What do you get when you pair a legendary deer hunter with a legendary Major League baseball player? A legendary friendship, of course.
This story starts way back in the 1990s when I was the low man on the totem pole here at Deer & Deer Hunting. Those were the days before we had the Internet and cell phones. Imagine that world. It might be hard to believe for you youngsters, but all of our communications were done by landline telephones and typed or hand-written letters. Pretty crazy, huh?
Well, back in those days (gosh, listen to me … I might as well go outside now and start shaking my fist and screaming at the clouds) we did nearly everything by the proverbial book. The code of conduct was strict: Every piece of mail was opened and acted upon in one way, shape or form. Most times, this meant a typewritten reply to each letter we received.
The D&DH Readers Recoil section was a big deal back then, and we received dozens of letters from readers after every issue hit the newsstands. Some folks would write to simply say how much they enjoyed a particular article. Others would fire off letters saying how much they disagreed with an author’s point of view, deer hunting tactics or research conclusions. Still others would send notes that made no sense whatsoever.
One of my tasks back then was to vet the letters — aka: make sure they were from legit readers — not someone hiding behind a pen name. Legit letters got typed up and edited into QuarkXPress files on my then state-of-the-art Power Mac desktop computer. Those digital copies were then filed into a communal folder called “Recoil To Consider.” The suspected phony letters were placed into a filing-cabinet folder my boss had dubbed, “The Idiot File.”
My daily routine back in those days often consisted of early morning phone calls with one of our top contributors, Charles J. Alsheimer, of Bath, N.Y. I had met Charlie years earlier when I came on board as the magazine’s associate editor. We immediately hit it off and quickly learned we had a lot more in common than just a love for whitetails and deer hunting. For example, we were both rabid baseball fans. Charlie was 19 years older than I, and, therefore, had a much different perspective on the Major League game. He grew up as a Yankees fan in the 1950s and ’60s. I was a diehard Brewers fan of the 1970s and ’80s. The teams didn’t matter, though, because we were both simple fans of the game itself.
OK, so I don’t recall the exact year, but I want to say it was probably 1996 when I walked back to my desk with a handful of mail that included one particularly odd envelope. It was one of those smaller personal-sized white envelopes. It was addressed to “Charles Alsheimer, Deer & Deer Hunting.” The handwriting could be described as shaky at best. Inside were several loose-leaf sheets of lined paper with a lengthy note scribbled in blue ink. I could barely read the handwriting, and I must admit I probably stopped trying when I hastily fast forwarded to the second page and glanced at the closing and signature: Sincerely yours, Rocky Colavito.
Despite laughing out loud and nearly spitting coffee all over my computer keyboard, I never told my cubicle mates what was so funny. I simply stood up, walked over to the filing cabinet and stuck the letter into the Idiot File. I mean, c’mon, what are the odds? Besides, a star ballplayer surely wouldn’t handwrite a letter to a deer hunting magazine. It would at least be typed, I figured.
Weeks turned into months, and I pretty much forgot about that letter. In fact, it was probably two years later when I found myself heading back to my desk with another handful of D&DH mail when, whoa, déjà vu. There in my hand is another small white envelope. Same handwriting. Same blue ink. No way. Couldn’t be.
Without opening the letter, I sat down and immediately dialed a phone number that I still have memorized to this day.
“Hello … Alsheimers,” a familiar voice said.
“Hello, sir!” I replied. “How’s it going today?”
“It’s a beautiful day in western New York!” he replied, as he always did.
We exchanged a few more niceties, when I couldn’t help but abruptly interrupt my friend with a baseball question.
“You know remember Rocky Colavito of Indians and Tigers fame, don’t you?” I asked.
“Certainly!” Charlie replied. “First time in history that a home run champ was traded for a batting champ (Harvey Kuehn),” he added, referring to the infamous 1960 blockbuster deal between Cleveland and Detroit.
“Is he still around?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely. I’ve heard that he is a big-time deer hunter, too,” he replied.
“Um, you don’t know where he lives, do you?” I asked.
“Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I believe,” he said.
By now, I’ve got cold chills going up and down my spine.
“Yep, that sounds about right,” he said. After profusely apologizing for sitting — for 2 years — on a letter addressed to him from a bona fide MLB superstar, I stuck both of those handwritten letters in a larger envelope and shipped them First Class to Bath, N.Y.
What Charlie did next is nothing short of amazing. He contacted Colavito, and the two struck up a friendship so strong that it lead to Charlie attending Rocky’s induction into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame ceremony years later.
Man, I’m sure happy I didn’t file that second letter into oblivion.