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Midre Cummings, Man of Mystery

August 10th, 2008

August 10, 2008 — I found an interesting bio on Midre Cummings the other day, which reminded me of my own encounter with the man from St. Croix nearly a decade ago. Midre arrived in Salt Lake in early June of 1999 after being released by the Boston Red Sox.

Salt Lake Buzz Manager Phil Roof was our highly respected and rather conservative skipper. He frequently commented that his job was to teach these young men how to be professional ballplayers. Longtime broadcaster Steve Klauke occasionally noted that Phil seemed to place particular emphasis on the “professional” part, with rules such as athletes being required to show up 10 minutes early for interviews and take turns sitting at the pre-game player autograph table. He was old-school, and believed players should interact with fans. A former catcher who’d logged in 15 years in the major leagues, Phil would sign autographs and graciously chat with fans prior to every game.

Funny thing was, Midre seemed to have been granted an exemption from this policy. He shied away from signing before games. If a youngster managed to catch him alone, he would usually stop; however, he clearly wanted nothing to do with the adult autograph hounds seeking his signature on the Pirates and Red Sox cards they brought by the handfuls. It got to be a battle of wills between the fans and Midre.

A few went so far as to complain to Phil one day, “Hey, Phil, that Midre Cummings never comes over and signs anything. What’s up with THAT?”

I watched, wondering what Phil’s response would be. Phil looked the complainer right in the eye and said, “He’s a good kid. And he’s a good ballplayer.” Then he smiled and that was the end of that conversation. I was intrigued.

People started booing when Midre struck out, their feelings bruised by his insistence in staying as far away from us as possible. They cursed him, in English and French. As the summer wore on, his hitting heated up. By July, he was helping the Buzz through a long winning streak and getting serious notice throughout the league. Knowing how time and a plus-300 BA tends to heal all wounds, I was curious to see what would happen if he kept at it after the All-Star Break.

And then in late July Midre disappeared. I mean literally. For two weeks, Midre was on the roster without appearing in the lineup or dugout. Finally, around the second week of his mysterious absence, Steve mentioned on the radio that Midre had to take care of some family matters. Unless you were listening to that particular broadcast, you wouldn’t have known even that much. Then just as suddenly, Midre was back. Unfortunately, he had lost his groove. People were booing louder.

In the meantime, it soon became apparent that the Buzz were in a playoff race for the PCL title. The booing lessened as people started to rally behind the team in anticipation of the 5-game showdown with the Vancouver Canadians. The PCL Championship series was a thrill-a-minute, screaming ride all the way. The Buzz started the series by going 0-2 at home, tied the series 2-2 on the road, and came home for the deciding Game #5. We went into the 9th inning with a two-run lead and, . . .blew it.

Our season was over. Everyone in the ballpark sat in stunned silence and disappointment. A couple of players stood in the dugout, looking over the field for a very long time before they disappeared into the tunnel. Quite a few fans, including yours truly lingered as well. I perched on the wall next to the field, listening to the postgame “lowlights” show and feeling like a bride who’d been left waiting at the altar for 3-1/2 hours and then dumped.

A player walked up behind me and handed me a bat, “This is for you, because you are the ultimate fan. It’s for you.”

I jerked my head up to find myself staring (and undoubtedly with mouth attractively agape) at the least approachable player on the entire team. Midre Cummings. The player who wouldn’t sign for fans. The player who hid in the dugout until the last possible moment and then sprinted out onto the field while avoiding all eye contact.

I barely managed to stammer out, “Um, . . .thank you.”

He reached out, shook my hand and walked away. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Midre got his MLB call-up that evening. I looked down at my gift. The heavy black-lacquered bat had been well used, heavy with pine tar on the grip, ballmarks on the barrel and large crack along the handle. I turned it over and read the custom engraving, “Geniune C271, Midre Cummings, Boston Red Sox.”

Disappointment was replaced by confusion. Why the h*ll would a ballplayer go to the extra effort of making a connection with a complete stranger; a person with whom he has never exchanged a single word prior to this one and only moment? I went home and started digging through the Internet. Sadly, I didn’t save any of the stories or else I’d link to copies. (Who knew I’d be blogging about it nine years later? Did we even have weblogs back then?) Here’s what I found. After the Red Sox released him on the last day of March, Midre had trouble finding a team to pick him up. He finally found a place with the Twins, providing, he was willing to sign a minor league contract with their Double-A team and earn his way back up to the parent club.

OK, nothing special there, except it made his sudden disappearance in the midst of a white-hot batting streak all the more puzzling.

Then I discovered the real shocker. In 1999, a minor flu epidemic swept across parts of Florida. Midre’s wife and two boys, who were only one and two years old, had been stricken with the bug so badly they had to be hospitalized. Midre asked the Twins for permission to return to Florida, where he stayed until his family was released from the hospital.

OK, so now I understood the full measure of the man. The prima donna, when faced with the choice between a shot at making the big leagues and taking care of his family, went home. The jock who was too good for us bush-league fans, noticed a woman who never asked for autographs, cheered his successes and “ignored” his failures.

