Caught this story about Joe Girardi and his dad. I consider myself a big Yankee fan and I had no idea about this until today…A great article by Johnette Howard over at Newsday.
Before Joe Girardi rose from a high school prospect to big-league catcher to Yankees manager, he was a boy in Peoria, Ill., who wrote a third-grade essay about wanting to be a big-league ballplayer someday, and he was thrilled to call himself Jerry Girardi’s son. The two of them not only played backyard games of catch or caught five or six Cubs games a year at Wrigley Field. They went everywhere together, Joe says now with a laugh, “To the point if my dad turned around, I’d probably run into him.”
Jerry Girardi was a traveling salesman for Westinghouse. Nothing glamorous. “Electrical switches, switch plates, that sort of thing,” Joe said. At night, he worked as a bartender. On weekends, he held down a third job as a bricklayer and often took Joe, the fourth of his five children, to help. Joe often would hop in the car when his dad had to make sales calls around the Midwest, too, and off they’d go, listening to Cubs games on the car radio as the miles blurred by late at night.
“Everything my dad did was to give his kids a better life,” Joe said. “To this day, I don’t know when my dad slept.”
It’s the sort of question Girardi might ask his dad now, if he could. But one of the many cruelties about Alzheimer’s disease is Alzheimer’s doesn’t just rob victims like Jerry Girardi of their memories or wash away their identities. Memories of all the people around them have left long before the disease claims each victim’s life. And so, even if baseball’s Hot Stove League is blazing right now, the main topic of conversation for Girardi tonight at Grand Central Station won’t be the Yankees’ recent $140-million offer to CC Sabathia.
Girardi is appearing with sportscasters Michael Kay and Jim Nantz at a sold-out fundraiser because the three of them are all members of the same club – the “unluck of the draw,” as Kay puts it. Each has had a parent afflicted with Alzheimer’s. All three men are working to raise money and awareness to combat the disease, which is often hard to diagnose and frequently catches its victims and their families unprepared.
Nantz recently wrote a bestselling book about his relationship with his father and his battle. Kay says by the time his mother, Rose, died at age 84 from Alzheimer’s, her case had progressed so severely she literally forgot how to swallow. One of Kay’s concerns now is urging people to check their insurance to see if they’re adequately covered for long-term care, and to consider purchasing extra coverage if possible. Kay says it was a shock for him and his sister to find out how little of his mother’s around-the-clock care was paid for. “This is a disease that ravages the victim and ravages entire families,” Kay said.
Girardi’s father, now 77, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about the same time Joe won his first World Series with the Yankees as a player in 1996. Both of Girardi’s older brothers are doctors and one of them specializes in geriatric care, so their father’s symptoms were recognized early. Part of Girardi’s message now is emphasizing how getting an early diagnosis and then getting a patient on the appropriate medication can improve an Alzheimer’s victim’s quality of life, at least for a while.
Girardi says it took years for his father’s condition to completely hit home for him. But the sobering reminders kept stacking up. The night the Yankees won the 1998 World Series, Girardi took his father into the clubhouse for the celebration. Eventually, he told his dad to stay put while he ran off to take a quick shower, then the two of them would grab the team bus back to the hotel. His father said fine, but he was going to run to the bathroom as Joe changed.
“Well, when I came out of the shower, I couldn’t find him anywhere,” Joe said.
An increasingly frantic search ensued for an hour. Then an hour and a half.
“When we finally found him, he had somehow made it back to the hotel, which was a miracle.”
Nowadays, Girardi’s father needs 24-hour care and is largely uncommunicative. And Joe feels compelled to take care of his dad the way his dad once took care of him.
Girardi said he’s afraid he’ll someday have Alzheimer’s, though experts say it’s no sure thing. Coincidentally or not, one of the more poignant backstage moments of Girardi’s first year as Yankees manager, especially if you know his personal story, is something sportswriters were privy to as they sat working in the press box long after the stadium emptied out.
Night after night down on the deserted field after his own long days of work, Girardi re-emerged still in full uniform and hit ground balls to his only son.