"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball."
There are some people who simply live and breathe one particular sport. In our family, it was my Grandpa Kowalski and that sport was baseball. He loved it. He played on various community and city teams when he was young and later, when he wasn't working his day job as a plumber, he "worked" as an umpire for Cleveland's softball leagues. I say "worked" because it was never really work to him; he enjoyed it. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he did it for over 50 years. In 1992, he was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Slo-Pitch Hall of Fame. At the time, he was the organization's oldest active umpire. He even had the opportunity to umpire games in six National Tournaments. Below are a few photos of Grandpa either as a player or umpire.
Grandpa spent his entire life in Cleveland, so, of course, he was a fan of the Cleveland Indians. Not exactly the most successful MLB franchise. (Yes, we KNOW.) But from the mid-90s to the early 2000s, we actually had a competitive team - consistently went to the playoffs and even made two World Series appearances. The team's success came at a good time for Grandpa; umpiring had become too physically taxing on him, so he had to give it up, which I'm sure was a difficult thing for him to do. Even though Grandpa maintained his stoicism about most things, the fact that his team was WINNING made him a little more excited than usual. And I think he was happy to see his city once again come to love baseball.
But there was one player on those great Indians teams that he just did not like. To my family members, he will always be known as Jim 'I'd-trade-him-tomorrow' Thome, because that's exactly what my grandfather would say about him. Didn't matter how many home runs he hit or how many All-Star games in played in, or how immensely popular he was among fans - Grandpa wanted him gone. (To Grandpa's credit, he DID strike out a lot.) Jim Thome left the Indians as a free agent in 2002, which is the same year in which Grandpa passed away. Coincidence?