"Pop's" was a good person. He would give his last $2 for a friend in need. He trade to help everyone he knew in any way possible if they needed it (and even if they didn't).
But the youth was where his heart was at (other than his family). He would spend hours on end at the fields to make sure everything was alright. He would draft the kids that were "at risk youth" and kids who were from the wrong side of the tracks. He was one of those kids so he knew what they were feeling. He would help groom them into responsible young men that always showed respect. He would do it by showing them respect he felt they deserved as people and NEVER yelling at them. He would simply talk to them, man to man.
My grandparents raised me. They are my mom and dad as far as I am concerned. My mom had me @ 17 and my biological father bolted when he found out my mom was pregnant. My grandfather was my dad, best friend, confidant and my life's teacher.
My 1st year playing LL Baseball I was 7 going on 8. When I tried out they wanted to draft me to the "Majors" because I was better than most of the kids in the Minors OR Majors (they was no "Farm Div") despite being one of the shortest kids in the league. He didn't allow them to do so because he wanted to coach me for at least a year and wanted me to get a feel for the game. By the time I was 10 when I went up.
The team I was on was mostly made up of Mexicans and African-Americans, with a couple white kids. Well, when I was 12 we were playing a team that we were battling for the title (which we had won the previous 2 years). The umpire was a young kid who looked about 19. He made a comment to a parent before the game started. He said "I won't let that "spic" team get the win today, watch what I do".
I was pitching the first 4 innings that day. I threw countless balls RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE and he called them balls. While their pitcher got EVERY CALL. There were plays were we beat out balls hit to the infield but he called us out.
After the game he looked over at my grandfather (who was Italian American) and said "take that ghetto team back to the projects where they belong old man". My grandfather LOST IT. The ump was about 6'2, 200lbs while my grandpa was in early/mid 60's 5'8, 165 (but was a Golden Gloves boxer). Poppa went after him, he grabbed him by the shirt collar lifted him up against the fence and was just about to deck him when he heard our other coach say "he's only 17 Joe, DON'T"! He released him to the ground and the kid ran off to a waiting car.
He was suspended for 6 games, and as a team we went on to win all 6 games by an averaging 25 runs a game. We played for him. He defended us. Later that year at the closing ceremonies he won "sportsman of the year". LOL! It was great.
When I came back from college after I found out my then girlfriend (now wife) was pregnant with our daughter, my family was scared to tell him and scared for me to tell him. They thought he would disown me because she is African-American. It was a Tuesday night and he was painting our town house. It was me and him, alone. I told him. I wasn't nervous, I wasn't afraid, I was what he raised me to be, a man.
He was more excited then anyone else. He wanted my wife to move in and wanted me to marry her. I told him that I would, but not because she was pregnant, and I did. He loved her and all our kids as he loved me.
My grandparents moved back to Wisconsin in 2004.
When he was dieing I had to fly back to Milwaukee. I wasn't going to not be there for him. He had dementia and didn't remember anyone other than 1 of my cousins some times. But when I walked in his hospital room at the V.A. Hospital, and when he seen me, he smiled, and tried to sit up and started breathing harder. He knew who I was and we talked. He said in a tired voice "I aint going any where" when I told him it was Ok to go home (to heaven). He just kept touching my face. It was a shock to see me standing there to him. It was a day we both wished we had more often in the year after he moved to Wisconsin.
His room looked right into Miller Park. He was in the hospice section (I think the 3rd floor) and you could see right into center field. Only grandpa could have a view like that. Joe Di'Maggio was his favorite player growing up and loved that I also player CF.
Later that night we came back to the hospital and he wanted me, and only me to hold his hand as he fell asleep. I did. On November 3rd my grandma, mom, sister and I went back to see him. They wanted to eat and I wasn't hungry so I stayed with him in the room. He woke up and seen me. I told him that I loved him, he was my best friend and hero and I thanked him for being my father and teaching me how to be a man. He looked at me, with his beautiful face and said "I love you too". Those were the last words he ever said to me.
Sorry if I went on to long about him, and tearing up as I write this, but he was my Pal. He was the one person that could always relate to me and have my back no matter if I was right or wrong. He taught me to put God and my family first and everything else second. he taught me it was ok for a man to cry and show emotion.
When I started to write the rumors 6 or 7 years ago, he was my biggest fan. He would listen to the calls I would get and read the e-mails and just say that pro sports is a crazy business. He would read all the detractors and doubters and just say "have thick skin and don't respond, unless they get personal". I took his advice and still use it to this day.
He touched my life, but I was amazed at how many other lives he impacted. Every player that he coached while coaching me, still called him "Grandpa" till the day he passed on. He may be passed on, but his legacy will last forever.