As the 2021 Arizona Cardinals are participating in OTAs, it breaks my heart to know that for the first time in 18 years, you are not there playing your tail off and coming up from behind to tackle some of your beloved teammates.
Everything about you not being there — doesn’t feel right.
Please, Larry Fitzgerald: “do not go gentle into that good night.” (Dylan Thomas)
I don’t know if you will ever read this letter —- I am using the only platform I have to try to reach out to you. But, I cannot sit still while facing the reality that the singularly most important Arizona Cardinal of my lifetime fandom is not with the team at the present time..
I know that last season was extremely difficult for you, the worst of which was you having the misfortune of contracting COVID-19. Not only did you have to suffer through the scary realities of the disease and its damaging effects, you had to face the fact that there were players on last year’s team whom you did not see eye to eye with —- which perhaps made returning to the team after the worst health scare of your life all the more difficult.
Ever since the Cardinals’ locker room was cleared out following the team’s disappointing season-ending loss in LA, your millions of fans, myself included, have been waiting and hoping to hear that you are returning to the Cardinals for another run for the roses.
The wait for us, by now, Larry, has been excruciating.
We know that you have often said that you would prefer to retire as quietly as possible —- but these months of you being quiet have been painful for your fans, not to mention the many teammates who would be elated and honored to play with you another year.
Was your extraordinary career supposed to end like this, Larry?
Which is why I feel compelled to share with you an experience I had when i knew my baseball career was near its end.
On the grand scale of things, I cannot pretend that my situation is comparable to yours.
But what I think I may have had a little in common with you was my life-long love for the game, for the camaraderie of my teammates, for the dreams of winning championships and for dreading the thought of seeing it all come to an end.
Plus, inevitably in life there are always some obstacles and people who get in the way of dreams. My story has a little something to do with all of this.
My childhood dream was to pitch for my hometown high school, the Greenwich CT Cardinals. (I was a little older than Steve Young, but played in the summers against his older brother).
Unfortunately, my parents thought it was in my best interest to go to a private boarding school. While I tired everything I could to dissuade them, they wouldn’t budge.
After pitching for four years at Canterbury School in New Milford CT, I was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and then turned down an acceptance at Georgetown to go play baseball at Rollins College.
I had an amazing experience playing at Rollins for their legendary head coach Boyd Coffie and being a fellow freshman with John Castino (American League Rookie of the Year in 1979), but a feeling of helplessness came over me when I learned that back home in CT my parents were getting a divorce.
I left Rollins in February of 1974 mere days after having the thrill of playing against the Minnesota Twins in an exhibition game at Tinker Field in Orlando.
But, my dad, who was a NYC publishing VP at Dell Books, had been fired at the age of 50 at a time when businesses were firing employees at 50 so that they wouldn’t have to pay their pensions. Dad subsequently landed an executive position with a smaller publishing company, but the company picked his brains and fired him six moths into the job.
That was the beginning of the end for my dad who became so depressed that he left home, leaving my mom and two sisters having to try to sell our house. I left Florida to be there with them and for them.
After working for the Greenwich Times for several months, I was accepted at Boston College, which was close enough for me to be able to come home any time I was needed. By then we had moved out of our house and into a much more affordable condominium. My mom had secured a full-time job as my sisters were on the verge of heading off to college themselves.
At BC, my best friend Keith and I tried out for the baseball team. Our big chance came in a scrimmage versus Tufts. Keith started at shortstop; he made two great plays in the field and went 2 for 3, with an RBI. I started on the mound and gave up 0 hits while striking out 6 in 3 innings. Keith and I were so excited to think we had made the team that we went and shaved out heads that night.
The next afternoon we checked the cut list on the bulletin board in the baseball locker room and much to our disbelief and dismay, both Keith and I had been cut.
I knocked on the coach’s door and asked to speak with him. His name was Ernie Pelligrini, a former star of the Red Sox. When I asked him why I had been cut, at first he thought I was a third baseman, but I reminded him that I was the starting pitcher in the scrimmage —- to which he said, “Oh yeah, yeah, well we play in the Big East Conference and we didn’t feel that you have enough velocity on your fastball to be effective in our league.”
“That’s funny,” I said. “Because when I played at Rollins the coach said he liked my fastball.”
“You played at Rollins? For Boyd Coffie?”
“Yes, as a freshman until I had to leave because of my parents’ divorce.”
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“These were tryouts and I wanted to come in and make it on my own,” I said.
“Well, then,” he said, “we make mistakes sometime —- you see —- we have such a short time to get ready to play our games that tryouts are pretty much a formality. We already had our team picked out.”
“Why don’t you tell that to my best friend Keith who went 2 for 3 yesterday, and he’s out in the bleachers right now crying his eyes out.”
“Listen, come on back today and I will take another good look at you on the mound,” Coach Pelligrini suggested. ”Like i said, we make mistakes sometimes.”
I went out and told Keith that I had just basically talked my way back onto the team and that he should try to do the same. Keith was too upset to even consider it.
Thus, I went back to the locker room and started to put on my practice jersey when I was approached by a trio of players, all of whom were also BC hockey players. They said, “What are you doing here? Your f’n ass was cut.”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as they say. I packed up my stuff and left.
In a way it might have been a blessing because I was already working 35-40 hours a week waiting tables so that I could pay for my room and board. I had taken out hefty loans on my college tuition.
But, Keith and I kept working out because both of us planned to play baseball that summer —- and then I got a phone call from a childhood friend and fellow pitcher who invited me to come play for the Greenwich team in the semi-pro Stamford Twilight League that Bobby Valentine has made somewhat famous in CT.
