Copyright 2015 by Onie Grosshans
In fact Lora sketched quite a few #5’s in her young life, and wanting to share her artwork with her idol, decided to send George Brett one of her drawings. Selecting one entitled “Gorge Bratt,” she carefully folded the drawing to fit the envelope, sealed the tab and gave it to her Mom to address it and then Lora clothes-pinned it to their mailbox for the postman to pick up.
Living out-of-state, I relied on summer visits to keep me up-to-date with Lora and her older brother Alan. Having been a tomboy in my own childhood, I liked playing touch football or a modified softball game or just playing catch with them. During one trip I watched as Lora, probably six or seven years old at the time, pull out a good leather baseball glove from her athletic bag, followed by tugging a sweat band over her skinny wrist and adjusting her Royals baseball cap over her long pony tail. I looked at Lora’s father, and my older brother, with an approving smile. “She deserves good equipment, too,” he said.
As the years passed Lora’s love of baseball, and of George Brett, never waned. She participated in other activities; ballet (a mouse and the second year a tin soldier in The Nutcracker Ballet in nearby Salina, Kansas), tap dance, volleyball, softball but baseball remained a steady love
Witnessing Lora’s love of baseball I couldn’t help but remember my—and her father’s childhood filled with baseball. Neither of our parents had any interest in or knowledge of baseball so Meryl came to his love of the game because of his buddies. I came to my love of baseball because of Meryl, and why not, I seemed to follow in so many of his footsteps, even inheriting his clothes. Hand-me-downs were common for many families who lived in our hometown, a small dot on the Western Kansas landscape but unfortunately I got his plaid shirts, argyle socks and clunky shoes—while my girlfriends wore their sisters’ blouses, skirts, anklets and Mary Janes.
Most of our fathers were farmers, laborers or tradesmen; most mothers stayed home, grew large gardens (organic food before it became popular) and counted every penny. During summers we kids entertained themselves during the day until it got dark and we had to go home. We organized our own football, basketball and baseball games, adjusted the rules to fit the kids who showed up (skill was more important than gender). What that meant was one team had to take me and the other side took Dickey since we were the youngest kids. My younger brother Jim was too little to do anything but chase foul balls.
Meryl was my protector—to a point. If I violated neighborhood ethics, picking on someone younger, smaller than me, I was held accountable. But if someone bigger picked on me, Meryl came to my defense—if he were nearby. I remember one time, after he took care of whoever was threatening me body harm, Meryl turned to me and said, “Stop getting into fights you can’t win.”
Our basketball court was cement-like dirt at the opposite end of Mr. Wilson’s backyard auto repair shop, owned by Dickey and Leslie’s father. Since we lived on the edge of town our baseball field was the open pasture across the alley from our basketball court. We groomed the infield by clearing away clumps of weeds, smoothing out the ruts and hoeing our foul lines. A flat piece of metal was home plate and three gunny sacks filled with dirt were the bases.
Rules were modified to fit our situation; the catcher was the umpire, balls hit into the wheat field beyond centerfield were automatic doubles. Arguing was kept to a minimum most of the time but when more kids joined in, it could get testy to the point Mr. Wilson stepped outside his shop and shouted at us to “either behave or go home.”
Early one spring Dickey and I followed Leslie to check out how our baseball field made it through the winter. We could see where new clumps of weeds had sprouted up in the infield, and then noticed a black and white spot about where second base would be. “It’s Petey,” Leslie shouted as we neared the lump.
Petey was their dog who went missing last winter and we kids traipsed all over the neighborhood yelling Petey’s name. No one thought to check the pasture. After a few moments of teary eyes, Leslie told Dickey and me to get a shovel from the shop while he found a spot for Petey’s grave. We took turns shoveling although it seemed Leslie did more directing than digging. As we went about our sad chore Leslie reminded us we no longer needed Petey’s rule. He loved to chase after us when we ran the bases, sometimes causing us to stumble or fall but if we were more than half way to the next base we could advance without being put out (except for home plate), and if not, we were on our own.
