Last Modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 10:14 PM
His name was John. But his teammates reverently called him Big John, his opponents the same with dread in their voice.
John introduced me to intimidation. He stood a good foot taller than me and the rest of the boys in Mid-City Little League and he had the heft to go with it.
Those physical attributes added up to a fastball that was often heard, but seldom seen. Big John’s fastball was the kind that made you queasy long before you arrived at the ballpark the day of the game.
John first struck me out at the tender age of 8 when I was in Pee Wee baseball. For strike 3, I swung at a pitch that I couldn’t have reached if I had been standing on a step-ladder. No matter, I was never so glad to get my knee-knocking self, whole and healthy, back into the dugout’s safe haven.
My showdowns with him the next year when I was with the Giants were equally as fruitless. If anyone claims my bat was in the same vicinity as any of his pitches, it’s a vicious rumor.
I was spared at age 10 and 11 because I played for the Falcons in the Minor League while Big John whiffed batters in the Major League.
At age 12, I was promoted to the Packers, there to face my nemesis.
On the drive to the ballpark that late, sultry summer afternoon to face John’s team — either the Bankers or the Merchants because nearly 50 years do fog some memory — my dad, who seldom gave coaching tips, weighed in.
‘‘You know, Bobby, the reason you’ve never gotten a hit off of John Foret is you don’t believe you can,’’ he said in a mild voice. ‘‘You’re struck out before you even step into the batter’s box.’’
I weighed Dad’s words the rest of the way to Huber Park, and shortly after entering the dugout, I decided I was going to hit Big John Foret that night.
Dad’s advice didn’t make John’s presence on the mound any smaller, his fastball any more docile.
The first time up, I started my swing as the ball was leaving Big John’s hand. I fouled the ball about three feet outside the right-field foul line for strike 2, the product of my tardiness and Big John’s swiftness. I struck out on the next pitch, but walked back to the dugout with new-found confidence.
The next time up — and the last time I would ever face Big John — I started my swing a couple of milliseconds sooner and lined his fastball five feet inside the right-field line. It took one hop and bounced against the right-field fence.
A stand-up double. My proudest moment in my five-year Little League career.
From the stands came a familiar voice: ‘‘Attaboy, Bobby.’’
My baseball career would end that summer.
John Foret, a class ahead of me at Lake Charles High School, would become a respected and admired teammate on the Wildcats’ track team. A quiet young man, he was honest and trustworthy with not a mean word in his vocabulary.
John ultimately signed a football scholarship at LSU, entered med school and became a family doctor.
Cancer took him away from us way too soon at the age of 52.
This, though, is not about Big John Foret.
It’s about a father who believed in his son, and who told him what he needed to hear.
In the last few years, I’ve thought repeatedly of my Big John story.
Whenever I face a difficult task — particularly a home project that requires manual skills that have been a challenge for me all of my life — I always remind myself that I can hit John Foret. It’s become my self-help pep talk.
Forty-eight years later, I can still hear Bob Dower, still see Big John’s imposing figure, still see his windup and fastball and that lined double bounding for the fence, still feel the swell of pride in my chest as I stood on second base.
There’s a lesson here on this Father’s Day: Dads, don’t ever believe that one morsel of advice, that one nugget of wisdom, that one moment of encouragement can’t have a lifetime impact on your son or daughter’s life. Maybe not tomorrow or next month or next year, but those words can resurface down the road as life lessons.
And children, don’t ever stop listening for them.
I’m glad I listened to Dad. His words are still with me, though he has been gone for nearly 13 years.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!