Fifty years ago June 10 Rocky Colavito went deep four times in one game. We watched it in black and white, but I remember it in living color.
The man owned Cleveland back then. No matter how the Indians struggled our mantra remained: “Don’t Knock The Rock.”
He was my first sports hero, but not my last.
Jack Nicklaus. Jerry Lucas. Jim Brown.
The ultimate was Ali. The Clay title fight from Miami Beach wasn’t even broadcast in Cleveland. Radio reported it only in intervals. They interrupted intermittently with updates—wire reports at each round’s end. When Liston didn’t answer the bell for round seven I rejoiced, but had no one to call. It was late—and a school night.
So we had our heroes. I even met a few.
When the PGA had the Cleveland Open at Highland Golf Course we hitchhiked down Green Road to sneak in. Palmer, Player, “Champagne Tony Lema”….. Adorning the perimeter of Sunday’s 18th green, wearing that nerdy madras hat, I made eye contact with all the pros as they doffed their caps and headed to the scorer’s tent.
But I’ve only known—truly known—one superstar.
And I caught him in the autumn of his years when sports (to him) were again just a game.
When what really mattered…mattered.
He would often talked sports, but rarely about his career.
He had clearly experienced much, seen it all, and knew there was more to life than the bounce of a ball.
His name was Ben Selzer and he was my father-in-law. He was also, in every sense of the word, the best sport I ever knew.
I met him in 1970, thirty-five plus years after the walk-on from New Jersey made All-America at Iowa. Laughingly he noted that back in those days of center jumps after each basket…they just didn’t give Jewish kids from the east coast scholarships. Not right away anyway.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He used to stand at the concrete foul line of his driveway’s pavement and knock down the free throws….methodically….rhythmically, like he’d never left campus.
Oh, he’d talk about current sports—sometimes passionately. But it was no longer HIS passion. He loved it, but knew it for what it was—just a game.
I wish I had a dollar for every time he told me he hated the Celtics, or hated Bobby Knight, ….or that….Red Auerbach…”He’s a BUM.!!!”
But it just wasn’t his priority.
We’d sit in the den and watch—me on the couch and he in his “field box” on an ottoman, two feet in front of the set.
Sure I watched him scream when someone holed out to beat Greg Norman….and I laughed in the late 70’s when he’d cringe with each Yankee victory. He loved to watch, and did, but he knew— and his actions demonstrated that he understood that it really, really didn’t matter.
He knew then what I am only beginning to learn now.
He was quiet, unassuming, and (in his house for certain), clearly not the floor leader. He had had his day in the sun.
These were different times—a different game in a better conference.
And in a league where family mattered most, he was still a team player.
He never seemed to want details, but always wanted to just know that things were OK. If his people were fine, he was fine.
He had it down.
Even his heroes were in the family. In those first years of our relationship…when I wanted to hear about his exploits, when I wanted him to share about Nat Leibowitz, Auerbach, and the giants of his day, he demurred.
“Uncle Ernie,” he would tell me, “Knows everything there is to know about everything! He can do anything. The man’s a genius.”
“Lil’s family….every one of them can cook!”
The man lived ten minutes from New York City, the greatest city in the world. Screw the bright lights. Been there; done that. He treasured the intangibles.
We used to sit at his dining room table playing pinochle—the three of us. We never once played for money but the conversation was rich, and never-ending. His wife would call from the bedroom, urging him to call it a night.
She knew better. His kid and her husband were in from Ohio. This wasn’t just a card game, Jeez…it was quality time.
He had it down.
And he knew right from wrong. He was the only man other than my father that with just one look could stop me in my tracks. Never once did he scold me, but often did I get a message.
Think Paul Warfield. Ben Selzer didn’t have to spike the ball in the endzone to score his points.
Yeah….he had it down.
In the mid-80’s, with young Michael in tow, we drove out west to revisit his beloved Iowa. Ben didn’t fly so we did the long trek across Interstate 80. I still laugh as I remember the final approach into town.
“Where’s the pool hall?” he remarked, noting that one of his favorite hangouts was no longer.
(It had been fifty years).
Pool halls come and pool halls go.
The all Americans never lose it.
We took a walk to Carver Arena, the current Hawkeye basketball home. We ambled down the steps to the court so that Grandfather and Grandson could have a little shoot-around.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It was 1935 again and hunched over, taking his set shots was Ben Selzer, All-American. More fell in than not.
A half century later…like he never left campus.
It was a magic moment for me, and maybe for him.
He was and is one of my heroes.
On and off the court he was always hitting nothing but net.
And I remember him, too, in living color.

One Response to “FIRST TEAM”

  1. Eric says:

    You never know what you will find on the web, this brought back wonderful memories of an age gone by.

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