By Corky Carroll
After years and years of toiling away at my autobiography I have, at last, just about finished it. I sort of thought I had it done, but then remembered that I forgot to put in the story about the night I got a batting lesson from the great Joe “Joltin Joe” DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper himself. I wrote about this a zillion years back, I think I did anyway, but thought it would be fun to revisit it as people always like this little tale. And I can use this for that part in the book and kill two birds with one bazooka. OK, calm down….. no birds were killed or hurt in the writing of this column, you gotta watch what you say these days.
During the years between my retirement from the pro surfing circuit in 1972 and the late 1990’s, when I damaged my Achilles tendon, I spent an enormous amount of time playing tennis. I worked my way up in classifications and eventually became a teaching pro. One of my favorite things in my tennis career was that I was invited to play in many “celebrity” tournaments for charities all around the country. It was at one of these events, in the friendly town of Billings, Montana, that this little interaction took place.
This particular event involved both a tennis and golf tournament and included a huge list of celebrities invited. On the Friday night before the tennis and golf events started they held a big softball game between the “Hollywood All Stars” and the local softball team. I thought it was gonna just be a little fun event, but noooo. Turns out they sold out a 10,000 seat minor league baseball stadium for this, and it was on local television. I see this and am thinking, seeing as how there are dozens of bigger names here for this than me, I doubt I will have to play. So, I am sitting in the dugout, trying to look invisible, when Rod Dedeaux comes rolling in. Rod was the baseball coach at U.S.C. for years and was also my neighbor when I was growing up in Surfside. He is coaching the Hollywood All Stars. He sees me and goes, “Coorrrky, I heard you were here. Great, you will be my leadoff hitter.”
Oh no, this is not good. I am watching this dude warming up on the mound tossing up these 14’ to 16’ foot high pitches that are twisting and doing all this stuff and landing right on the plate every time, it was THAT kind of softball. I go into semi panic mode and am thinking of how bad it would look if I boogied on outta there right then. But, as fate would have it, in strolls Joe DiMaggio. Mr. Coffee himself, right there in front me. So, I seized the opportunity and innocently say, “Hey Joe, I need your help. I am just a dumb surfer/tennis player and I have never seen, nor tried to hit, a pitch like that. How do you hit that?”
On that note the entire dugout does an “E.F. Hutton,” and stops dead. Everybody is waiting to hear what Joe has to say. And there were some huge sports guys in there such as Ahmad Rashad, Kenny Anderson and Rick Berry. Joe pauses and looks down at me sitting there, considering his words carefully. And very direct and sincerely he says, “Corky, I am gonna tell you how to hit that pitch. But I am going to tell you this one time and one time only, so listen carefully.” I am listening super carefully and so is everybody else in there, I can’t believe I am actually getting a batting tip from Joe DiMaggio. This would be like some kuk from Pasadena getting a surf tip from Duke Kahanamoku.
After a short pause, for effect I think, he slowly and firmly tells me, “KEEP…YOUR EYE….ON…..THE BALL!”
Oh yeah, of course. It had to be that. I would tell people that all day long when giving them tennis lessons. “Keep your eye on the ball, relax, bend your knees and follow through.” The grail. Everybody kinda gives an “oh yeah,” and goes back to doing what they were doing.
When they were announcing me as leading off for the Hollywood All Stars I was shaking and sweating bullets. The pitcher, who had a handlebar mustache and looked amazingly like Rollie Fingers, was confidently sizing me up. This was worse than close out sets on a giant day at Waimea Bay.
I went up and swung as hard as I could at the first pitch, closing my eyes in the process, resulting in a zillion foot high pop up to the pitcher. When I came back in the dugout Joe says, “Well, you hit it.”