By Sam Garfield
May 7, 1959
(Los Angeles) –He sat motionless in his wheelchair as the hands of a former teammate moved him across the infield toward second base. Fans in the field boxes noticed his paralyzed body jostle helplessly as the chair moved over the bumpy grass. But most of the 93,000 people who came to see him tonight saw only a shadow of greatness.
In Brooklyn, he was a fan favorite, one of those beloved Bums from Flatbush. His name will be forever etched with the boys of Ebbets Field– Pee Wee, Duke and Jackie. Roy Campanella, perennial All-Star catcher of the Dodgers, World Series hero, a legend in the Negro National League, fought to hold back tears as Los Angeles fans gave him a three-minute standing ovation on this warm spring evening. These Dodger fans that filled the massive Coliseum for tonight’s exhibition game never saw Campy play ball in their new home. Never saw the way he guarded home plate, rock solid. Never saw his timely hitting and strong arm, an arm that throw out a 57% of the runners who tried to steal on him. But what they did see was a man whose spirit was as alive as the night.
In January of last year, a late night auto accident on an icy Long Island, New York, road left Campy a quadriplegic. His car hit a patch of ice, skidded, slammed into a telephone pole and overturned. Campy fractured a vertebra and suffered spinal cord damage. While his Dodger teammates played their first season in Los Angeles, Campy struggled to regain some type of movement. His hope, he says, is to continue physical therapy so he will eventually be able to use his arms and hands.
Tonight’s exhibition game between the Dodgers and New York Yankees will help Campy pay his medical bills. Dodger officials say the huge gate –largest ever to see a Major League game– could translate into $75,000 for Campy’s medical fund. After the fifth inning, the field lights dimmed and the giant Coliseum suddenly began to glow as the 93,000 fans lighted matches in tribute to Campy. Campy’s voice rang out through the loudspeakers: “This is wonderful. I thank God I’m here, living, to be able to see it.”
His words rang true for everyone.
Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.