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Ted Williams Warms Up for the Yankees

Wherever you go during spring training they talk about the great Ted Williams.

In my dream, I was still in high school. Our football practice field was at Macombs Dam Park in the Bronx. It was across the street from Yankee Stadium.

Suddenly, Ted Williams showed up. Williams was wearing dark-blue cotton sweats. He carried a big canvas bag full of footballs.

I can tell you this fantastic story because Joe Carty was there with me to back it up. "Let's watch," Joe said. "We'll climb to the top of the stands. Williams won't even know we're here." I always did what Joe suggested in those days. He was a natural at getting things done. The week before he had shown me how to sneak into the Columbia-Navy game. As if that weren't enough, Joe found us seats on the 50-yard line, too.

By the time we got to top of the stands, Williams had all the footballs laid out in place.

There were six of them. Clearly, Williams intended to practice place-kicking the footballs through the goal posts.

The first ball was on the 10-yard line. Since the goal posts were on the back of the end zone, that represented a 20-yard kick.

The other balls were spotted on the 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-yard lines. The final ball was on the opposite 40-yard line and was actually 70 yards from the goal.

I held my breath.
Williams had an iron support with him that held the football upright just as though the quarterback were there to hold the ball.

"I say Ted doesn't miss a one," Joe said.
I didn't answer. This was all too astonishing for me. I never even knew that Ted Williams knew or cared anything about football.

Williams spent a few minutes doing stretching exercises. Then he jogged slowly around the quarter-mile track. After that, he started swinging his left leg to warm it up. Of course, I knew he was a left-handed batter, but I never suspected that Williams would kick with his left foot, too.

I couldn't believe this was all going on right in front of us, and that there wasn't a single other person in the stands.

"I've heard about Williams doing this," Joe said, "but I never believed it. He comes down here on the day of the opening in the final series of the year between the Red Sox and Yanks. "He claims that place-kicking gives him the extra body and eye coordination he needs for a crucial series."

Williams had the ball set up on the 10-yard line.
Quickly, he approached and drove it through the uprights. He did it just as easily as he might hit a line drive down the right-field line.

Then, he moved to the 20, 30, 40 and 50 and did the same thing.
Williams paused when he got to the opposite 40-yard line. It was a long way off. I've seen this kick made a few times on the opening kickoff, but only by the greatest place-kickers in the National Football League.

Williams walked around the football. He touched his fingers to his toes. Then, he looked carefully down at the football which was 70 yards from the goal post.

Without further hesitation, he took one step and the ball moved into the air as if shot from a catapult. It went clearly through the center of the uprights with 10 yards to spare.

I remember what happened next so clearly. Williams didn't jump in the air or put his hands to the sky in celebration.

He merely put his left hand up and rubbed his cheeks. It was as if he were deciding whether it was time to shave.

Calmly, Williams walked toward the goal posts to retrieve his footballs.
"Let's go down and talk to him," Joe said.
"Oh, no," I said, "we could never do that." So we sat there and watched while Williams slowly gathered up his footballs. He put them all back in the canvas bag. Then he walked out of the gate on the Jerome Avenue side of Macombs Dam Park and walked right across 161st Street and through the players' gate into Yankee Stadium. The next day, which was a Friday, Ted Williams went four for four against the Yankees.

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Tom Fitzpatrick