Chasing a Dream

C

I remember it well. 1946, 1947, and maybe 1948.

Depending on what kind of workday my dad had had, we would dash off to Ponce DeLeon Park, the home of the Atlanta Crackers Double A team in the Southern League. A week night game.

Sometimes we’d go out on a Sunday afternoon for a doubleheader, that was two games for the price of one.  When the Birmingham Barons were in town, that made it even better.  That was the big rivalry team for the Crackers.

Not sure any of those guys ever made it to the Big Leagues, but some of them were very good ball players. Some were just run-of-the-mill.

One fellow that always fascinated me was Atlanta’s third baseman, Ted Cieslak.

Ted had played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1944 for a short while. During the war the Major Leagues relied on those who in normal times would not make the Big Leagues. Men who had been rejected by the draft board.

Ted must have had a taste of what it was like up in the “Bigs” as it was often called.

He was with Atlanta during the years I mentioned, not a bad player at all, and hanging on to try and make it back up to the Majors as a legitimate, bona fide player, not a fill-in or replacement.

He was a good fielder, although one day a bad hop on a grounder hit him in the face.  The game was stopped a long time, while the trainer checked him on the field, and the other players on his team surrounded him.

He may have had some broken bones in his face, but that didn’t stop him from playing, and finishing the game. I imagine his face was swollen for the last couple of times he came to bat, and he probably couldn’t see to hit, but he tried.

Maybe he thought that would impress some Major League manager who would give him another shot because he had so much grit, and could inspire some of the other players on the team to not be so lackadaisical in their approach to the game.

By 1946 Ted was 29, an ancient age for anyone hoping to make it back to the “Bigs”, if you count his short stint in 1944 with the Phillies as a replacement until the real players showed up in late 1945.

The salary for the Southern League players was not enough to earn a living.  When Ted went back to Milwaukee, which I assume he did because he was from there, he had to find a job to scratch out enough money to make ends meet.

Ironic sometimes how a person will chase a dream when they know there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  That may sustain them for a year or two or three, then you have to face the reality that it isn’t going to happen.

I can’t imagine how it felt to walk off the field for the last time when you or your family said it is time.  You have to come home and earn a real living. You have to face the reality that you weren’t good enough to play with the guys who were in the majors at that time plying their trade, or at least that’s what the managers up there thought.

Sure Ted’s bat wasn’t the best there ever had been, but how many players couldn’t hit any better than he did, and yet there they were?

I have to feel that he thought he would be a good addition to any Major League team. Even if he had to ride the bench until a pinch hitting opportunity came along, that would have been okay. Guys like Ted Williams and others were paid enough that they didn’t have to worry about a second job in the off season, but the money for the minor players in the Majors was still not enough to keep them from working at whatever they could find during the off season.

The last game, probably as an Atlanta Cracker, he may have lingered around 3rd base, kinda sweeping the dirt with his feet to smooth out a rough place. Looking up in the stands to an almost empty ball park. Maybe even thinking about going up in the stands for a hot dog, but the vendors would have packed up by now and gone home.

And finally in the club house, just sitting on a bench, looking around, nothing in particular, maybe noticing the names on the lockers, and wondering if any of them would make it to the Majors, knowing most of the names he read wouldn’t.

He takes off the uniform for the last time, and stays in the shower longer than he ever has.  Finally he finishes, puts on his street clothes, gathers his personal belongings, walks outside where the few passersby don’t even know who he is. Maybe a stroll down to the Greyhound bus station to catch a ride home, again in anonymity.

Someone walks up to him before he is about to board the bus, and says, “Hey, didn’t you used to be?” and breaks off the question with, “no, he died.”

I’m sure Ted died a little that day, but his real time ended in 1993, a lot of time to think of what might have been.

Ted, you made Wikipedia, so you weren’t totally forgotten.  I don’t think that is what you had in mind when you first set foot on a baseball field.

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