Finally, my lifelong dream of pitching with Greenwich on my my jersey —- the letters shining in all of their glorious red splendor —- was about to come true!
The star player on the team was one of my childhood friends, Tim Teufel, who was back from playing at Clemson and a mere year away from being drafted by the Mets. Timmy’s dad was our coach.
Coach T, as we called him, pitched me in the first game. We won 11-7 and I wasn’t very sharp, but it didn't matter because we won. But the most amazing thing was —- as I was warming up on the mound I looked over and saw my dad sitting in the stands along the third base line.
I hadn’t seen my dad —- no one really knew where he was —- but he had somehow found out that I was playing —- and god bless my dad, I don’t think he ever missed a game of mine.
After the game we had a very emotional talk in the parking lot. Dad said he was living with my aunt temporarily and that he was still looking for publishing jobs.
The next game that I pitched, we lost 6-4 and again I wasn’t very sharp.
But my third start was my best and with the score tied 3-3 late in the game with two out and the bases loaded, I induced a ground ball right to Tim Teufel at shortstop, but the ball somehow got through his legs and we lost the game 5-3.
Then —- Coach T wasn’t pitching me anymore.
I went to every game and cheered on my friends, just as my dad was doing from the stands. Finally i struck up the nerve to ask Coach T if he was going to pitch me again, He said, “Yes, Mitch, you are starting the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday.” Man —- I raced over to tell my dad and we both rejoiced.
As I was warming up on the sidelines for the second game of the doubleheader, a white Trans Am pulled up and out popped Junior Carino, one of the town stars of the high school days. We all rushed over to him. Timmy asked him if he wanted to play.
“Yeah I have my glove and cleats in the car,” Junior said.
“Here’s a uniform,” Coach T said, handing it to him. “Is your arm in shape?”
“You bet Mr, T.”
“Good, you can pitch,” Coach T said.
Now, I always loved Coach T and I still do, but he never said a word to me and he didn't chase after me when I ripped my Greenwich jersey off, threw it in a trashcan and started bolting to my car.
And just as I was within ten feet of my car, my dad came seemingly out of nowhere and stopped me in my tracks.
Dad had pretty much figured out what had happened. Junior Carino hadn’t played one inning for us all year and I had been there every game.
“Listen,” dad said. “You have very reason in the world to quit, but do yourself a favor. Swallow your pride, go back and put your jersey on, stick this one out and go to ONE MORE GAME.”
“Dad, the next game is Monday night at Wilton, the 1st place team, and our ace Dee Dee Pasquerelli is pitching.”
“I know,” he said. “But go to one more game anyway. If you don’t play in that game then by all means you might want to quit. You love this game and your pals on that team too much to walk away this instant. Go ahead, pal. Go and put that jersey back on.”
For his sake probably more than my own, I did just as my dad suggested.
Up at Wilton Monday evening word came through that Dee Dee Pasquerelli, who had never missed a baseball game in his life, was held up because of an emergency at work and that he wouldn’t be able to make the game.
‘You’re pitching, Mitch,” Coach T said.
With my dad sitting in a folding chair a few yards from the third base line, I was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning (weekday evening games were 7 innings) with 2 outs and the bases loaded. Wilton’s league leading hitter was coming to the plate.
Coach T came out to the mound to remind everyone that we had a force at every base. He asked me if I could dig down and get one more out. He said, “No matter what, you just pitched your way back into the rotation tonight.”
Hooray —- seemingly by an act of God, i induced a ground ball right to Timmy Teufel who flipped it over to second base and the final score was Greenwich 2 Wilton 1. We were now 2 games behind them for 1st place.
The next Saturday I pitched the second game of the doubleheader and we won 11-0 over Westport. It was the only no-hitter I ever threw in my life.
A week later in the first round of the playoffs, Coach T started me. We won 1-0 over Stamford. I pitched the first seven and Dee Dee Pasquerelli closed out the last two innings.
Two nights later we lost to Wilton in the semi-finals and the season (and my baseball career) was over.
I cherish those final days...even more so now knowing how close it brought me back to my dad and to my childhood pals and dreams...and how I had learned the most important lesson in my life —- if you love something or someone so much but harrowing obstacles are getting in the way —- gather up every bit of gumption you have and go to ONE MORE GAME.
Larry —- obviously few people know what you’ve been thinking these days. If you feel it’s time to retire, then only you know best.
But if not —- how about going to one more game?
The Cardinals stand a better chance of getting to the playoffs this year with you on the team.
Larry — just as your number 11 suggests, come 1/1 whenever the Cardinals have been in the playoffs you have been the NFL’s version of “Mr. January”. Oh and by virtue of your one stellar game in February, we might as well call you “Mr. February” as well.
There is a stanza from Dylan Thomas’ poem: “Don not go gentle into that good night...” that might apply to you:
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
What this stanza suggests is that despite the throes of time and fate, wise men are motivated to press onward because of some important unfinished work.
While your brilliant career speaks for itself Larry, you are still not in possession of the Holy Grail of your profession —- the Lombardi Trophy.
Therefore, Larry, please for your sake and others’, “rage rage against the dying of light.”
For the obvious reasons and for this reason —-
And you, my captain, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
One more game, Larry? What do you say?
It is quite possible that the most fitting and rewarding final chapter of your career has yet to be written.
But, of course, there is only one way to find out —-
Your forever fan,
Walter B.J. Mitchell