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Tough break Cheeks. Another ballplayer in heaven.

Posted by: Brue | May 12, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

It's a beautiful tribute that brought tears to my eyes. Best wishes to you, Chico.

Posted by: NatsNut | May 12, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Well said Chico a generation of men like your grandfather went off to war to keep us safe from dictators and evil men we thank him and i am sure we will keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: dargregmag | May 12, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

What a legacy he leaves. You're really a great writer, Chico.

My condolences.

Posted by: JohninMpls | May 12, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing, based on your piece, that you gave him more pleasure and happiness in those coaching moments than you can imagine -- at least until you become a grandparent.

I hope you take some measure of satisfaction in that.

Posted by: Meridian1 | May 12, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

... and in his honor, this one was right across the plate.

Well Done!

Posted by: AWWNats | May 12, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for your loss, Chico. Hang in there. We'll all be here when you get back.

Posted by: Juan-John | May 12, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

Strike one...well written.

I'm closer in age to your grandfather than I am to you.

I'm sure he loved you as you obviously loved him. You have immortalized him with us, and I thank you for that.

Strike two... my family has yours in our prayers.

Last strike... he left us you and I am sure he was very, very proud of that.

Let's play two!


Posted by: SlowPitch63 | May 12, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Wow Chico, that was such a great post and story. I'm amazed you were able to keep it together and write so well as the realization of your loss dawned on you.

I'm sorry for your loss, and I wish you and your family the best in this time of mourning.

Posted by: NattyDelite | May 12, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Chico,

Thanks for sharing, my sympathies to you and your family. My West Va Pappy was my baseball compadre, he was there for my 1st game at Forbes Field and almost killed himself hitting fly balls to me and my brother. Later in life, he was always on top of the MLB game, even though he only saw the Braves games on TBS, and yes, he always rooted against them!! I'm still carrying on the grudge, can't get over the '92 heartbreak loss.

Posted by: NatsMan21 | May 12, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful post Chico. Thoughts & prayers go out to you and the family. Take care.

Posted by: Bazz | May 12, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful tribute to Swervin' Mervin. I felt like I almost knew him. I lost my dad a year and a half-ago; he was my best pitching coach too. The one thing I can say, Chico, is it does get better and the memories only get richer. You are very fortunate to have a man like him in your life. He was very fortunate to have a young man like you in his life. How you wrote a game story and all those posts in the midst of all this is amazing. You're a pro, young man, a real pro.
My sincere condolences go out to you and your entire family.

John D. Schulz
Bethesda, Maryland

Posted by: jdschulz50 | May 12, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for your loss

Posted by: theredskin | May 12, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

What a touching post. I hope that you and your family find comfort in happy memories and one another. Take care Chico.

Posted by: dcbatgirl | May 12, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Chico:

So sorry to hear of your grandfather's passing -- they are truly the greatest generation.

When my father passed away after a long illness I thought I was prepared by the expectation. However I discovered that there is no way to anticipate the empty feeling created by such a loss. The best way to overcome is to fill the void with the wonderful memories of your loved one. Your tribute shows you are well on your way to finding comfort and solace. Celebrate the life you both had, and will always have, together.

Posted by: SackMan | May 12, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

We're lucky to have you writing for us, Chico. Thanks.

Posted by: jonb5 | May 12, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Condolences Chico, may your family be comforted in each others company in the coming weeks. You're strong family upbringing shows in the quality of your work here everyday.

Posted by: NatsFanNYC | May 12, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful tribute, Chico, to someone who sounds like he was a beautiful person. My sympathy to you and your family.

Posted by: samantha7 | May 12, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

My condolences, Chico (the writer AND the pitcher). You and your family will be in our thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: lowcountry | May 12, 2009 9:14 PM | Report abuse

lowcountry: well played.

Chico: that was beautiful, dude.

I'm sorry for your loss. As others have said better than I could, thanks for sharing this with us.

Posted by: Scooter_ | May 12, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Chico, thanks so much for sharing your memories of your grandfather. My condolences to you and your family.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | May 12, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Chico - for what it's worth, for me that was your best work - your grandfather is very proud of you.

Posted by: natslifer | May 12, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Condolences, man.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | May 12, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

We all have a relative--usually not our father--who is the sports buddy in the family. In my case it was my Uncle David who would visit and then get on the phone to his "friend" to place some bets. He would then listen to various radio stations during the course of the evening (this was pre-cable) to see how his teams were doing. He did a wonderful parody of a young, shilling Dick Enberg. He and his brother, my Uncle Paul, took me to my first NFL game, at Yankee Stadium.

All those nice memories came back when you were describing your grandfather. Thanks.

Posted by: paulkp | May 12, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for your loss

Posted by: Tom8 | May 12, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

So sorry for your loss. He'll always be remembered by the times you spent together. Think about it. He's now up there with Walter Johnson, Joe Dimaggio, and Roberto Clemente among others.

Two words, Throw Strikes. Give it your best pitch. How true How true.

Posted by: CALSGR8 | May 13, 2009 5:21 AM | Report abuse

Great tribute to your grand-father who obviously was a hell of a man. I'll drink one for him tonight.

Posted by: Avar | May 13, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm very sorry about your grandfather, Chico. That was a beautiful and moving tribute to an admirable and loving man. You were generous to share your thoughts and feelings with us. Your grandfather must have been proud of you and must have loved you very much.

Posted by: Section109 | May 13, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Chico, you have my deepest sympathies. My God rest your grandfather. I can't imagine a better-written tribute.

Posted by: gbooksdc | May 13, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for your loss Chico. Take all the time you need. Family is the most important thing and you definitely have your priorities in order.

This was a very touching tribute to your grandfather. Brought tears to my eyes. I'm sure that he'd be proud.

Posted by: ilovethenats | May 15, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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