Ron Berler is a 1967 Staples High School graduate. He writes magazine and newspaper stories on a variety of subjects, from education to guns. Today, he focuses on baseball.
We’ve all done things in life we regret. And we regret them all the more for never having owned up to them, for never having made things right.
Major wrongs, minor wrongs, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s the small ones that trouble us most, if only because they were so avoidable. A word of thanks here, an unprompted act of kindness there. That’s all it would have taken to avoid a regret – or to fix it.
An avoidable act of mine was to never tell Craig Matheson, the decades-long director of the Staples Players, how much it meant to me to be cast in one of his plays.
Even today, performing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among my most cherished memories. I still don’t quite understand why I landed the part. I wasn’t much of an actor; the theater critic for the Town Crier, Westport’s local newspaper, described my performance – generously, I thought – as “entirely adequate.”
But in gifting me that part, Mr. Matheson opened a world of art to me that I hadn’t truly appreciated, filled me with a new sense of confidence and introduced me to a circle of cast and crew to whom I still feel a bond.
Years later, having been away from Westport for decades, I walked into a Post Road restaurant in which Mr. Matheson happened to be dining. It was my opportunity, finally, to properly thank him, to make things right. He was grateful for my words, but not nearly so grateful as me for the chance to finally say them.
That was a moment I’ll always cherish. But like so many of us, I’m guilty of other oversights that I’ve never managed to correct.
I’m 73 now, and those missed opportunities – by now, some of them lost opportunities – continue to nag at me. It takes so little to be kind, to be thoughtful. The best I can express it is through an essay I wrote recently for the opinion page of the Chicago Tribune, regarding another person I dearly wanted to thank, but who died before I was able to do so. Gratitude is such an easy gift to give.
The Tribune has a paywall. I posted it also on Medium. I thought “06880” readers would appreciate it too.
How do you thank someone who has passed?
Oscar Zamora was a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1970s. He wasn’t very good, to put it kindly. During his Wrigley Field tenure, Cubs fans would serenade him as he exited the game, often in mid-inning after having surrendered a blizzard of runs. Here is a sample verse, sung to the tune of the long-ago Dean Martin hit, “That’s Amore.”
When the pitch is so fat
That the ball hits the bat,
From the press box where I sometimes sat, he seemed to accept the razzing with equanimity, as if he agreed it was deserved. I was a young reporter at the time, and after games I’d pass him in the clubhouse as he dressed quietly at his locker, while I sought out one or another of his more prominent teammates.
Zamora pitched for the Cubs for parts of three seasons, and I can’t remember ever interviewing him for a story or even stopping to chat. He was one in that category — an interchangeable part, a minor actor who wouldn’t last long in the game.
Zamora was 31, in his second big-league season, on the day in May 1975 when we came closest to sharing a real conversation. My target that afternoon, as I strode past his locker, was one of his teammates — a star infielder I knew slightly who would win the league batting title that year. I had a favor to ask.
Like Zamora and his Cubs teammates, I too played the game, though not credibly enough to have made my high school team. Still, baseball was my passion. I played shortstop for a bar-league softball team, and my bucket-list dream was a new glove. Not just any glove — a major league-quality one, made of a grade of leather and stitching so fine, it was manufactured exclusively for professional ballplayers.
No problem, the infielder said. He named a price and I handed him the money. A week later, I returned to the clubhouse and the infielder waved me over. He reached into his locker and tossed me a new glove.
I thought he was joking at first. It was a Wilson A2000 — a popular model readily available in any decent sporting goods shop. Not a pro-quality one. Not at all what I’d asked for, or desired. I stood there silent, head dipped, feeling taken, staring at this unwanted object.
Word spread round the clubhouse about what had transpired. One of the infielder’s teammates, centerfielder Rick Monday, eyed the Wilson A2000 and shook his head. “If you wanted a glove, why didn’t you ask me?” he said, shooting a look at the infielder before returning to his locker.
I was still staring at the retail-store glove when Zamora, the pitcher to whom I’d never spoken, approached. “Here,” he said. “Take this.” In his hand was a Rawlings Heart of the Hide professional-model glove. “It’s my backup,” he said, meaning the one he used during pregame drills.
