THE MAYOR OF NORTH VERNON COULD PLAY

That’s Grandpa Howard, first row, far left, and my great-uncle Cliff immediately next to him, 2nd from the left. Circa 1905ish.

The 2018 baseball season starts on Saturday, 3/31, and with that momentous occasion, another year of joy and frustration, of soaring highs and withering lows, of pitching changes and pop-flies, legging out a double and midnight-to-six curveballs, of watching the effin’ Dodgers most likely choke another one away, begins.

Baseball, still and always the national pastime to me, is in my blood; my maternal grandfather, Howard Daringer, as well as his two brothers, my great-uncles Clifford and Rolla, played professional baseball; he played in the old Three I League (Iowa, Illinois and Indiana), and later managed the North Vernon IN Reds, a Federal League team. Grandpa played for 12 seasons, having his best year in 1913, while playing for the Dubuque (IA) Dubs; he batted .343 that year, with 36 2B, 8 3B and 8 HRs, had a .494 slugging percentage and amassed 173 hits in 137 games. He won the III League batting crown that year, for which he received a gold-plated baseball bat with his name and stats etched prominently on the barrel. Uncle Cliff played for the old St. Louis Browns (later the Baltimore Orioles) for two seasons and Uncle “Roll” as we called him (pronounced “Raal”) played for the Cincinnati Reds for several years as well.

Howard, back row far right, as manager of the North Vernon Reds, 1922.

After he retired from playing in 1920, Grandpa went on to manage the NV Reds team for a number of seasons, occasionally filling in for one of his players on the field as well; sadly, I haven’t been able to find any record of how long he managed, but after a very successful career, he went on to run the biggest department store in Jennings County IN (the “biggest” being a somewhat dubious distinction, given the sparse population of rural southern Indiana back in those days) as well as being elected County Clerk for Jennings, holding the position for 8 years before he moved on to become Mayor of North Vernon for another 8 years.

My fave memory of Howard was playing catch with him out in the front yard of the NV home where he and his bride, my grandmother Margaret, who everyone called Maggie, lived for nearly 70 years, a man well into his 70s by then but still with some pop in his arm. Maggie died back in 1975 and Howard followed her in 1981, and I still miss them both today.

I remember Grandpa telling the story of a friend of his there in North Vernon who was the editor of the North Vernon Plain-Dealer, and the three-legged pig.

The editor, so the story goes, had heard accounts of a farmer whose life had been saved by a pig, said animal being something of a pet to the farmer and his family, and Ed decided to drive out to the man’s farm, which was way out to hell and gone in the eastern part of the county, and get the whole story.

He pulled up to the farmhouse in his Model T that day and sure enough, there was Farmer Fred out by the barn, feeding the hyenas or milking the horses or doing some kind of farm animal-related activity.

The men greeted each other, chatted about the weather for a few minutes and then Ed asked Fred, hey, what’s this I hear about you having an accident recently; he could see where Fred still had some scrapes and bandages on his hands and arms, and he was walking with a discernable limp. Fred says, yep, just two weeks ago (apparently news traveled REAL slow in rural Indiana in those days) it happened. Yeah, says the newspaper guy, what was that?

Well, says Fred the Farmer, I hitched ol’ Jake to the plow that morning and headed out of the yard to go break the middles out in the north 40, and we was comin’ through that little patch of meadow right over there, when I reckon it was a black snake, you know we got a lot of them out here, wriggled out into the path in front of Jake, spooked him so bad he reared right up, knocked me off the plow on my back and then ran me over when he turned and charged off down the path. Knocked me out cold.

In the meantime while the men were talking, a three-legged pig ambled out of the barn and sat down there in the barnyard. Yeah, says Fred, ol’ Porky there, he saw what happened, ran over to me, couldn’t get me to move, so he runs in the house and somehow gets Bessie and my oldest, Horace, to come out to where I was layin’ in the road. Meanwhiles, I stopped breathing for a few moments, and I tell you, Ed, if that durn pig hadn’t dragged my Bessie out to me, I woulda’ died right there I’m pretty sure. They got me goin’ agin, her and the boy, and here I am today, ‘cause of Porky. That pig is a hero, believe me.

Wow, says Ed, that’s a helluva story…sure glad you’re okay. Say, Fred, uh, how did Porky lose his leg?

We durn near have adopted him since the accident…he’s a family pet now, says FF. He eats with us, and sleeps on the floor in the boy’s room at night. Yessir, that’s one very special animal, let me tell you.

Yeah, okay Fred, but you didn’t answer my question…how did the pig lose its front leg?

Yep, he lays on the floor next to my chair at night when we’re listenin’ to the radio, just like a dog almost, comes up and nuzzles your hand if he wants attention, drinks beer out of a bowl just like Bessie does, he’s a corker all right.

Fred, how did Porky lose his leg?

Why, we even took him to church with us last Sunday, dressed him up with a little bow on his tail and one around each ear, looked as cute as a button. ‘Course, the preacher was a little put-out, told us it wasn’t fit to have a pig in the Lord’s House, but I wasn’t havin’ none of it, tole that Reverend Gantry that Porky is my new hero, and had as much right to be there as Missy Albright’s pet llama, which she drags into Sunday service just about every week, for gosh sakes. I’m telling you, Porky is a member of the family now in my mind. He’s a great pig.

By now Editor Ed is getting pretty exasperated with the farmer. Fred, he exclaims, for goodness sake, HOW DID PORKY LOSE HIS FRONT LEG?!?

Oh, says Fred the Farmer, Porky is special, and you don’t eat a great pig like that all at once.

According to my grandfather, the story never ran in the paper, and Editor Ed retired the following year and moved to Cleveland, became an Indians fan and was never heard of again in Jennings County.

I think the Dodgers have a good chance of winning the NL West again this year, but seeing as how all the other teams in the division seemed to have improved over the off-season, they could easily step on their johnsons and disappoint me once again.

Well, it’s time for dinner…I was thinking about having ham.

Love you Gramps…miss you a million.

Love and porcines,

Cap’n John

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