The Home Run race, and a trip to Amish country

The Mick, Levi, And Me

It’s hard to be a kid and have your dreams ripped out of you at such an early age.

I know. It happened to me in the summer of 1961, when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were engaged in a spirited but friendly competition chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record.

I was a huge Mantle fan, so much so that I hoped I would get leukemia so he would visit me in the hospital. I often risked life and limb by sneaking up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, despite repeated warnings from my Mom not to. That all ended one August day, and I blame a vacation trip to Amish country for it.

OK, I didn’t know many Amish people. I had one friend in Brooklyn whose parents took him on a similar visit the previous year. “They’re just like us except they don’t drink, smoke, or curse and they talk funny,” he reported.

He neglected to tell me the one crucial bit of information that made this trip a nightmare: They don’t use electricity.

We spent hours driving there. I was wondering the entire time how The Mick was doing. (No one wanted Maris to break the record.)

We finally got to our cottage. First, I found out I had to share the room with my sister Phyllis, who was one year older than me, but considerably more obnoxious than your average older sister. And then my mom lit two kerosene lamps. It didn’t register at first.

“Hey Mom, where’s the TV?”

“There is no TV, son, just like there were no TVs 200 years ago.”

This made no sense to me. There was no Mickey Mantle either. There were no Playboy magazines, ergo, no nude women. That didn’t mean I shouldn’t look at the copies my big brother hid under his bed.

No radio either. I started feeling very uneasy.

We ate funnel bread. We looked at tools carved by hand and watched a barn raising. “Hey mister, you should use an electric drill,” I offered up in the way of advice. I yelled “Hey Levi” just to see how many heads turned.

We watched them make cheese. “Hey, I hope you washed up first!” I said to the guy with the beard.

We made assorted arts and crafts (Oh boy!) Let’s face it, what could possibly be more fun than a baseball loving kid whiling away the hours making potholders. Hint: how about playing baseball?

After three days, I saw my chance. We were at a cow milking demonstration when I spotted a six-lane highway in the distance, and across the way from that, a gas station with a light on. I felt like a POW waiting for the right moment to make my move. Suddenly I was sprinting down the road as fast as I could while dodging the horse-drawn carts. A truck almost hit me on the superhighway.

I ran into the station and blurted out the truth as I knew it: “I’m
being held against my will by a cult of
religious fanatics!”

“The Amish?” the guy in the gas station asked.

“No, even worse. The Murphys!” I grabbed the guy by the lapels. “I’m begging you man, begging you. How many homers does Mantle have?”

I grabbed the newspaper. Oy! Mantle had blasted one on August 11 and another on August 13. But Maris had also slugged one on the 11th, and two more on the 13th. My parents had picked the worst weekend to go away.

Upon returning home, I became obsessed with the home run race. On Saturdays I would lift a buck from my mother’s pocketbook or dad’s change jar and make the trek from Flatbush to the House That Ruth Built. I would tell my mother, who forbid me from going to the Bronx, that I was going to the schoolyard to play.

One day she came looking for me because she wanted me to clean up before dinner — my dad was bringing his boss home. She ran into my friend’s mom who told her we usually spent Saturdays at the Yankees game. My mother was livid.

She waited until I took my jeans off and removed the beaded belt I had made in yes, Kutztown, PA.

She began to pound it into her other hand. “Didn’t I tell you that you are not allowed to got to the Bronx? Didn’t I?”

Then she got me on my bare thigh with the belt, and then again. It was at this point I emptied an impressive barrage of filthy words, all directed at the Amish. The “foul” language earned me more swats. It wasn’t fair.

In 1985 Harrison Ford, in the movie Witness, goes undercover in Amish country to protect a witness to a killing, played by Kelly McGillis. Of course, he totally corrupted her, broke a couple noses, and killed a guy. He must have thought he was in the Bronx.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com