Sunday, September 3, 2017

Route 66 -- The Mick

He stood bigger than life in the eyes of every child who'd ever heard his name. He'd always smiled at the kids as he autographed baseballs, golf balls, bats, and more. I stood near my father watching the commotion around us. Even though Mickey Mantle was nearly a household name for every American child in the 50's, seeing him in person and knowing his family made it special for many of us kids growing up in Ottawa County. 
My father, Johnie Stapp, with Mickey Mantle about 1956

One day he and his twin brothers, Roy and Ray, along with other Yankee players showed up at the Miami Country Club to play golf. It must have been in the summer because there were many people swimming, who suddenly jumped out of the pool and began to gather around the large and loud group of men. What I recall and what the facts are sometimes become twisted, but that day with a gallery of people we watched "The Mick" hit a tee ball off the first tee and fly it over the green (a par 4 about 360 yards), across Elm street behind the golf course, and into the fenced horse stalls owned by Mr. Lou Newell.  The gallery roared and the teasing and bets were on. "Johnny Dial" was the stud horse owned by Lou Newell, and for only a moment someone worried that he might have hit the horse, which made the golf shot even more lavish to retell.

My memories of Mickey seem quite colorful, when I recall my dad coming home from work sharing episodes of the days when Mickey and his friends came to the club to get away from the crowds and feel at home.  Billy Martin, Mantle's manager, asked my dad to give him golf lessons. Dad suggested that Martin come back often,  "so we can get that slice fixed." Martin just laughed. 

The Yankee players who came to Miami along with Mickey, George Coleman, and other celebrities sometimes played what dad called "destruction derby" with the golf carts.  I'm sure it wasn't what my dad liked to see, but Mickey and his friends always paid for the damage they imposed, and the men loved to retell the stories.  

Along the way, decades pass and memories grow fuzzy. This summer on my way to a golf tournament in Joplin, Missouri, along with my friend Kay Dalke, we took a sideways trip along old Route 66, and stopped at the Dobson Museum in Miami so I could take care of "burden and worry" that wouldn't leave my mind. As I talked about my problem with Jordan Boyd, Kay noticed the display on Mickey Mantle. Jordan suggested we locate the Mantle home a take a peek at history along the way to Joplin. 

With map in hand we headed north on Route 66 to
find his Commerce home.  Kay regaled me with her love of baseball and childhood family memories. Her grandmother's brothers were Paul and Lloyd Waner from Harrah, Ok. They are both in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Baseball Hall of Fame treated her family as special guest when they visited. She, like so many of us, remembers meeting Mickey Mantle, so finding his home was very special to both of us.

We were humbled by his small home. The plaque read: At the age of 5 or 6 his father started teaching him how to hit, they used the tin barn as their backstop. Mutt, his father (a miner) would pitch righty and Mick's grandfather would pitch lefty while teaching him the fine art of switch hitting....

Kay said, "Seeing Mickey Mantle's home was so exciting. It is hard to imagine the life of simplicity some of the greatest athletes of our lifetime have come from." 

Along the way, there's just so much to see and think about. 

Letty Stapp Watt
Johnie Stapp's daughter and historian

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