I was too stunned at first to speak. I took his gift and turned it gingerly in my hands, as if I were examining a piece of fine jewelry. “I don’t know how to thank you,” I finally managed and kept repeating. The glove was the stuff of my dreams.
You’d think after such unprompted kindness that I would have sought him out regularly in the clubhouse, sat with him at his locker and gotten to know him as a treasured acquaintance, if not as a friend. I certainly had the time and opportunity. But I was 25, self-absorbed, oblivious. To my shame, I never did. By the time I realized my error, my loss, he had left the game. I never saw him again.
Zamora’s glove, though — that was a different story. I would take the field wearing his gift for the next 45 years, until I turned 70, till suddenly ground balls I had once readily handled seemed to come at me like sniper fire. It was time to retire.
Time for the glove to retire, too. Over the years it had taken a battering, its leather worn raw and thin, like a faded house stripped of its paint.
I’m 73 now and haven’t played catch since hanging up my cleats. But every so often, I slip on Zamora’s glove and flex it till the pocket brushes my palm, till it feels as it did on the ball field, like a second skin. And I think, too, of the man who’d once worn it and of his selfless generosity.
Last December I sought to contact Zamora, to tell him about the glove and what it still means to me. But mostly, I hoped to get to know him. A Major League Baseball Players Association representative, wanting to help, mailed a letter to his last known address but received no response. Later, I learned he had opened a Miami shoe store after retiring, and I located Cosme de la Torriente, the attorney who had handled his business affairs.
I was too late, de la Torriente told me over the phone. Zamora died four years ago. He was 75.
The attorney and I spoke for almost an hour. Zamora had been not only a client but also his friend. He told me Zamora had emigrated from Cuba to Miami as a child and had returned to Miami after retiring from the game. The two had played local ball together and sometimes had gone nightclubbing.
“Oscar knew everybody, and everybody knew him. He loved people,” de la Torriente said. “What he did for you, that was his character. You would have liked him.”
I wish I’d made the effort.
Ron: Many thanks for the touching tribute to an unheralded but certainly deserving good man. And kudos to you for highlighting one of the most important human actions we are all so easily capable of performing. Gratefully, Steve Emmett
Great story. In those times baseball was a real sport. The players were good people who had a lot on common with fans. Todays baseball is big business and a jewelry exhibition Excess greed is polluting every aspect of society.
Heart warming story. Thank you.
Teared up reading about ballplayer. Wonderful article.
Great article which also brought tears to my eyes. Reminds me of the game I knew growing up and how much its changed. It’s a good reminder to take the time to appreciate and thank people for acts of kindness and generosity while they’re still alive.
Such a great story! Made me tear up. Thanks so much for sharing!
What a fine article by Ron. A reminder to me that there were such people in my life, never properly thanked, as was Craig in his. And some still, about whom it is not too late for me. So thanks, Ron, I am on it.
Hey Thisby, so glad you liked it. And so good to hear from you. Where are you these days? What are you up to? Me, I’m still scribbling away. I’m now a proud grandpa — man, that went fast.
Great post by Ron Berler. Opened an old wound.
My high school teacher/ guidance counselor gave me a weekend to get a certain college application and scholarship application back to her or risk failure in her course work. Never thought about that college and never knew about that free ride. Thought it was wishful thinking and a waste of my time at best.
I did a lot of grumbling that weekend.
67 years later I still regret not having thanked her enough for all the doors she opened on that weekend and what it meant to my future and for our family.
I agree totally with Ron- say thanks when you are given opportunities (life gifts) or risk regretting it later.
Thank you Steven Emmett, Richard Fogel, Alan Phillips, Stephanie Bass, Greg Battersby, Prill Boyle and Steve Stein for your kind thoughts. I’m so glad you liked the piece.
I have found that sometimes, when I have failed as you believe you did, that another opportunity comes along. Embracing that current one REALLY helps to lessen the burden of the earlier blunder. AND, it establishes, or strengthens, a habit. Watch for it! Thanks for posting.