Hope
Courage
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Volume V Issue XXXVII

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Seattle Washington USA

 

CATFISH HUNTER TAKES THE MOUND TO STRIKE OUT A.L.S.
by MARKREIMAN

 

picture2Imagine that you are huge movie fan. Come on...just imagine. You know all the movie celebrities, what movies they've been in, and what year each movie came out. You read the movie gossip magazines but don't believe all of it. You've seen the entire AFI (American Film Institute) Top 100 and made your own list that makes much more sense than theirs. You know the name of the sled in Citizen Kane. You named your two goldfish Butch and Sundance.

Now imagine that through some tremendous quirk of fate you get to actually meet Harrison Ford. Face to face. Go to his hometown and eat dinner with him and his wife. Hang out at his home and play the piano in his rec room while he sings along behind you.

But instead, I'm a baseball fan. I got to meet Jim "Catfish" Hunter.

picture2Jimmy Hunter and I both have A.L.S., commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, named after the great New York Yankee Hall Of Famer who died from the disease in 1941.

Gehrig was known as "The Iron Horse" because he played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games, which stood as a record many thought would never be broken. It did stand for 56 years until 1995 when Cal Ripken, Jr. rewrote the record books. Ripken's own streak ended in 1998 after an incredible 2,632 consecutive games.

All that is true.

Jim Hunter was given the nickname "Catfish" by Charlie Finley, then-owner of the Oakland A's. He thought that nickname would be a catchy moniker for a young man from the farmland of North Carolina. He even devised a cute story about Jimmy skipping school to go fishing and coming home with a couple of catfish. That story was about as true as most fish stories are, which is to say "not much". Fact or fiction, the nickname stuck like molasses to the ballplayer.

"Catfish" Hunter went on to pitch a perfect game for the A's in 1968 and won the Cy Young Award in 1974. Five years in a row, from 1971-1975, he won more than 20 games in a single season. His team won the World Series five times. And in 1971, when pitchers in the American League still batted, Hunter went to bat 103 times at hit .350! He could definitely do it all.

Now, if you're in Hertford, North Carolina and mention Catfish, people there think you're talking about Today's Special on the menu at Captain Bob's Restaurant. You see, to his friends and family in the small hometown he grew up in, stayed during his 15 years in The Show, and continues to live just a few miles outside of now, he's just Jimmy Hunter. Always has been, always will be.

On May 8th, Jimmy Hunter stood in front of a crowd of 5,000 at the local high school baseball field and thanked everyone for coming to the 19th Annual Old-Timer's Game. Every year since Hunter retired thousands have come on the Saturday before Mother's Day to eat barbeque and see "Catfish" and a bunch of his major league friends play baseball. The money raised has helped support Perquimins High School programs.

This year the money was raised for a new cause but no one was complaining. This year money from the barbeque lunch, softball and baseball games, and a silent auction went to the newly formed Jim "Catfish" Hunter ALS Foundation.

Newly elected Hall Of Famer George Brett sent a signed jersey. Vince Gill sent an autographed guitar. Dolly Parton sent a pair of sequined boots. Present day Yankee stars Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter sent autographed baseballs and Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, sent down a truckload of Yankee baseball items.

Hunter's former manager in Oakland, Alvin Dark, was on hand for the event and told the crowd that, "He has more courage in his little finger than most people" have in their entire being.

You see, this is a disease that weakens the body's muscles by killing the nerve cells which send brain signals to the voluntary muscles. Sometimes ALS begins by weakening a person's leg muscles, while another person is initially effected in the facial muscles which control eating, chewing, swallowing, and speaking. Ironically, Jimmy Hunter's ALS went straight to his shoulders, arms, and hands: the very muscles which helped make him a household name in the 60's and 70's and a member of baseball's Hall of Fame in 1987.

The cause of ALS as well as its cure have not been discovered yet. Rilutek, the only FDA approved drug for ALS, is just the beginning in medicine's quest for effective treatments. Greater awareness and understanding means more funding. More funding means more research, which in turn increases the chances for finding a cure. That's exactly where the Jim "Catfish" Hunter ALS Foundation comes in.

"I just want to help people who have ALS and I want to help find a cure," Hunter explained. He has always been a man of few words who let his actions do the talking. And now the same characteristics that at one time made "Catfish" the best pitcher in baseball...courage, determination, and a driving sense of purpose...are the same ones he'll use to strike out this different and formidable opponent. He's living with ALS and determined to make a difference for others who are facing the same battle. After looking into those steely blue eyes myself, I saw the determination that hitters who faced him must have seen.

Watch out ALS. Jimmy Hunter is a winner and he's on the mound again, throwing strikes as usual.

MarkreimanMark Reiman is the Editor-In-Chief of Incredible People. You can contact him at mark@IncrediblePeople.com

 

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