Dickey and I were probably five and six when our brothers allowed us to play baseball with them—they needed fielders. We had to get taller to play basketball but until then our jobs were to chase down balls that bounced into the road. Our brothers did let us participate in hoop games such as ‘around the world,’ even conceding that we could stand two feet closer than they for our attempts at the basket, knowing full well it still took a mighty heave to reach the rim.
When Meryl began working odd jobs, he used some of his earnings to buy Topps Bubble Gum baseball cards, and that led to collecting and trading. I did the same when I found a way to earn money, but I had to wait until I got my bicycle as a Christmas present. Those days most kids got one bike to last their childhood so it had to be full-sized. Luckily a girl’s bike had the dip in the frame so it didn’t take long for me to manage my large, heavy bike with a big basket attached to the handlebars. With my new-found freedom I searched along roadsides and under the fairground grandstand for empty coke bottles, then turned them in at a nearby mini-grocery store for the deposit money—two-cents per bottle! Returning from one successful foray, my basket overloaded with bottles, I failed to negotiate a curb and went sprawling across the pavement, cutting my arm and hand, and scraping my knee, but I was more concerned with my financial losses. I cashed in my bottles about every two weeks, saving some money, but rewarding myself with a candy bar, a coke, and several Topps Bubble Gums.
The Yankees, especially Mickey Mantle, were Meryl’s favorites, so of course I liked the Yankees too; but just to be different, I liked Yogi Berra because we shared the same birthday month and almost the same birth day. Old shoe boxes held our treasures. Meryl hid his box from me so I hid mine from him, but really, how many secret places are there in a four room house?
Years later when Meryl—and then I left home for good, and secrecy was no longer important, our two boxes sat next to each other in the bottom of a bedroom closet. As time passed and parents aged, the cards were forgotten—until that fateful winter when a frozen water pipe in our empty home burst, sending water throughout the rooms. The damaged furniture and warped floor was repairable, but nothing could be done to salvage two water-logged shoe boxes stuffed with vintage baseball cards.
One of our summer activities as kids was listening to the Yankee games on the one radio we owned. Meryl tuned in the station, and I could listen as long as I wasn’t in the same room with him—he didn’t want any distractions from his little sister. I didn’t argue: in our small house I could sit at the kitchen table and easily hear the radio in the living room. A few years later Meryl got his first full-time summer job, and the radio was mine.
Meryl played for our local American Legion baseball team so I’d bike to the county fairgrounds, about a mile away, to watch the game. One day at the ball park (actually the rodeo grounds temporarily converted into a baseball diamond) I looked over the shoulder of the official scorekeeper, wife of the grounds keeper or more correctly the guy who drove the tractor to level the dirt and then limed the sidelines, and watched as she recorded each ball and strike, hit, run and error. I can do that I thought. The next time I listened to the Yankee game I outlined a similar score sheet on my Indian Chief yellow pad; drawing more rows and columns for substitutions and extra innings. I remembered most of the scoring symbols, but when I couldn’t figure it out, my next trip to the fairgrounds I asked the scorekeeper what she did.
I had listened to enough Yankee games to know the first of the line-up by heart; Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle, but the manager Casey Stengal moved around the lower half of the order (Moose Skowren, Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling or Johnny Mize) and the pitching rotation of Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Allie “the super chief’ Reynolds, and Don Larsen could change if the previous game went extra innings.
Mel Allen frequently mentioned the next Yankee game giving me time to prepare my score sheet ahead of time, sharpen my pencils and get a glass of Kool-Aid before the starting line-up was announced. Some summer days were so hot, and with addition of a second and smaller radio, I placed it on the open window sill in the bedroom on the shady side of the house, turned up the volume and sat outside with my back against the house, my Indian Chief pad balanced on my knees, pencils and Kool-Aid nearby.
