You know you're in trouble when they pick Anthony Perkins to play you in the movie version of your life story.
Perkins played the role of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall. The movie was Fear Strikes Out, based on the book with the same title. Piersall was my hero. Most kids my age idolized Ted Williams. Piersall hit a responsive chord with me.
Jimmy Piersall was no Norman Bates. The Waterbury, Connecticut native was an oddball. Did some weird things on the field. Ran the bases backwards, climbed the screen behind home plate. It was later revealed that Piersall had what was then called manic-depression. Today it's referred to as Bipolar Disorder.
I have a story that involves me and Jimmy Piersall. When I was 12 years old Piersall paid a visit to Ed's Foodland, a market just down the street from where I lived with my parents. Piersall was, at that time ( 1959 ) doing promotional work for the Caines Mayonaisse Company.
I was in the sixth grade, in class when Piersall arrived at Ed's Foodland. My plan was to go see him after school.
My mother and my Aunt Ella went to see him in the morning.
I arrived at Ed's with some friends. We walked through the front door. An Ed's worker was standing there. I said, " We're looking for Jimmy Piersall. "
" He's in aisle six, near the mayonaisse, " the guy said.
Like I'd asked where the ketchup was.
We ran through the market, found aisle 6. There he was, Jimmy Piersall. My hero. Surrounded by kids who'd managed to get there before we did. The crowd of young fans was about eight deep. I started jumping up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of my hero. I think I was up in the air when I heard Jimmy Piersall say, " Hey Terry! Terry McCarthy! Come here. Let him through, guys. Make way. Let him through! "
Now, I'm going to stop right here for a second. I've told this story myriad times. I tend to get these looks right about now, at this point in the story. Folks roll their eyes. They don't say it out loud, but I can read lips. What they're " saying " is:
Make no mistake. This is a true story. Jimmy Piersall singled me out.
I felt like I'd been annointed. The crowd let me through. Thinking back on it all, it was like Charlton Heston parting the Kid Sea.
This was some kind of miracle!
I inched my way up to Jimmy Piersall. He reached out and shook my hand. Said a few words. I can't remember what he said; I was in shock. We shook hands again.
" Great meeting you, Terry, " Jimmy Piersall said.
I must have said something back. I have no idea what it was that I said.
I have discussed what happened at Ed's Foodland many times with my mother. Her take on the story is this. She and my Aunt Ella had gone to see Jimmy Piersall in the morning, while I was still in school. The market wasn't crowded when my mother and my aunt were there. They got to talk to Jimmy Piersall. My mother told him that she had a son, Terry.
" You're his hero, " she said. " He'll be here to see you after school. "
My mother tells me that Jimmy Piersall asked her, " What's he look like? And what's he wearing today. "
Mom said, " People say he looks just like me. " And she described what I was wearing when I left the house that morning.
" He knew who you were when he saw you, " my mother says.
There's a term among the many terms in the language of baseball. Set-up men. It refers to relief pitchers. They lay the foundation.
When I think back to that day in 1959 I think of the role my mother played. And this comes to mind:
That was 48 years ago. Jimmy Piersall is 77 years old now. He's had a long and interesting life. He's battled pitchers who threw balls past his ear at 90 miles per hour. He's battled bi-polar disorder. Me? I've played some games in my life. Basketball. Soccer. Golf. Tennis. Baseball? I never made the varsity team. Played softball. But that's a far cry from hardball, the game Jimmy Piersall played so well and so courageously.
The hardest game I ever played was working on a psych unit for eleven years. Worked closely with people with bi-polar disorder. And you know what? Every one of those patients with whom I worked, I told them:
You are going to get through this stay in the hospital. It's not going to be easy. But if you're willing to do the work that needs to be done - you're gonna be OK.
I didn't promise a cure. Short term goals were the aim. One inning at a time was what I was thinking. One crazy inning at a time.