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My Life: Dining with Legends

By David Rogers. BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — Hardly an Easter holiday goes by when I don’t recall a very special dinner, back in 1972.

As a kid growing up in Central California, summertime on Saturday often found my father and I sitting in front of a fuzzy, black and white TV watching Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese call the “Game of the Week.” Most often, as THE major market team in the earlier days of broadcast television, it was the New York Yankees playing some other American League team. Not surprisingly, my favorite players were the Bronx Bombers: Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson, Yogi Berra, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Rhyne Duran, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin, Bill Skowron, Elston Howard and the like.

I was six years old in 1957, watching a game with Dad and one of my uncles when my father decided it would be cute to let me have a few sips of his Falstaff beer. He and Uncle Herm got a big kick out of that, but it cured me from drinking beer until I was in college. Mom kept saying that beer was evil and, well, I believed her — at least all the way through high school.

I was mesmerized. Starstruck, even.

Fast forward into the early 1970s and I was in college. I suspect a young woman I was dating at the time convinced her parents that our relationship might be serious because, almost out  of the blue, I received an invitation to join the family for Easter dinner at a country club in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Much of that evening remains a blur for me. I remember being seated at this big, long table with room for more than 12 dinner guests. I looked to my right and there was Yogi Berra, extending his hand with a greeting. I looked across the table from Berra, and his friend and host, Casey Stengel, acknowledged me with a “hello.”

Now, imagine a kid who grew up a continent’s width away from New York City. He used to dig into an old shoe box filled with baseball cards to make his pretend lineup for playing a one-on-one pretend game against his brother on a pretend Yankee Stadium carved out in the oilfields where they lived, 10 miles from anything resembling civilization. Yogi Berra was often his catcher and who didn’t know about Casey Stengel, the famous Yankees manager.

On this night, I was mesmerized. Starstruck, even. I don’t think I spoke two sentences the whole evening. Stengel said something about my long hair, which flowed down to my shoulders. We all laughed. This was the early 1970s, after all.

This happened in 1972. At age 82, there was little else about Stengel that evening to remind a fellow guest of his reputation for being “colorful” as both a player and manager. He was jovial enough, but not particularly healthy or vibrant. I don’t recall hearing any Yogi-isms, if the Hall of Fame catcher uttered them. It was all friendly banter. My girlfriend and her parents faded into the background, part of the wood-paneled walls serving as the setting for this moment. My attention was elsewhere.

Stengel passed away just three years later. Berra went back to managing the New York Mets. I returned to school with “bucket list” caliber memories to cherish over a lifetime.


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