Nothing was so disappointing as to settle in for a game only to have Mel Allen announce a rain out. It can’t be I thought as I looked up at a cloudless blue Kansas sky. On much rarer occasions, however, nothing lifted my spirits more than to sit inside on a dreary rainy afternoon and score the Yankees playing in sunshine.
Mel Allen’s descriptions of Yankee Stadium fired up my imagination. What must it be like to sit behind home plate, or behind the Yankee dugout, or along the third base line when the crack of the bat brought the roaring crowd to its feet as Mickey Mantle hit another one over the center field fence? There were a few regional connections to the Yankees; Mickey Mantle and Allie Reynolds came from Oklahoma, and a relief pitcher Tom Sturdivan grew up in Central Kansas. Scott City, however, had its own connection: our grocer Paul Numrich—and I knew Mr. Numrich and his wife Leona (starting in junior high I would clean their house and babysit their children).
As a young girl I was in awe of Paul Numrich; his erect posture made him seem taller, but he was less than six feet with dark eyes shaded by thick, black eyebrows, and his black hair trimmed in a long crew cut. My Aunt Evelyn taught Sunday school in our Lutheran Church and was part of the cleaning ladies who dusted and polished the pews every week so she knew just about everything that happened under the steep roof. Leona was the organist (and pathologist at our local hospital) and she and Paul lived across the street from the church.
On Sunday mornings Paul walked in just seconds before the first hymn, knowing exactly how long it took him to walk across the street and find a seat at the end of a pew. It didn’t bother him to sit at the front of the church, unlike some worshippers, like my family and Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Ed, who preferred the back pews. Paul’s booming baritone soared above the combined voices of the congregation as they followed the confident tempo set by Leona. On those rare occasions when Paul was out of town, or left in the middle of a sermon to return his big dog Daisy—who often meandered over to the church in summers, walked through the open front door (no air conditioning, too expensive), and down the center aisle until he sniffed out Paul, then plopped beside his pew. It might take a few seconds before Paul was aware of Daisy, but then he would get up and lead Daisy home; causing a distinct difference in the quality of the singing until Paul returned—like weak coffee compared to strong coffee.
Aunt Evelyn told me Paul came from New York City, and he met Leona while she was at one of the city hospitals training to be a pathologist. I never understood why Paul agreed to move to Western Kansas instead of Leona moving to New York, but Aunt Evelyn said it was important for Leona to come home to her family. Anyway Paul bought a local grocery store, became the butcher and hung Yankee pennants above his meat counter. Paul kept a radio above his chopping block to listen to the Yankee games while he worked, but in September when the World Series started, the radio was put next to the intercom so Paul wouldn’t miss any action as he moved about his store.
Paul’s infrequent visits to his New York City family came in September, matching up with the dates of the World Series. It was a big deal to have your photo appear on the front page of our local weekly newspaper and there was Paul waving good-by as he boarded the eastbound Union Pacific—and two weeks later a second photo on the front page as Paul stepped down from the Union Pacific waving his newest Yankee pennant which would end up above his meat counter.
Time passes. Meryl graduates from college (followed by me and Jim several years later), marries, becomes a high school history teacher in a small town in Central Kansas, has two children; Alan and Lora, and through it all has kept his love of baseball, and the Yankees. After his kids were old enough, Meryl and family made monthly trips to Kansas City (one afternoon at the Worlds of Fun amusement park, the next afternoon at the ball park) to watch the closest pro baseball team in the area, the Kansas City Royals, named in part after an 1899 horse and livestock show called the American Royal which continues to this day.
Alan’s hero was Frank White; Lora liked George Brett. Soon both bedrooms were festooned with posters, pennants, and assorted KC memorabilia. Eventually Meryl, who would always have a special place in his heart for the “Yankees of old,” became a Royals fan.
Time passes—kids mature. Alan realized his size and speed would not take him far in sports so be began to consider other career possibilities. Lora, on the other hand, wanted to work in baseball when she grew up; ballet lessons, tap dance lessons, music lessons be damned.
