Thursday, June 7, 2007

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:

Yeah, right.

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:

Set-up Mom.

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.


T. Collins RN,C said...

is this a true story? why haven't I heard it before? One wonders with the increasingly troubling set of symptoms you've been exhibiting if you haven't, in fact, gone round the bend.

Terrence said...

True story. I've told it to others, including one of my treatment team mates, a psych nurse up in Springfield. He rolled his eyes ( as you're doing ) and expressed his disbelief. You psych nurses are understandably skeptical and always on the alert for " Poor historians. " If you doubt me, I'll give you Set-Up Mom's phone number. She'll vouch.

Jennifer said...

I like this story, Terry. It's more than my being a Waterbury native.
I've got a 12 year-old son (catcher and first baseman)who is mourning the end of spring Majors Little League; he'd play all year.

And I've worked as a counselor in 3 psychiatric hospitals and seen my share of one crazy inning after another.

So I guess that's a triple as far as I'm concerned. Nice job.

Terry said...

Piersall sounds like another goofy Sox outfielder who came on the scene about 30 years later: Steve Lyons.

Terrence said...

Common threads. T. Collins, the best psych nurse I ever worked with. Jennifer. Writer/counselor/parent. Terry. Who just got back from a baseball game in which his son played. Who's an ink stained wretch like I was. All commenting on what a mother did. On a ball player with bi-polar disorder.

Baseball. No wonder they call it the national pasttime.

Jennifer said...

Did your mother by any chance break into rap while chatting with Piersall in the condiments aisle?

That would round things out quite nicely.

Terrence said...

Tres funny, Jennifer. Nope, she didn't do dis...

But what she shoulda done
in da condiments aisle
was say wid a grin
to da man who was thin
Hey Jimmy Piersall,
Show da kids how to bat
and throw the round ball
And this here visit
Ya could quiz it
Ask da boyz ta name it
And claim it
InFame it
Sustain it
Give it a name, this appearance
you havin today
That whatcha say
on da banners above ya
The fans and their moms
they gonna love ya!
What I'm talkin' about
and I ain't gonna shout it
Is you teaching some moves
Some battin' and throwin
You wait and see
your crowd will be growin
What can ya call this
promotional picnic?
How bout callin it
The Mayo Clinic?

I get the feeling T. Collins ( and he's probably not alone ) is rolling his eyes right about now

Mr. Collins' DH said...

he's not rolling his eyes he's projectile vomiting...but he's gotta hurry back to the TV and see what they're doing to that poor girl. Hasn't she suffered enough?