CATCH­ING HIS SPIRIT

Pi­o­neer­ing Dodger Roy Cam­panella draws up a chair, fig­u­ra­tively, at the sta­dium

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - BILL PLASCHKE

Tucked be­hind flow­ing pink bougainvil­lea and thick green shrubs, the Wood­land Hills home qui­etly masks the force of na­ture that once lived in­side.

The wide doors are in def­er­ence to his wheel­chair. The bars on the win­dow are sym­bolic of his fight.

Sit­ting peace­fully on a bookshelf in the din­ing room is a gold urn con­tain­ing his ashes. Typ­i­cally, per­fectly, the top and bot­tom of the con­tainer are wrapped in mask­ing tape.

Roy Cam­panella, Lord knows, would do any­thing to hold him­self to­gether.

It is a les­son that could be learned to­day by the crum­bling Dodgers play­ers and their un­steady owner. It is a les­son that will be ap­pro­pri­ately de­liv­ered Thurs­day night when, amid one of the most tu­mul­tuous times in its his­tory, the fran­chise will of­fi­cially re­con­nect with its tough­est man ever.

The Dodgers are bring­ing Campy back, and good for them. In a Dodger Sta­dium cer­e­mony be­fore their game with the San Diego Padres, they will make two con­tri­bu­tions to the Roy and Roxie Cam­panella Phys­i­cal Ther­apy Schol­ar­ship En­dow­ment at Cal State Northridge. They will do­nate money to the fund, and a sea­sonal in­tern­ship in their med­i­cal depart­ment for a stu­dent from Northridge’s renowned phys­i­cal ther­apy depart­ment.

Joni Cam­panella Roan, his

daugh­ter, is ex­pected to be on the field to ac­cept the gifts. She will be joined by a most stir­ring bit of Dodgers mem­o­ra­bilia, her fa­ther’s empty wheel­chair. For one night, Campy will be back in front of a crowd he moved with­out mov­ing, in a house that he helped build even though he never played an in­ning there.

This is all good, be­cause, let’s face it, of the three an­cient Dodgers African Amer­i­can pi­o­neers, Cam­panella is the one who has drifted fur­thest away.

Jackie Robin­son’s num­ber hangs in ev­ery ma­jor league sta­dium in the coun­try. Don New­combe can be found stand­ing be­hind the bat­ting cage dur­ing ev­ery Dodgers home­s­tand of the sum­mer.

Campy? He died in 1993, his de­voted wife Roxie died in 2004, his best mem­o­ra­bilia has been sold in an auc­tion, and his foun­da­tion no longer ex­ists.

He has sev­eral chil­dren and grand­chil­dren liv­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, but there are no base­ball con­nec­tions here, and it’s been 53 years since he last caught a pitch, and, well, when is the last time you heard some­body men­tion his name?

“It’s so im­por­tant that he doesn’t get lost in his­tory,” said his daugh­ter Joni. “His role is so sig­nif­i­cant in so many ways.”

Paint­ings on the wall

Roan lives in the only re­main­ing mon­u­ment to Cam­panella, the house where he lived af­ter mov­ing here from New York in 1978, a place where he put bars on the win­dows to ward off in­trud­ers who would take ad­van­tage of his in­abil­ity to move. There are a cou­ple of Cam­panella paint­ings on the wall, but since Roxie in­ex­pli­ca­bly de­cided to sell his mem­o­ra­bilia be­fore her death, there are only a few Campy trin­kets in the tro­phy case.

His MVP tro­phies are gone. His 1955 World Se­ries ring is gone.

“There’s not much here any­more,” Roan said, shak­ing her head. “My mother wanted to give Roy’s things to his fans, and I know Pops would have sup­ported it, but now, well, I’m torn.”

Her car dis­plays Cam­panella’s Cal­i­for­nia li­cense plate — Roy 39 — and oc­ca­sion­ally it draws a few honks. But mostly it’s quiet here, Roxie’s ashes sit­ting in an urn next to Campy’s, a fam­ily mov­ing for­ward with only the mem­o­ries.

“He has a legacy some­where out there,” said Roan. “I’m just thrilled when peo­ple em­brace it.”

It is a legacy in mo­tion, and legacy in still­ness. It is two lega­cies re­ally, both born of two dif­fi­cult paths. He was one of base­ball’s first African Amer­i­cans, and he was one of so­ci­ety’s most cel­e­brated quadriplegics.

As a base­ball player, he was a three-time MVP whose play was over­shad­owed by his off-the-field work as a men­tor for Robin­son.

‘“Jack would blow his top, and Campy would calm him down, and then calm me down,” said New­combe. “We were all go­ing through so much back then, we needed Campy as our sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence.”

Af­ter los­ing all feel­ing be­low his neck as a re­sult of an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent in Jan­uary 1958, Cam­panella be­came that same strong in­flu­ence from his wheel­chair. Even though he was in­jured just months be­fore the team moved from Brook­lyn to Los An­ge­les, Campy in­stantly be­came a Los An­ge­les Dodgers hero, as ev­i­denced by the night in 1959 when more than 90,000 fans lighted up the Coli­seum with matches and cig­a­rette lighters in his honor.

The teacher

That scene made for one of the most fa­mous pho­to­graphs in Dodgers his­tory. But ul­ti­mately more com­pelling were the snap­shots of Campy sit­ting be­hind a back­stop work­ing with Dodgers catch­ers, teach­ing them to stand strong even though he could not do the same.

Steve Yea­ger, Mike Scios­cia and Mike Pi­azza all credit their devel­op­ment to Cam­panella, who lived for 35 years in a wheel­chair with a pres­ence that greatly af­fected those who never saw him catch.

“The one per­son who had ev­ery rea­son to give up, he never gave up,” said Mark Langill, Dodgers his­to­rian. “His im­pact on this fran­chise was huge.”

There prob­a­bly won’t be any matches or cig­a­rette lighters be­ing waved at Dodger Sta­dium Thurs­day night, but here’s hop­ing for huge cheers for the sta­tion­ary hero who moved moun­tains. Here’s hop­ing they give Roy Cam­panella a nice, warm sit­ting ova­tion.

Brian van der Brug

FAM­ILY: Joni Cam­panella Roan with a por­trait of her fa­ther, Roy Cam­panella, in Wood­land Hills. “He has a legacy some­where out there,” she says. “I’m just thrilled when peo­ple em­brace it.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.