Setting the table for five of my sports heroes is an exciting proposition. Having been a fan my whole life, the most difficult part would be deciding whom to invite. Although tennis and basketball are my favorite sports, I felt that it was important not to neglect those that filled up my autumns and summers. I imagine a circular table, reserving the two seats next to me for those whom I admired most when growing up.
Sitting to my immediate left is no other than the “Splendid Splinter” himself, Ted Williams. This was an easy choice as Williams is not only considered one of baseball’s great hitters, but he is also my namesake. A Boston Red Sox stalwart for 22 years, Williams is also the last Major League Player to have batted over .400. Along with his exceptional baseball career, he had a distinguished military record, serving as a combat pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and Korean War.
“Teddy Ballgame” gets to pass the potatoes to Pete Maravich. The “Pistol” was one of the all time great college basketball players and to this day holds the all-time NCAA scoring title. What set Maravich apart was what he could do with a basketball. One of the first to add personality to the game, his play was often compared to the Harlem Globetrotters. The difference, there were real defenders trying to stop Pete. For me, as a kid, I emulated his trademark floppy socks, but could never come close to resembling his skills.
Maravich gets to pass the gravy behind the back to John McEnroe. Although he had better not spill as the former world number one tennis player is known to have a fiery temper. Johnny Mac was the last of the bad boys of the sport. Unfortunately Mac is remembered most for behavior unbecoming a Wimbledon Champion. To me any boorish behavior is offset by the 7 Grand Slams he won. His mastery of the serve and volley is second to none. Although he retired from the games several years ago, he continues to be the face of tennis. His commentator skills are evident across a span of networks, and he continues to play tennis in the senior’s events.
Mac gets to drop shot the yams to Kenny Stabler. Aah the “Snake”, a Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. I invited Stabler not only because I loved to watch him play, but I also wanted to make certain the dinner was enjoyable. Kenny had a reputation for celebrating life, and did so while making football seem possible for us mere mortals.
The “Snake” gets to throw a short down and out to Ernie DiGregorio. This Providence College basketball legend gets the other seat next to me. I spent countless hours dribbling and shooting a basketball in hopes of being the next “Ernie D”. Listed at 6’0″ I dared to believe he was shorter, and my NBA dreams weren’t just that. He earned “Rookie of the Year” honors with the Buffalo Braves in 1974 and went on to play in the NBA for a total of 5 years. Unfortunately a severe knee injury prevented him from ever achieving the accolades he was destined for.