Thursday, May 19, 2011
Remembering Freddie Franks
A wide sweeping curve crossed the place, an enticing sight to behold. For a flickering moment, it appeared the ball would sail in belt high, and if that happened, hopefully it would end up a line drive dropping safely somewhere in the outfield.
At the last second, however, the ball dipped and dived out of the strike zone. I was already into my swing, but I was able to adjust it, lunge, and somehow get the wood on the ball, lofting it high in the air, one of those tantalizing fly balls that headed for no man's land- a few feet too far in for the right fielder or center fielder and too far out for the second baseman to catch.
It dropped into the high grass on the old Granby field and I was safe on first.
The pitcher, the Rev. Freddie Franks, was none too happy about this turn of events. As for me, I had my eyes on second base. The old guy, and Freddie was approaching 50 at that point, took his baseball seriously. I took a lead off first base and Freddie lobbed the ball over to keep me honest. The ball, like the curve he had pitched moments earlier, took forever to get there, so my confidence grew and so did my lead.
I danced off first base, ready for Freddie to pitch, so I could swipe second. I continued to build my lead. Freddie took the signal from his catcher, came to the set position...I never saw it coming. He whirled. I dived and the ball was waiting there for me.
I looked like a complete fool.
And the umpire yelled, "Safe."
Freddie started to protest, but the umpire cut him off. Freddie turned toward me and gave me a big smile. I didn't stray away from the bag the rest of the inning, which finished with two strikeouts and a weak popup to the infield.
Freddie Franks never lost that competitive edge and that zest for life. When he stood atop the Granby pitching mound three decades ago, he was more than 30 years older than many of those he was facing and many of his teammates, but his enthusiasm for the game had never waned.
It was the same approach he took to the ministry. For six decades, generation after generation, the congregation at the Silver Moon Full Gospel Church was guided through the joys and sorrows of this oh so brief existence by the Rev. Freddie Franks.
Not many ministers stay five years at the same post: Freddie took the pulpit at his church at the tender age of 22 in 1952 and 58 years later was still guiding his flock away from sin and in the direction of salvation.
The last time I saw Freddie Franks, when he spoke at the funeral of my aunt, Carolyn Strait, last year, he moved more slowly and his hair was considerably grayer, but that smile was the same one I remembered from three decades earlier.
That smile, and his comforting, reassuring presence were taken from us Wednesday when he died at age 80. It seems hard to imagine a world without Freddie Franks.
The obituary describes his death as being a result of a short illness. I prefer to think that he was called up to pitch in the second game of a doubleheader in the biggest stadium of them all.
And if any of his opponents are lucky enough to hit that curve ball, I would advise them to stay glued to first base.
The Rev. Freddie Franks will never allow any stealing in Heaven.