The very next morning I found a FedEx office and overnighted a card to the Minnesota clubhouse, thanking Midre for the incredible gift and wishing him all the success in the world as a ballplayer, husband and father. Two years later, pinch running for catcher Damian Miller, Midre scored the tying run for the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game #7 of the 2001 World Series, which Arizona eventually won. It doesn’t happen often enough, nonetheless it is comforting to know that nice guys (and gals) do finish first.

Bye for now!

Entry Filed under: Cedar Rapids Kernels,Game of Life,Major League Baseball,Minor Leagues,Olympic Games,Orem Owlz,Rancho Cucamoga Quakes,Salt Lake Buzz

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. VIBaseball  |  September 21st, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I never knew that story about Midre and the flu epidemic, even though he and I have kept in touch. Thanks…it’s very much in keeping with the person I know. He is now coaching baseball for boys at home in Florida. He has always been very fond of children.

  • 2. BeesGal  |  September 21st, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Hi Rory and thank you so much for sharing the update!

    As I’ve written before, I don’t agree with the notion that fans are entitled to a player’s autograph. A privilege, a shared moment. Sure, but hardly an obligation. At any rate, my memories of Midre as a ballplayer were he worked hard and got along in the dugout. If Phil gave him the seal of approval he must have been ‘doing his job right,’ which is all we should expect from our price of admission.

    Most importantly, thanks for posting the column on Midre at your website on Baseball in the Virgin Islands, which helped remind/inspire me to post my own tale. For those readers who have not perused Rory’s site, I really recommend you embark on this interesting tour of Caribbean baseball.

    Seems as though the MLB is fast-becoming a showcase for international talent, much more so than the other U.S. “big-leagues,” namely NBA and NFL. [The NHL already is well-stocked globally, much to the dismay of Don Cherry.] Baseball has taken root in so many countries and when it returns, it’s fun to note how our ‘national pastime” has become infused with new, international flavors.

    Hispano/Latino players, along with their dreadlocks and cries of “¡Adelante!”, now constitute the majority of professional ballplayers in organized baseball (MiLB, MLB). Names like Daisuke, Hideki, and Keiichi roll off fans’ tongues with nary a stutter. And who could have predicted South Korea to win the Olympic Gold Medal over Cuba? In fact, South Korea was undefeated against all teams faced, including Japan and the U.S. Who knows? Perhaps at the next All-Star Futures Game, we’ll be watching the “crafty left-hander from Seoul” while dining on a bowl of bibimbap with kim chee.

  • 3. Beth Schneider  |  January 10th, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Midre has coached my sons AAU team for a few seasons now. Midre is a hard working, dedicated , caring person who gets the best out of every player. He has worked hard himself to become the professional athlete that he was and tries
    to instill that work ethic in the boys he coachs. He is dedicated to his wife and family and is a wonderful person. He impacts many people and should be proud of all he does for the game of baseball. His teams greatly admire him and his effort toward helping them all improve in the game they love.

  • 4. BeesGal  |  January 13th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Beth,
    Thanks so much for the update on Midre. It’s always a pleasure to hear of great athletes who turn their experiences into an opportunity to “pay it forward” to the next generation. Not only as athletes, but as future spouses, parents and neighbors. Best of luck to your sons, they are in good hands. . .AYT

  • 5. Gina Beck  |  May 25th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Midre has coached my son now for 2 seasons, he is a great coach. He has taught our kids not only how to play great baseball, but something most coaches never even attempt to teach. He has taught our boys how to present themselves when on a baseball field. He carries a special pride about himself on and off the field. A great man to admire and watch. He teaches these kids that there is more to a game then winning, and for that me and my family will cherish what he has givin our son forever. Thank you Midre for all you do!

  • 6. BeesGal  |  May 26th, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Hi Gina,
    Thanks for the update on Midre. Over time it’s been interesting to note what stories generate comments, and the type of comments that show up. Even though I’m a very small voice in the world of blogosphere, I do take satisfaction in showcasing some of the great men inside the uniform. Like it or not, professional sports figures have a huge influence on our children. When we find an athlete who understands and embraces their role beyond producing RBI or ERA, we are indeed fortunate. Warm wishes to you and your kids, and of course, their coach. . .AYT

  • 7. Luis D.  |  January 30th, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Midre was always a gentleman for what I know. We used to be teammates in high school, he was an easy going person, very apart from the ones he wouldn't know and very respectful. I was lucky enough to see him score that tying run on that World Series game, I will never forget that moment for I did not know he was playing for the D'Backs at that time as I was watching the game on TV, and when announced him been the pinch runner I knew he was going to score for I know the man's speed, I even told a friend of mine over the phone that he was going to tie the game. I wouldn't expect to hear different about Midre been a good teammate, a good friend, a good father and husband to his wife and overall a great coach…Midre if you ever read this just remember in Honduras you will always have a brother…God bless you all Midre's friends and fans…  

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