He looked older than we remembered, but certainly less dead than we had heard. He wore a golf shirt, shorts, and baseball cap. And—let’s get this out of the way right now: Yes, it really was him.

We met in the parking lot of the Clairmont Diner, U.S. Route 130 near Princeton, New Jersey. The sun was out, just like it was supposed to be. And it was there that three Ohio kids whose bond was baseball and innocence reconnected 35 years of dots.

It wasn’t awkward at all. It was great— as natural his left-handed swing, only with a Jersey accent. We heard about his life: marriages, divorce, family crap… then brought him up to speed as well: Hal’s marriage, my divorce. Family crap.

And it was warm. Curiously, he cared less about his death than we did.

“Steve, every time we told someone we’d spoken to you…they all said the same thing: ‘He’s dead!’”

“I know,” he’d respond, and then move on. (Two generations later he was still cooler than me. I wonder if at any time it has bothered him being dead).

Conventional wisdom had him OD-ing on the west coast in the 70’s. He corrected us, as he’d heard it was a drug deal gone bad in the 80’s.

“Steve, Art Wohlfeiler SWEARS he was at your funeral!”
“He was wrong.”

And then the conversation rekindled as a rhythmic blend of past and present.

We were focused and the playing field was level. Hal reminded him that he’d taught H to throw a curve ball. Steve recounted fond memories of our parents. And. of course, we ran through a litany of names, from the neighborhood boys to the sandlot teammates. From swift pitching to softball to hardball. Rowland, Greenview, Brush, college ball. Alfie Feldman . Mitch Simmerson. Jimmy Masseria. Frankly, he remembered everyone with a precision I may not have expected. Stuart Fenton. Fran Ross. Alan Wieder.

There was balance to the trialogue. A sadness at Hovanyi’s death…a warmth of stories about Frank Snell, Lou Trolli and others. And through it all, a mix about what each of us was doing in 2009.

I questioned his absence from Cleveland all these years.
“Steve, you were such a popular guy. How is it you NEVER find your way back for ANYTHING?”

“Hey,” he said plaintively, “I’ve been out here since ’73. There is a whole big world outside of Cleveland. There really is!”
(I was glad my son wasn’t there to hear what has become Michael’s mantra).

The breakfast was exactly as we’d wanted it to be, and more. No bullshit; no pretense. No “We’ll have to do this again soon.”

“So what’s the best way to get back to I-80?”
He talked us into the turnpike instead.

We took some pictures. We left.

Hal and Steve drove, but the truth is all three of us were in gear, and all three of us were smiling.

Fact is that in some ways I was happier for my brother than myself. I had reunited with a friend, but Hal had achieved parity with his hero.

And the three Ohio kids, at least yesterday, were “Forever young.”


  1. Aunt Helen says:

    Very nice posting.
    I’m glad that you boys had a nice trip.
    It really is wonderful that you two had the time/inclination to drive across the country and meet Stevie for breakfast.
    If he lived in town, do you think you would have met him for dinner?

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