Did you ever meet Roger Maris?

My friends and family have been encouraging me to write about some interesting people I’ve met.

I had a great experience working for Eastern Air Lines for 11 years. You may know them as the airline that was in business for over 50 years and went bankrupt in 1989. I won’t go into the details of how that came about but a quick check of google will give you the answers.

It was 1984, I was working the ticket counter in Kansas City, Mo. Eastern was known for it’s start-up East to West Hub operation. We had up 20 flights leaving from major cities on the East coast meeting up with about the same number of flights from the West coast and in 30 minutes, you would change planes, stretch your legs or snag a snack. Some would stand at the floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking the flight line and marvel at the symphony of motion as planes got refueled and catered, bags got loaded to their correct destination, maintenance was completed and hundreds of passengers changed planes, this scene would repeat, three times a day.

If you were a Gate Agent who boarded a flight, you would work the ticket counter between the ‘push’. If you’ve been in an airport you are familiar with the corded line that zig and zags and eventually gets you to the number one slot where you are advanced to visit the next agent.

As I recall it was the summer of 1984 and about a dozen of us were on the ticket counter and working the line as quickly as we could. As I would complete my transaction, I would glance at the line to see if it was getting shorter or longer, all the while watching the clock for the appointed time for me to dash off to the gate and meet my incoming flight and board the next departing one.

I noticed a older gentleman with a golf bag and a suitcase in the line and as things happen, he got me. He was a fit gentleman with a fresh crew cut, well dressed in khakis and a golf polo and an emblem with 61/61 over the breast pocket. He handed me his ticket and asked could he get a box for his clubs. I handed him an ID sticker and pen and went to the back to get a golf box. We exchanged greetings and I asked ‘ are you headed out to play some golf’ he said ‘no, I just got done and headed home’ I made a comment about his great golf score of 61 and he just laughed. I looked at the ticket and there it was Roger Maris. I looked at the ID sticker for the box, Roger Maris, Gainesville, Florida.

Yes, I knew who he was, I knew what the 61 over 61 meant on his polo. I said ‘ I hope you’ve had a good visit in KC’, he said ‘yes, visiting some old friends and enjoying some golf but I’m ready to get home’.

We got him on the plane to Gainesville, Florida, I phoned the gate agent to give them a heads-up and see if maybe they could upgrade him to first class.

It was about a year later, I learned he died of cancer. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1983. As a result, he began to organize Celebrity Golf Tournaments to raise money for cancer research and treatment. He passed at the age of 51 on December 14, 1985 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fargo, North Dakota.

If you are a fan of baseball, you might recall the Manager of the Kansas City Royals was Dick Howser. I came to learn that Mr Maris and Mr Howser were good friends and I can only assume they joined in that golf game the summer of 1984. The Royals would go on to win the World Series in 1985 under the direction of Dick Howser. It was dubbed the ‘I-70 Series’ between St Louis, just up the Interstate. Interestingly my oldest Son, Ben was born the same day they clinched, October 27th, 1985. I have a photo of him in my arms, holding the front page of the Kansas City Star ‘Miracle On I-70’ was the headline.

Sadly we would lose Dick Howser to brain cancer just a year later.

For baseball historians, there is an ongoing debate about PED’s in baseball and the question remains if McGuire, Sosa and Bonds hold the legitimate single season home run record. That’s a question that will remain a point of contention. There is one thing that is without dispute. Roger Maris is the lone long ball hitter to be inducted into baseballs Shrine of the Eternals and for me and other baseball purist, his record remains just that, Eternal.

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