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STARS FELL ON SPARTANBURG

October 20, 2008

STARS FELL ON SPARTANBURG

 

            Everyone is invited to a celebration featuring Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and three dozen local authors. On Wednesday, November 12, from 7:00 – 9:00 P.M. at Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, The Hub City Writers Project will release a new book, Stars Fell on Spartanburg: Hub City’s Celebrity Encounters!   

            Our Southern city is known for its cotton mills, chili cheeseburgers, and many churches. Hollywood celebrities, big-time sports figures, and national politicians have graced our fair town with frequent visits.

            In the new book, fifty writers take you along on their adventures: sharing a microphone with the Beach Boys, chauffeuring football legend Bart Starr, and antiquing with Martha Stewart. You will read about a visit with heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey. You will encounter baseball giant Ty Cobb. You’ll meet evangelist Billy Sunday and scientist George Washington Carver. A local hairstylist tells her story about giving former president George Bush and his wife, Barbara, a trim.

            Among the stories in the book is one I wrote about a famous baseball player and a new flavor of ice cream. Here is a taste of my story.

            Rocky Colavito was a handsome Italian, twenty-one-years old, from New York City. He came here from the Bronx to play baseball at Duncan Park as right fielder for the Spartanburg Peaches. Rocky lived in my grandmother’s house.

            Belle Hudson, whom I called Granny, was the widow of Joe Hudson, a Spartanburg businessman. His death left her a single mother with seven children in her care. My mother was her youngest.

            Granny’s house at 288 South Converse was a large two-story gray Victorian with a wrap-around porch. Her house was only a twenty-minute bicycle ride around Duncan Park Lake from my house. Granny always had Pepsi-Colas in the refrigerator and ice cream in the freezer.

            Granny was a landlady. She rented the second floor of her spacious home to the Stevens family. Just off of the screened back porch was a private room that in more prosperous times had served as the maid’s quarters. Granny rented that room to Rocky Colavito in the spring of 1955.

            I rarely saw Rocky when he was not in uniform at Duncan Park. I was only ten years old at the time. I remember seeing him walk whenever he left Granny’s house.

            By the time he arrived in Spartanburg in 1955, Rocky had developed his own style at the plate. He was a power hitter, and he had a strong arm in the outfield.

            Rocky became an immediate fan favorite. Every time he stepped into the batter’s box there was an air of anticipation. Every time he uncorked a throw from right field there was a murmur of appreciation.

            In 1955, many suspected that the tall, lanky kid from the Bronx might become one of the better players in Cleveland; few could have predicted that Rocky Colavito would be one of the greatest.

            From my bedroom window, listen to the Peaches games on my crystal set. I could see the glow of lights at Duncan Park. If the Peaches did something spectacular, I would take off my crystal set earphones and listen to the roar of the crowd echoing across Duncan Park Lake.

             At the lumberyard one day, my great-uncle was reading the box scores in the newspaper. Rocky had hit two homeruns the night before. Clicking his false teeth, Uncle Will said, “If you want to see Colavito play, you’d better go soon. He’ll be in Cleveland playing for the big team before long.”

            He spoke what I thought and feared, Rocky is such a good player; he won’t play for the Peaches ever again.    

            One day in late August, I rode my bicycle to Granny’s house. I climbed the back stairs to the screened porch. The door to Rocky’s room was closed. When I stepped inside the backdoor, Granny and Rocky were seated together at the kitchen table. Granny invited me to sit down.

            “Both of you boys have August birthdays. Rocky has just turned twenty-two; Kirk has just turned eleven. So, I bought something special for you.”

            From the freezer Granny took a new container of ice cream, Rocky Road.  When he saw the flavor, Rocky quipped, “This ice cream is named for me.”

            I am sure I looked puzzled.

            “Baby Ruth candy bars are named for Babe Ruth. This ice cream is named for me.”

            I was eleven-years old, and I believed!

            Our birthdays were eleven days apart. He was twice my age. I had seen him hit baseballs over the fence at Duncan Park. I had seen him throw runners out at home plate from deep right field. And now Rocky Colavito and I sat together at Granny’s kitchen table eating ice cream that I was sure was named for him.

            One day, I went to Granny’s house, and Rocky was gone. He was in Cleveland playing for the Indians, far beyond the reach of my crystal radio set.

            Several years ago, on Father’s Day, our son Kris gave me a vintage Rocky Colavito Topps baseball card. The card had been well-loved. There is a tear near the top and a dark stain in the bottom left corner. Still, I cherish the old baseball card of my favorite baseball player.

            I am certain that the dark stain at the bottom of my baseball card is Rocky Road ice cream.

 

Kirk H. Neely

© October 2008

 

 

 

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