We have a German shepherd mix (the mix probably something like greyhound — see what you think here) who has gone from young and fleet to acting like an old guy remarkably fast — it might be one of the fastest trips through middle age ever made.
We think his younger packmate, Edie, clipped him from the side. They used to play like dogfighting WWI pilots chasing each other, rough and tumbling, and last winter he came up lame. Lots of vet visits, acupuncture, and a couple hundred glucosamine, rimadyl, and MSM pills later, his left hind leg is better but in compensating for the injury he’s tweaked his right hind leg, too — the bottom line is our not-really-yet-so-old boy rarely even gallops any more, let alone runs as he did half a year ago.
But he’s still the same, personality-wise. An anxious dog, prone to separation anxiety, he was left at animal shelters three times in his first year of life. While Edie is our carefree spirit, ever spontaneous, Ernie watches us closely and is attune to numerous clues he uses to figure out what’s likely to happen next. (E.g., he knows the different uses for my various shoes.)
During our walks now Edie romps up ahead, blithely alert to likely spots for jackrabbits and squirrels, sniffing the rip-rap along the shore for the spots where ground squirrels hide. Ernie trails behind, often caught up in sniffing, then follows, eyes locked on me whenever I turn to check. His bum knee makes me think of a childhood hero of mine.
* * * * *
Before his career was ruined by a knee injury, Tony Oliva was one of the very best hitters in baseball, from 1964 to ’71. He won three batting titles, lead the American League in doubles four times, and five times led the league with most hits. He was a rookie of the year, won a gold glove, and placed second in the MVP voting twice. He led the league in runs (’64), and in slugging (’71), and in runs created twice (’64 & ’65), and extra basehits (’64).
Oliva’s 374 total bases in 1964 was the most any hitter in baseball would get over 15 years between 1962 (Willie Mays, 382) and 1977 (George Foster, 388, Jim Rice, 382).
His given name was Pedro, and even by Cuban standards of the 1950s his family was very, very poor. So he had to overcome a lot of adversity to get noticed, eventually (the story goes) using his brother’s passport to get to America just before the Cuban Revolution closed the door, and he could no longer travel home and back. He became a major league ballplayer, but was often homesick and lonely in the process.
Pedro “Tony” Oliva is still the only player ever to win a batting title his first two years in the league, and he went to the All-Star game annually in his first eight years. Then he went down with a serious knee injury. This was just before arthroscopic surgery, which might have salvaged his knee and given him the kind of long career, 15 years or more, that his talent merited.
He was never the same, and sometimes I think of Tony now when I turn and see Ernie, remembering our boy’s flat-out sprint, his love of running just to be running, and how he is now, uncomplaining, and trotting along as best he can.
* * * * *
I used to take Ernie wth me on bike rides, so fleet he’d lope along next to me. He loved the places where we’d race during our long rides around the naval air station. Eyes bright, tongue hanging out and panting hard, he’d watch me with a look that said, “that was great! Let me catch my breath and let’s do it again!”
So Tony O’s talent and Ernie’s speed: they both got past some adversity to have good yet too-brief runs in their youth. But with each there’s a bit of sadness for me. Bittersweet that serious knee injuries cut short their prime years — but none of us are promised even as much as these two once enjoyed, are we?