Lora wanted to find work with a baseball team, preferably the Royals, but wasn’t exactly sure how to pull it off. As a high school student Lora worked at the sports desk for the weekly hometown newspaper, The Chronicle. Local baseball leagues dropped off their scorebooks at the newspaper office and Lora scanned the data, but instead of reporting dry facts, Lora described the highlights of the game in prose. She wrote up the game, identifying specific innings in which players had hits, runs, and errors as though she was at the game—similar to the teletype reporters of years ago.
That high school experience led to Lora’s Journalism and Mass Communication major at Kansas State University; a two-year internship with the athletic department during the exciting time when their football team was nationally ranked and ESPN crews were frequently on campus to televise home games. She was primarily a “gofer” but she saw first-hand the behind-the-scene work needed for a telecast. There were other internships; one summer with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs, and after college graduation, a season with the Avalanche, Denver’s pro hockey team—where she roomed with Alan during her stay.
In 2000 Lora wrote the Royals inquiring about an unpaid internship; unsure that such a position existed. Needless to say Lora was thrilled to receive a phone call asking her to come in for an interview. She began work a few days later excited to have a toe in the door of professional baseball—and to be a colleague, although a very distant one, of George Brett.
George Brett, who retired in 1995, was now Vice President for Baseball Operations for the Royals, with an office assigned to him on the level above Lora’s office in Kauffman Stadium. Unfortunately the VP was rarely in his office, preferring to spend his time on the field. It didn’t matter. Lora caught glimpses of number 5 as she went about her duties. At the conclusion of the internship year the Royals offered Lora a paid position as Media Relations Coordinator which meant she helped organize official functions many of which included George Brett making an appearance.
Over the years, Lora is promoted, assigned more tasks, moved to a larger office, and of course, gets to knows everyone in the front office, including Lila, George Brett’s long-time secretary. Instead of talking to George Brett about a publicity appearance, Lora talks to Lila, who checks George’s schedule and then confirms the date personally with George Brett before getting back to Lora.
Inevitably Lora does meet George Brett, but their brief conversations focus on where and when he should arrive for a community event and the background information on the sponsoring group; Lora doubts he would know her name if they passed in the hallway. Lora doesn’t reveal to George Brett he was her childhood idol, nor does she ask for an autograph or a signed photo. It would take the 2012 MLB All-Star game in Kansas City, some ten years later when Lora briefed George Brett on his many appearances during that pre and post week of festivities—for George Brett to recognize Lora in the stadium hallways and greet her by name.
Lora’s frequent meetings with Lila, however, resulted in a warm collegial connection, and Lora does tells Lila about the long-ago “Gorge Bratt” drawing. Lila remembered he got a variety of fan mail during his playing days but not many kids sent in drawings. “What year did you send Gorge Bratt?” Lila asks. Probably 1978 or 79 was Lora’s best guess. A few days later Lila motions Lora into her office and lying on top of her desk is the “Gorge Bratt” drawing. Stunned at seeing her childhood artwork some 30 years later, Lora asked how Lila found it.
“I’ve kept all of George’s fan mail filed by the year it was sent,” says Lila with a satisfied smile, “All I needed was the year you sent it in and about 25 minutes in the storage room to look through the files.
During one of my recent trips to Kansas City to visit Lora and catch a ball game, she showed me the condo she bought some months earlier. Lora’s home reflected her tastes; an attractive combination of colors, furniture and artwork, but it was the lower level I found fascinating.
Having worked in baseball for almost two decades, Lora collected an impressive array of baseball memorabilia, all of which were displayed on the walls, end tables and multiple shelving. I took it in one wall at a time, but two hangings caught my attention; the professionally framed crayon drawing of Lora’s “Gorge Bratt” next to it an equally attractively framed photo of Lora standing next to George Brett at one of the All Star Game events. I gazed at the two framings a bit longer.
“Have you ever told George about “Gorge”?” I asked.
Lora shook her head no, “It seems better this way.”
forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)
Onie's story list and biography