POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA - When Gordie Warner is not at home, his answering machine kicks in with a message that asks callers to show an act of kindness to someone in need. Such a message reveals the character of this 82 year-old first baseman who, by his generous and gentle nature, has endeared himself to all who have come to know him over the years.
Born in Syracuse, New York, on February 9, 1926, in the days when Calvin Coolidge was president and Babe Ruth still in his prime, Gordie's family was forced to move frequently because his dad, a sale's manager for Philco, had been frequently transferred from city to city. Gordie grew up and lived for a time in such places as Boston, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut.
Hoping to provide a more stable upbringing for his family, Gordie's dad bought a poultry farm in South Edmonton, New York. While at the farm, Gordie attended New Berlin High where he had his first taste of organized sports. There, he made the Basketball and Football teams, but his best sport was baseball, where he was named to the league's All Star Team, and, as a result, gained enough recognition to be offered a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Unfortunately, the tryout did not go well that day, but Gordie enjoyed the fact that he had an opportunity to meet Wally Schang, the ex-major leaguer who ran the tryout. Schang, who was a catcher for the old Philadelphia Athletics, began his career in 1913, playing for 19 seasons including the Yankees in 1923, the year they opened that new stadium in the Bronx.
Gordie joined the army when he turned 18 in 1944. Stationed at Fort McLellan in Anniston, Alabama, Gordie became an MP which set the tone for his later years when he was a deputy with the Broward County Sheriffs' Office in Florida. There, he served with distinction until his retirement in 1991.
In 1980, Gordie fit very nicely into a new kind of softball league, one for seniors who were at least 50 years old. They played mostly in and around Fort Lauderdale, but they soon began to travel to other areas to play against men of the same age in different parts of the state. The league formed then and became known as the Florida Half Century Amateur Softball Association.
Gordie played first base for Bigham Insulation, a strong team out of Fort Lauderdale that won a number of tournaments in the early 1980's. Later, he switched over to Tommy's Diner, a team run by everyone's favorite manager, Bud McCormick. Tommy's Diner was a standout of the period, winning a number of tournaments including one of the first regional World Series ever held. This was way back in 1989,
As most of us enjoy doing, Gordie will get out his stash of old photos and lovingly go over each one, carefully naming all the players. He would say, "There's Bobby Rush; he was signed by the Dodgers. There's Gene Cobaugh, we called him: Gene, Gene, the hit machine," There's Lou Palmisiano, he's still a great player, even after all these years, and there's Bud McCormick, everyone loved him."
Gordie still plays in a local day league in Pompano, and he still patrols first base in his old, familiar style, still hoping for every ball to be hit his way. He practices in the same old way trying to coax his infielders to throw it low so he can practice scooping it out of the dirt.
The years may have taken their toll on his hitting, but not his fielding, where he still looks agile enough to play. He likes to boast of his fielding, gladly counting the number of games in which he hasn't made an error. And, where he has made an error, he shuns talk of it, not wishing to dwell on negatives.
Gordie still plays with the same joyful enthusiasm, and his love for the game remains strong, even to this day. Other things may have lessened, or even vanished from his life, but never count softball as one of them. Today, when he steps on the field, it's as if the clock has never moved beyond the days of his youth.
There are those who would deny such a thing, but what difference does it make, anyway? In his heart, in this setting, Gordie, and every other senior player, is still playing the game they love, and for this moment in time, while they are playing, the clock has indeed been turned off.
In the stands, we can easily see through this illusion just by looking at these players, but if you close your eyes and listen, you will hear the sounds of young people. playing a game they all love. For them, the clock has returned to a day long gone and has been momentarily stilled in its relentless pursuit of the future. The face of the clock reads, "Still Young, after all these years."
And, Gordie? Why there he is, as usual, out there among the Boys of Summer, perhaps the youngest kid of all. You better hit it to him, or throw it in the dirt so he can practice. He'll be sore as heck if you don't.