Honored to also call hero friend

Last week I had the honor of presenting to Carl Erskine the Heritage Place Award, given to six senior Hoosiers each year for their lifetime service to the Indianapolis community.

For those who don’t recognize the name, Carl is a retired banker from Anderson. He also previously pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers team that won their first — and only — World Series in 1955.

When I was a grade-schooler in New York, I feigned sleeping at night for six months of the year with a tiny transistor radio hidden under my pillow, praying for a home run by center fielder Duke Snider or another no-hitter by Carl (he had two).

If you had told that nine-year-old kid in 1955 that his baseball hero would one day become not just a friend, but a golfing partner, he’d have thought you were nuts.

Although it has been 62 years, my memory of Oct. 4, 1955, is clear. Even then I knew the majesty of those hallowed words: seventh game of the World Series. This would have traditionally been a time for Dodger fans to wring their hands and prepare for the inevitable.

Da Bums, as they were called, had faced the Yankees in what seemed like a hundred previous World Series games (four, actually) and lost every time. If the Dodgers hadn’t finally won in 1955, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story now. And giving Carl this award would not have felt quite so special.

I remember our tiny TV with the rabbit-ears antenna. The black-and-white picture was quite fitting, because that game was clearly a battle between the forces of good and evil. I perched myself on our wooden coffee table, after pushing it right up to the television.

Even then, I was not very good at dealing with tension. On several occasions when the Yankees threatened to win (and they always did), I retreated to my room until the peril had passed. I’m embarrassed to say that I still do that during Pacers and Colts games.

I don’t have a distinct memory of each inning, but I recall a great catch by left-fielder Sandy Amoros and I was surprised that Duke Snider bunted in the fifth inning, considering The Duke was the top home run hitter of the ’50s. Of course, I remember that final out, Yankee catcher Elston Howard flailing at the final Dodger pitch.

I sprang from the coffee table and let out a scream. The Wolfsie family embraced in a group hug. Mom and Dad were Dodger fans, too.

The day after the Indianapolis awards dinner, Carl and I played golf. We talked about his son, Jimmy, who was on his way to bowl at the Special Olympics in Terre Haute. Carl also told me a dozen great baseball stories, including some I hadn’t heard before.

Then he talked about Betty, his wife of 70 years. “You know, golf is like marriage,” he said. “I’m not always very good at it, but I want to keep doing it for a long time.”

“Still lots of time for both,” I told my 90-year-old boyhood hero. “You’re about to go into extra innings.”