Johnny Podres Was an Original

Johnny Podres was born in Wetherbee, New York, actually a suburb of Wetherbee. Wetherbee wasn't really big enough to be Wetherbee much less than to have any suburbs. Johnny Podres was born in 1922 or 1923 to a Slovakian woodsman who eked out a living in the southern Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. Eking out was exactly that.

  Today, when the government sets an economic base underneath the poorest of the poor, one can not even begin to contemplate was eking out meant then, in the time before Franklin Roosevelt began the welfare state.

Johnny Podres wasn't 10 before the great depression hit, which added significant insult to the injury of already growing up poor.  There is poor and there is poor. Johnny Podres family was of the worser kind of poor.

We grew up just down the road from the Podres, a "couple of ax-handles" as they would say then. Our grandfather was also a poor Slovak, a burned-out deep pit coal miner with "black lung" who was trying to eke out a living growing apples and raising a brood on a dirt floored farmhouse in Greenfield Center New York. 

We don't know if the Podres clan had a real floor or if our Kashuba clan was better or worse off than the Podres clan - but it was close. In both families, we had bathrooms. It's just that they were out back.

When some sage later would invent the word "multi-functional", he surely had the wonderful pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog in mind. Many a Sears Roebuck catalog did double duty in the out house.

Johnny Podres no more wanted to have to try to earn a living cutting wood than we did desiring to follow our grandfather in the mines. A baseball was his way out.

They say athletics are challenging, that baseball is fraught with nerves. Hey, boys and girls, compared to swinging an ax in subzero degrees in several feet (if you're lucky) of snow in the Adirondack Mountains - that's a challenge. Compared to that, baseball is a walk in the park, an absolute joy. A lark.

Johnny Podres had a younger brother, Wally. In Slavic, that's Walter or Wolodja, Vladimir.

Over 45 years ago, we were must married with our first son on the way. He were lucky enough to get a one bedroom "apartment" in an old Air Force barracks on the campus of St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont.

Winooski is even father north than Wetherbee or Greenfield Center, NY. And colder. The Air Force barracks were not built originally or then for comfort, or warmth, of any sense of silence between you and your neighbors.

Our neighbor, also newly married, was one Wally Podres, brother of Johnny, by then a hero of big league baseball, THE pitcher who had won the 7th and final game of the only World Series Title the Brooklyn Dodgers would ever win.

By today's standards we were poor, although we hardly new it then. But we didn't have any money. There were six siblings in my family, four in college at the same time, our mom worked in the home, our father already invalided by back-to-back heart attacks.

So we did what people did then.

We got a job washing dishes for 75 cents an hour. Then another correcting student papers. And a third as the assistant sports information director of the college. Then we hustled up grades good enough to get a scholastic scholarship.

Then we talked ourselves into a job working the night shift at the local newspaper. All this while going to college full time. This left us busier than neighbor Wally Podres, who was being carried by help from his older brother Johnny, by then an important member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But fact remains, even having to hustle, we were better off than the alternative of swinging an axe or digging coal - and we knew it.

Johnny Podres got lucky. And he knew it. And he got addicted to the idea that being lucky was better than working.

There were places that would give a country kid a chance to double his money by betting on the right horse, or rabbit, or dog, or fighter or card or whatever. Johnny Podres went to his grave on Sunday trying to beat the odds.

Johnny Podres didn't "bet" on his brother Wally but helped him through college and then by sponsored his move to California. He did it because that's what brothers did for their siblings, particularly younger ones. But Johnny's helping his brother paid off, as Wally turned a bank trainees job into a chain (a big chain) of 7-11s and a life as a millionaire.

Wally Podres would have many chances to pay back his older brother - and we are sure he did.

Over the past half century, we got to know many of the Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers - some for the better, some disappointingly. But we shared a particular bond with Johnny Podres, coming from essentially the same background.

We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with Johnny in Vero Beach - on the field, in the pressbox, at the bar.

We would often reminisce about upstate New York, our early days, how lucky we were to sit underneath palm trees and the Florida sun watching a kids game and being paid in some fashion or another to do so.  We would remark that there was nary a sun shining down in the coal mines or on the floor of an Adirondack forest and how lucky we were.

We were winners, we figured. And, in the vernacular of Brooklyn, we wuz right.  

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