By: Kurt Snyder
There are better times than others to dig deep into the big bag we call The Ralph Snyder Archives. But the celebration of Memorial Day certainly applies. This holiday serves a lot of purposes for this country. It’s the holiday that kicks off summer as thousands of Americans and of course Michiganders, head to cottages, campgrounds and golf courses.
It’s a weekend for BBQs and family gatherings as we take advantage of a long 3-day weekend. But unfortunately, for a lot of people, what ranks last in their order of celebrations is the real focus and purpose of Memorial Day. It’s a national holiday set aside for all of us as Americans to recognize and remember people who have served and people who have died in the line of duty, defending our country.
So certainly, Dad comes to mind. When Dad was drafted into the military, it was the second time he had been drafted in two years. Wait. What? Drafted twice? Well yeah, the first time in 1940, by the Cincinnati Reds and the second time by the U.S. Army in 1942.
Dad was an excellent catcher coming out of Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio. So talented that the Yankees came calling before he graduated, wanting to draft him right then and there. But his dad (Ralph Sr.) pulled the plug on the notion and said “no” to the New York Yankees. He wanted his oldest son to finish high school.
So, immediately following his high school graduation, Ralph Jr. was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. As one of the top catching prospects in Ohio, Dad had an incredible opportunity; a chance to play in the big leagues someday.
He played in the Reds organization for almost 2 years, beginning his career in Cordele, Georgia at the D Level of the Georgia-Florida League. He played in 47 games all at catcher in 1941. So the 19 year old kid from Toledo was realizing his dream…until the U.S. Army called.
Dad’s baseball career ended in 1942. He spent 4 years in the Army, began officer’s training school just before World War II had ended and was sent to Japan to occupy the territory. He never had to endure a single battle as most of his military career was served stateside.
But what’s unusual is how Dad described it to us when we were young or even again when we were older. There was never any tone of disappointment. There was never any regret. Dad tasted baseball for a major league ball club; but only a taste. He was needed elsewhere. He was called to fight for his country and he was very proud to be able to do so.
He had to have been disappointed when he was plucked from the diamond and planted at Camp Perry, Ohio on November 21st, 1942. Now 20 years old, his life had been turned upside down. In the blink of an eye he went from making a living playing a kids game to serving his country in the Army; where boys become men.
Thousands of families have their own stories about how a member or members of their family had served. However, we were lucky enough to have our father stay out of harm’s way. But many did not. Many were injured. Many severely. Many died.
But Dad was given another chance after returning home from Japan and the last of several camps in the U.S. where he was required to serve. Even though his playing days were no longer in the cards, he was a better man for what he had experienced.
But the baseball bug never left him and the first chance he got, he looked for a job in the game. The Detroit Tigers became his new passion, his new tour of duty, and this time for 46 long years. He met my mom at Tiger Stadium and the rest is history.
So even though Dad missed out on a potential baseball career in the major leagues, the game still gave him an opportunity that would change his life and define his destiny. The path from baseball to the Army and back to baseball again, led him to his wife of 62 years. So all of us 4 boys are pretty happy how it turned out.
Let me leave you with this on Memorial Day. When I stood next to my father during the national anthem prior to all those games at Tiger Stadium, his eyes never left the flag. His right hand never left his heart. And his posture was straight and proud. He loved baseball, but he loved his country more.