Government shutdowns, continuing resolutions, Russian investigations and the litany of controversial issues can sometimes overwhelm one. We need a break. I found mine. I went to a cemetery.
Not to just any cemetery did I go, but to the Woodlawn in Toledo. There the graves of the many dearly departed rest on the small hill on the southeast edge of town. To the north, which is the direction the land slopes, is what the local people call “the old part.”
It is certainly well named because there you can find headstones dating from the mid-1860s. I found one, and when I found it I found hope. It reminded me of baseball. In case you haven’t noticed, spring training for all the Major League teams starts in less than two weeks.
Spring training is where every team is still tied for first in their respective divisions. For every fan of every team it means even more. It is the promise of warm spring air, the sound of the crack of the bat colliding with a ball and an outfielder running gracefully under it. Even better, it promises time in a ball park, praying to God the relief pitcher gets the final out and, if he doesn’t, accepting the good Lord probably was distracted.
It is a fundamental rule of life that when you take a seat behind a baseball diamond, all your problems are left in the car.
You see, the headstone I found that mild day in January was of the greatest Iowans ever to wear the uniform of the Chicago Cubs, the second-best team in baseball. The remains of Leonard (King) Cole lie for eternity under the fertile soil of Tama County. He was buried there in 1930, but not before he climbed the highest ladder in his profession.
Cole was born in Toledo on April 15, 1886. He had a normal childhood, graduated from high school and then attended the Leander Clark College, the site of the now closed State Juvenile Home. But in 1908, he decided to try his hand at professional baseball and signed and played with Bay City, Mich. He was spotted by a Cubs scout and started playing for them in 1909.
Cole reached stunning success in 1910. He threw a no-hitter, the first Cub to do so. He won 20 games while losing only four and pitched 8 strong innings in the ball club’s only win in the World Series that fall. His winning percentage was the highest for the Chicago ball club in the entire 20th century.
He was part of history. He played in front of the legendary double play trio of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Although, he did allow a batter’s first double in the Major Leagues. The guy’s name: Babe Ruth.
But then tragedy struck. He was found to have tuberculosis and died at the age of 29. His parents brought his body back to his hometown, and there he remains.
Stephen Kenkel, a fine attorney, showed me around. He says they used to have Cub flags by Cole’s grave, but the wind kept tearing them to tatters. I understand however, a plaque will be placed in his honor at the community park near the water fountain.
If you are Cub fan, I suggest you go to Toledo and visit the grave. Go on Thursday because you can get the best hot roast beef sandwich this side of the Mississippi at the Trojan Inn on main street. In March, the very fine Tama County Historical Society reopens.
The ancient Greeks, those of the era of the Iliad and the Odyssey, believed a brief life lived brilliantly was better than a long one spent in obscurity. That certainly was King Cole.
For the rest of us, take heart. Somewhere in some small town in America is a young person who will be the next with a rocket arm, a great mind or a fine hand for art or writing. We will muddle through the challenges of our time just as did those people residing now in that cemetery on the hill in Toledo did in theirs. Spring will always come again.