Late last month a friend told me Brian McCarthy, a former baseball teammate, was very ill with cancer and the outlook was not good. This was stunning news and I kept Brian and his family in a morning prayer/reflection I take part in every day. Sadly, Brian McCarthy passed away last weekend.
Whenever someone near my own age who I know passes, I get numb. Brian was one year younger than me so yes, once again I’m numb. Numb with disbelief, numb with shock and numb with hurt. It’s a reminder that as young as we all may feel, we are mortal. By this age most of us have been through these kinds of situations but familiarity to them doesn’t soothe the ache. Still, my primary thoughts are with Brian’s family and his many friends. I wish them all only peace and the ability to cope through this sad time and beyond.
Now from what I remember of Brian from back in the day, if he was here right now, he’d probably say “Hawk (my nickname from way back) cut the maudlin crap and lighten up!” O.K. Brian, for you, I can handle that. So here are a few of my memories of one Brian “Bubba” Mc Carthy.
I first knew Bubba from our Little League baseball days. He was on the Pirates, I was on the Orioles. We both were pitchers. When playing ball, Bubba was always blowing huge bubbles from the massive hunks of Bazooka or Bubs Daddy gum that were jammed in his mouth. In fact our team referred to him as “Bubbles” because of the constant pink bubbles he’d blow during a game. Maybe that’s where the nickname ‘Bubba’ formed. I never asked.
Bubba was a damn good ball player and steady all-star for his team. One distinct memory was when we played the Pirates in a single elimination tournament game at old Elm Field. That field was located where the Elmhurst Portillo’s restaurant now stands and it was the only place in town with brick dugouts. I was pitching out of a final inning jam, two outs, bases loaded and my Orioles were up by one run. Bubba was up to bat and worked me to a 3 and 2 count. I sailed a high fastball just out of the strike zone that he swung and missed at. Game over, we won, the Pirates went home. Whew! Not that this mattered much, we Orioles got eliminated a few days later by those pesky damn Mets.
Fast forward to high school baseball. Starting with sophomore year, I made each York team as a pitcher. Bubba was on the freshman squad and played all 4 years for the Dukes. We finally became teammates on the York summer league team of ’78 and then during the Spring season of ’79. Bubba was a steady pitcher mixing a decent fastball with sidearm curves and really good location. During that summer season he was our go to starter and in that spring season, a reliable reliever putting out run scoring threats and saving games for us starters.
Despite being a year younger, Bubba would sometimes lead me. He showed me a good hideout during boring baseball work-outs. While the rest of the team was taking batting practice, we’d ditch into a football storage room underneath the gym stairs and lounge on padded tackling dummies, exchanging lines from “The Honeymooners” and other jokes.
During pregame work-outs Bubba and I would hit fly balls to our outfielders and see who could sky the highest pop-ups with our long skinny fungo bats. Once the games started we’d sit in the bullpen beyond the left field home run fence and do a running play by play /color commentary of the contest at hand.
As anyone who knew him will tell you, Bubba McCarthy was a very funny guy. He was always quick with a dry or sarcastic comment that would crack up everyone, including coach Erl Ellingsen and our summer ball coach Dave Trayser.
During my last semester at York we were in the same Probability and Statistics class. Freshman baseball coach Mr. Aggen was our teacher and the first 15 minutes of every class would be held up while we talked about sports. Mr. Aggen finally decided to give Bubba and I the first 5 minutes of each class to give a formal sports update to the class on what was happening with Chicago teams. I worked part time at White Castle and brought in a couple of paper hats for us to wear during our in class reports I called the White Castle Sports Update. At the end of the semester we had a White Castle party with my mom making a burger run and delivering several bags of sliders for our class to munch on.
Whenever we’d talk about the fine cuisine at White Castle Bubba would say a funny line like, “I should grab a few, I haven’t taken a healthy one in a while.” A glib line like that was his specialty!
It was great to have someone like Bubba as a co-conspirator for my own shenanigans. That last baseball season at York included several beer fueled poker parties happening at my house on weekends. Bubba was always on hand for the cards and the cracking of jokes and camaraderie.
After graduating York, moving on to college and respective careers I lost track of Bubba McCarthy but heard from mutual friends that he was married and doing well. That was great to know. I always smiled when thinking of the fun I had with him.
Bubba, you were always aces in my book, and I’ll let you have the last word on this post. This is a direct quote that you wrote in my senior yearbook: “Drink beer and eat sliders, and good luck in college.”