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Lurking in the Grass

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 12:08

Playing Major League Baseball might have been my dream come true. Or my death sentence.

My tryout for the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium was surreal. Walking through the visitors’ clubhouse was dreamlike, and sitting in the Yankees’ dugout took my breath away, but most euphoric and shocking was shagging flies in centerfield alongside Richie from Brooklyn, when I bent over to pick up a major-league line drive that shot past me and was hypnotized by a pristine, free-of-weeds field.

“This grass is perfect,” I shouted to Richie. “Not a weed anywhere.”

“Pesticides, my friend. Huge doses of pesticides!” Richie yelled back.

“No way!” I returned the shout.

“Yes way,” he continued. “My dad’s a landscaper in Bay Ridge, and if it wasn’t for pesticides and perfect lawns, his clients, very important clients, wouldn’t be too happy, if you get my drift.”

I got his drift.

Fast-forward to Oct. 26, 2018, and the Dewayne Lee Johnson v. Monsanto case that awarded Johnson $78.5 million in damages, reduced from an original award of $289 million, for the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he developed when he worked as a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area and sprayed Monsanto herbicides on school properties from 2012 to 2015 in order to keep the grass weed-free.

To date, 8,000 lawsuits against Monsanto and Roundup are pending.

This October marks the 50th anniversary of the amazing moment when the New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in five games to become the winner of the World Series. The year was 1969, a year when the Vietnam War (and Agent Orange) was in full session and the Beatles broke up.

Early this year, while 1969 New York Mets reunions kicked into full gear, a sad announcement rocked our world: Tom Terrific Seaver, starting star pitcher of the ’69 Mets, would not join any of the reunions because of his developing dementia, leaving some of us with a void, akin to watching “Three’s Company” without Suzanne Somers as Chrissy Snow.

Wondering how many of the 35 rostered 1969 New York Mets, and other well-known players, would not be making this year’s celebrations, or have afflictions similar to Tom Terrific’s, I was astounded by the information I found, namely the players who share a fate possibly caused by the grass they frolicked in:

Bud Harrelson, the ’69 Mets All-Star shortstop, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 72.

Don Cardwell, a relief pitcher for the team, was diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a form of dementia.

Cal Koonce, another pitcher for the team, developed lymphoma at age 52.

Tug McGraw, relief pitcher and father of the singer Tim McGraw, died of a brain tumor at 59.

Jeff McKnight, utility player, died of leukemia at 52.

Ron Darling, pitcher, diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Marv Throneberry, first baseman, died of cancer at 60.

Gary Carter, catcher of a more recent New York Mets team, died of a brain tumor at 57.

Donn Clendenon, All-Star first baseman, died of leukemia at 70.

Anthony Young, pitcher of the latter-year Mets, died of a brain tumor at 51.

Rube Walker, pitching coach, died of lung cancer at 66.

Ken Boyer played third base for an earlier Mets team and died at 51 of cancer.

And a handful of New York Yankees: Scott Sanderson, pitcher, died of cancer at 62. Jim Bouton, pitcher, died of dementia at 80. Roger Maris, outfielder, died at 51, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Mel Stottlemyre, pitcher, died at 77 of bone marrow cancer.

And Bobby Murcer, All-Star outfielder for the Yankees, died at age 62 of a brain tumor.

As scientists continue to research and debate the effects of pesticides on humans, I’m ardent in my belief they’re bad news for the environment, the water, and our bodies.

For the last 30 years, I’ve owned a home in Levittown, raising four Amazin’ children — my son Anthony lives there, attends college, and works full time — and for all those 30 years I’ve never sprayed or applied an ounce of pesticide. A management company in Bethpage has watched over it since we moved to Springs 12 years ago, and for all those 12 years I’ve fervently reminded them every month of my biggest demand: “If you ever use pesticides on my property, that’s the last day you manage my property.”

My front and back lawns in Levittown and Springs are filled with colorful, edible dandelions, and I couldn’t care less.

Nor should you. 

Frank Vespe is a regular contributor to the “Guestwords” column.


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